With its solid curriculum and exceptional facilities, Furman’s biology department is a major contributor to the university’s strong reputation in the natural sciences.
The curriculum provides an excellent overview of biology and prepares students for any biology-related career, from health fields to teaching, research and work with conservation groups or governmental agencies. Upper-level classes average about 16 students, so majors receive individual attention, and course requirements are designed to accommodate each student’s educational goals.
One of the distinctions of the Furman biology program is the opportunity to explore a topic of personal interest in depth. These projects can take the form of a directed independent study or an internship or research experience under the guidance of a faculty advisor. Students may pursue these interests through programs on campus or at leading off-campus research and professional facilities. These hands-on experiences provide students with an opportunity for direct training, work and/or research in some area of the biological sciences and prove highly beneficial when they apply for jobs or to graduate and professional schools.
Furman biology majors learn to communicate the details of their scientific interests through an oral seminar presentation, usually based on their independent study, research experience or internship. They often have the chance to present the results of their work at regional and national professional meetings as well. These kinds of experiences have helped prepare recent graduates for study toward the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in such fields as forestry, ecology, molecular biology/genetics, wildlife biology, plant physiology, marine biology and microbiology.
The Study of Life
Furman biology students enter a variety of fields and professions after graduation. By offering both the B.A. and B.S. in biology, Furman provides flexibility for their interests and the career options that await them. Both degrees usually require 10 courses, including an independent study, internship or research experience.
Candidates for the B.S. degree usually complete the introductory biology course and courses in genetics, research and analysis, ecology, physiology, cell or molecular biology, an independent project, and three chemistry courses—principles, inorganic and organic. To fulfill the major requirement, students choose electives from such courses as developmental biology, microbiology, immunology, neurobiology, field zoology, field botany, marine biology, natural resource management, and many others. Those who study for the B.A. degree take the introductory course and eight electives and complete an independent project, research experience or internship.
Another outstanding feature of the Furman biology program is the opportunity for field study. The department offers a number of special field programs, including yearly courses focusing on ecosystems outside the Southeast. In January and February of even-numbered years, students may study ecology and biology in Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and the Andes of South America. Every other year, a field course in marine biology takes students to Florida and Belize. Other courses may take students to the Rocky Mountains, the desert Southwest, the Pacific Coast or eastern Canada. Many classes also feature one-day or weekend field trips to mountains or beaches. Additional outings are sponsored by Beta Chi, the student biology club.
The department has close ties to a number of large research institutions, including the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.; the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory; the Medical University of South Carolina; North Carolina’s Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory; the Duke University Marine Laboratory; the Greenwood (S.C.) Genetics Center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.; and Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center. Furman is also a partner with Columbia University in Biosphere 2 near Tucson, Ariz., and sends a group of students to that facility each year to become immersed in environmental studies. Students can spend a summer, a term or a full year at any of these institutions, doing internships or research and earning credits.
Many students work with biology faculty members on research projects both in the summer and during the regular school year. The Townes Fund, donated by the family of Nobel laureate Charles H. Townes and his brother Henry, both Furman graduates, provides support for students to engage in independent research outside of regular courses and to make presentations at regional and national scientific meetings. With the help of the Townes Fund, students have studied the ecology of eagles in Alaska, the social structure and behavior of dolphins in the Bahamas, wolf ecology in Montana, and turtle tagging in Costa Rica. The Furman Advantage Program, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, and the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Program have provided other opportunities for students to conduct in-depth research.
Students interested in forestry or environmental management may transfer to the Duke University School of the Environment at the end of their junior year at Furman and subsequently obtain a B.S. degree from Furman and a master’s from Duke.
Furman’s facilities for biological study and research are superior, and the department’s equipment is always available for use by undergraduates.
Students work with such advanced instruments as a high-performance liquid chromatograph, which enables small components of a complex mixture to be separated and analyzed; an ultracentrifuge, which spins materials at high speeds and can separate proteins or nucleic acids with different molecular weights; a liquid scintillation counter, which determines low levels of radioactive materials in biological samples; a fluorescence microscope to observe labeled cell components; and a thermal cycler, which synthesizes DNA molecules through the polymerase chain reaction.
Spectrophotometers, centrifuges and electrophoresis equipment are used in molecular and cellular biology projects. Oxygen electrodes and a complete infrared gas analysis system are used to quantify physiological processes such as respiration and photosynthesis. Biology students also have access to the department’s Macintosh lab, with computer-interfaced data collection systems.
In addition to eight teaching labs and 13 research labs, the department maintains an environmental sciences center with a variety of chambers for controlling light, humidity and temperature and for studying the effects of these variables on animals and plants. An animal maintenance suite houses animals used in courses and in research. Other facilities include a cell culture laboratory, a zoological collections room, herbarium and two greenhouses. For field trips or weekend research projects the department has a 15-passenger van, complete with a custom-built trailer.
Furman biology students also benefit from one other important facility. The 750-acre campus, with its fields, wooded areas and 30-acre lake, offers a wide range of habitats for study.
Looking to Your Future
The biology department’s Bachelor of Science program provides an excellent foundation for graduate school or for professional programs, including medical, dental and veterinary studies. More than half the biology majors at Furman go on to graduate school, often at prominent institutions such as Cornell, Duke, Emory, Georgia, Johns Hopkins, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, Purdue, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
Furman’s senior premedical students traditionally score well on the medical college admissions test (MCAT), and the average acceptance rate of Furman students into medical schools exceeds the national average. Furman graduates have finished first in their medical school classes at Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins and the Medical University of South Carolina. Students interested in health-related fields are encouraged to arrange internships or research work with physicians, dentists or veterinarians, for which they can receive course credit.
The Furman program prepares students for work in many health-related areas, including speech and audiology, biometry, cyto-technology, dental hygiene, health education, hospital administration, medical illustration, medical records administration, medical librarianship, medical technology, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, pharmacy, physical therapy, podiatry, radiologic technology and respiratory therapy.