Each year, we welcome a large number of new and returning students, both undergraduate and graduate. Members of the Biology Department have diverse interests, and without students this would be a much less vibrant place. I would like to take this chance to welcome each of you, and to invite you to stop by the departmental office in 223 Research Building to introduce yourselves, talk about your interests or problems. We encourage undergraduates to participate in the Biology Club, Beta Beta Beta, and we encourage graduate students to participate in the Biology Graduate Student Association (BGSA); each of these organizations has representatives sitting on departmental committees. Thus we can best decide issues like curricular changes if we seek the close advice of those who know our curriculum best – our students, and graduate students give us advice as we search for new faculty or grapple with the complex space issues in our building.
To the undergraduates, I would especially like to remind you that there are other out-of-classroom opportunities to those of you who want to know about career opportunities in biology, or whose intellectual curiosity is simply not quite satisfied by your classroom experiences. Please remember that you are all invited to attend Biology Departmental seminars, usually on Tuesdays afternoons, when we bring in invited guests from around the country and around the world to give presentations about biological research. You are all also invited to attend the BioLunch seminar series, which occurs on Wednesdays at lunchtime, or the Cell and Molecular Biology Journal club on Fridays at noon, where our own faculty members, grad students, or postdoctoral research associates discuss their current research. It is here that all of us learn in much greater detail about the research going on in our own Department. The seminar titles and presenters are posted at the beginning of each term, or you can ask about them in the Department office. But we encourage you all to participate directly in research and in these seminars. “Book-learning”, important as it is, is by no means the whole story. Hands-on experience with doing science, which is all about how to ask and answer questions, will change your understanding of science, and of the relationship between science and society. Research opportunities can be arranged as independent study for credit, and occasionally faculty members have grant support for undergraduate involvement. My main point is to encourage you to seek involvement, because we want to work with you outside of the classroom. And undergraduates who have had research experience outside of the classroom and laboratory class have a much better chance of getting into the graduate or professional school of their choice, and are much more attractive job candidates as well.
Both undergraduates interested in research and potential graduate students should visit the web pages of individual faculty members to learn more about the research being conducted in the research groups of our Department. Some groups consist of large numbers of undergrads, graduate students, and postdocs, others, you will see, are smaller. Between us, we study diverse but interrelated questions in biology. Whether your interest is piqued by cells, gene expression, bird behavior, tropical ecology, evolutionary relationships among species, or everything in between, those interests are likely represented on our faculty. Read the descriptions of the kinds of studies undertaken in each group, and contact the faculty member whose work interests you most. Simply email her or him, tell a little about your interests and background, and inquire whether there are research opportunities available in their group, or whether there are possibilities of becoming a graduate student. You may be surprised at how often the answer will be yes. Occasionally faculty members are away from campus for protracted periods, either in the field or visiting other institutions. So do not be discouraged if you do not get an immediate reply, but go to the next person on your list of interests.
Biology is an ever more exciting field, since knowledge of biology is relevant to many of the critical issues that will affect how humans interact with the environment, and will determine how our society develops. And progress is being made in understanding basic biological questions that have puzzled us for hundreds of years. It is a great time to be a biologist.
Departmental Mission and Goals:
The mission of the Department of Biology is to carry out and disseminate the results of research in biology, to provide first-rate teaching and advising at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and to provide service to the campus, the local community, and world-wide.
We fulfill this mission through the research, teaching and service activities of our faculty, staff and students. Original research by our faculty and graduate and undergraduate students is at the center of our activities, since it informs both our teaching and service. Our faculty members disseminate the results of research in peer-reviewed publications, scientific meetings, textbooks, and web sites. External funding for our work is essential, and we pursue such funding sources vigorously. Undergraduates taking our courses can be given a B.A. or B.S., take certificates in biochemistry (with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), biotechnology, or conservation biology. Again with Chemistry and Biochemistry, we offer a M.S. in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, and we also train Ph.D. and M.S. students to become independent and innovative research scientists in their own right. We also offer a non-thesis M.S. degree option and a graduate certificate in Ecology and Conservation. The faculty and staff are active in professional activities at the local, national and international levels, hold offices in professional societies and other organizations, and serve on editorial and review boards.
The Department nurtures partnerships with the Danforth Plant Science Center, and through the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center, with the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Saint Louis Zoo. The Center for Neurodynamics is a joint venture with the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Best wishes for a wonderful semester,
Dr. Wendy Olivas