FAQ Intro/First Year

FAQ about Introductory Courses

What are the two introductory biology courses (BISC 110, BISC 110P, BISC 112 and BISC 111, BISC 113) about? Is there one that is better to take first?


BISC 110, BISC 110P, and BISC 112 introduces students to Cellular and Molecular Biology (focusing on the study of concepts and processes that occur within one cell), whereas BISC 111 and BISC 113 introduces students to Organismal Biology (focusing on concepts and processes of tissues, whole organisms, and interaction between organisms and the broader ecosystem). Different skills and concepts are emphasized in each course, and students can (and do!) take them in either order.

What is the difference between a lecture-style (BISC 110, BISC 111) or seminar-style (BISC 112, BISC 113) introductory course? How do I decide what to take?


BISC 110 and 111 are lecture-based courses with 32 students per section that meet twice weekly (75 minutes per meeting) and assume no prior knowledge of biology.  BISC 112 and 113 are discussion-based seminars with 16 students per section that meet once weekly (75 minutes per meeting) for students with a strong background in biology (taken AP or IB Biology).  In BISC 112 and BISC 113, students will learn to apply their existing biology knowledge to critically evaluate primary research articles. With the exception of the First-Year Seminar section of BISC 112Y (which has its own laboratory section), students from BISC 110 and BISC 112 enroll in joint 3.5 hour lab sections.  Similarly, with the exception of the First-Year Seminar section of BISC 113Y (which has its own laboratory section), students from BISC BISC 111 and BISC 113 also enroll in joint 3.5 hour lab sections.

What is BISC 110P? How do I decide if I should take it?


BISC110P is a version of BISC110 that is intended for students who do not meet the prerequisites for BISC 110 and/or require additional academic support. This course is specifically designed for students who did not receive a strong foundation in biology, chemistry and math in high school. BISC110P includes two additional class meetings each week and has an attached BISC 110P lab.  Students interested in BISC110P should contact the instructors for this course to receive permission to register for this course.

What is BISC116 and CHEM 116? How do I decide if I should take it?


BISC 116 and CHEM 116 is an intensive course that integrates the material from BISC 110 and CHEM 105.  It is team-taught by BISC and CHEM faculty, and meets 5 times per week (four 75-minute meetings in the morning and one 2-hour meeting in the afternoon).  In addition, students in BISC 116 and CHEM 116 will meet once per week for a 3.5 hour lab section that combines material from both BISC 110 and CHEM 105 labs. Successful completion of this course enables a student to take any course for which either CHEM 105 or BISC 110, BISC 112 is a prerequisite.  For students who are pre-health (pre-medical, pre-dental, pre-veterinary, pre-nursing, etc.), this course counts as both a 1-semester chemistry course (with lab) and a 1-semester biology course (with lab). Students with strong high school science backgrounds who are interested in questions at the interface between biology and chemistry may want to consider taking this course as an alternative to BISC 110 and CHEM 105 in the same or consecutive semesters. 

What should my Quantitative Reasoning (QR) preparation be before enrolling in a BISC course?


BISC 110P can be taken without having passed the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) exams or the QR course (QR 140). As we use QR skills extensively throughout introductory BISC courses, students either need to pass the Wellesley QR exam or pass QR 140 prior to enrolling in other introductory BISC courses.

FAQ about Taking Science Courses as a First Year

Can I take more than one STEM class in my first or second semester? Can I take three STEM courses in a semester as a first year?


Many first-year students have been successful at taking a BISC course along with another introductory STEM course (MATH and CHEM are the most common) in the same semester. Taking more than one STEM course per semester is particularly important for students who are planning to study abroad or are considering a pre-health track and have additional course requirements. Taking more than one STEM laboratory course per semester as a first-year student is feasible, but is a substantial time commitment. Students should consider how to balance their schedule with other courses to ensure time to prepare for and attend lab and to keep up with preparations and assignments in each course. The BISC department has many resources for students, including the Biology Cafe (drop in hours staffed by upper-class students), Supplemental Instructors (SIs) associated with some introductory courses, and individual tutoring in coursework and science writing through the PLTC.

Although upper-level students do sometimes take three STEM courses (and rarely three courses with laboratory) in one semester, we strongly discourage this for first year students, since students often find the learning and practice of STEM at the college level to be a big change from what they are were used to in high school.

If I am thinking at all about being a BISC major, do I have to start taking courses right away? If I only decide at the end of the spring semester that I want to be a BISC major, is it too late?


We encourage students with a strong interest in biology to begin taking BISC courses in either the first or second semester at Wellesley.  However, with careful planning, students who begin taking BISC courses in their second year can still complete all of the major requirements over the next three years, particularly if they have taken CHEM in their first year. 

I'm not sure if I want to be a BISC major, but I am interested in topics covered BISC 104, BISC 106, BISC 108, BISC 109. Do these courses count for the major? Can I take them?


BISC 104 (Science or Science Fiction), BISC 106 (Natural History of National Parks), BISC 108 (Environmental Horticulture with Laboratory), and BISC 109 (Human Biology with Laboratory) are introductory courses for students who are interested in biology and/or meeting the natural sciences distribution requirement. Many students decide to major in biology after taking one of these courses, which is great! One of these courses can be counted as the “9th course” requirement for BISC majors.