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MIT Undergraduate Departments
Department of Biology
Course 7
Programs Offered: Major, Double Major, Minor
Department Head: Chris A. Kaiser
Department Headquarters: 68-533
Undergraduate Administrator: Janice Chang
Undergraduate Office: 68-120
UROP Coordinator: Gene M. Brown

Biology is a department in MIT's School of Science, otherwise known as Course 7.


Overview and History

Course 7 was created in 1871 as "natural history;" in 1889, it was formally named the Department of Biology.

The first department head was the public health pioneer William T. Sedgwick. Today, the American Public Health Association’s oldest and most prestigious award, the Sedgwick Award Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health, is named in his honor.

The current faculty includes 4 Nobel laureates, 29 National Academy of Sciences members, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators.

The curriculum is heavily biochemistry- and genetics-based. Plenty of research opportunities are available to undergraduates in not only the Department of Biology labs in Building 68, but also the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Whitehead Institute.

Life as a Biology Major

The Biology Undergraduate Students Association (BUSA) is a student group that provides academic and social activities and support for students interested in biology.

The Biology Department maintains a Biology Undergraduate Lounge on the first floor of Building 68 for its students to study, relax, or socialize.

The Biology UROP and Mentoring Program (BUMP) supports students doing research in any of the many biomedical labs on campus.

Study Abroad

Biology students can study abroad through the Cambridge MIT Exchange (CME). Students apply for the program as sophomores; you must have a 4.0 GPA (on a 5.0 scale) and have completed 7.01x, 7.02, 7.03, and 7.05 to apply. Biology CME students will be able to complete and get credit for the equivalent of 7.06 and your three biology restricted electives.

Sets of courses at Cambridge University are organized into a unit called a "tripos." Students usually take at least two biology-related triposes during their year abroad; a third tripos is often taken in another field that can fulfill HASS requirements. The following Natural Sciences 1B triposes are approved for MIT Biology credit: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell and Developmental Biology, Neurobiology, Pathology, and Pharmacology.

Biology People

Notable Professors

  • H. Robert Horvitz, Nobel Laureate, Physiology/Medicine 2002
  • Phillip A. Sharp, Nobel Laureate, Physiology/Medicine 1993
  • Susumu Tonegawa, Nobel Laureate, Physiology/Medicine 1987
  • H. Gobind Khorana, Nobel Laureate, Physiology/Medicine 1968

Notable Alumni/ae

  • Katharine Dexter McCormick 1904, suffragist; funded most of the research necessary to develop the first birth control pill
  • Pat McGovern '60, founder of International Data Group (IDG)
  • H. Robert Horvitz '68, Nobel Laureate, Physiology/Medicine; Biology Professor at MIT
  • Pardis Sabeti '97, Rhodes Scholar; Biology Professor at Harvard

Major Requirements

Course 7

The Course 7 major requirements are as follows:

  • General Chemistry (12 units, GIR): 5.111, 5.112, or 3.091.
  • Organic Chemistry (12 units): 5.12.
  • Thermodynamics (12 units): 20.110J, 7.10J, or 5.60.
  • Introductory Biology (12 units, GIR): 7.012, 7.013, or 7.014.
  • Biology Laboratory (15-18 units): 7.02J or 20.109.
  • Genetics (12 units): 7.03.
  • Biochemistry (12 units): 7.05 or 5.07J.
  • Cell Biology (12 units): 7.06.
  • Biology Project Lab (30 units): 7.13, 7.16, and 7.18.
  • Biology Electives (3 x 12 units each), three chosen from: 7.08J, 7.20J, 7.21, 7.22, 7.23, 7.25, 7.26, 7.27, 7.28, 7.29J, 7.30J, 7.31, 7.32, 7.33J, 7.35, 7.36, and 7.37J. These courses all have 7.03 and/or 7.05 as prerequisites with the exception of 7.30J.

Freshmen generally begin from the GIR courses in the major requirements, and then progress through the the courses following the ascending course numbers. Project Lab is generally considered the capstone of the major, as it is often the most time-consuming part (30+ hours per week) of the course of study. This project is generally undertaken in the student's junior year, although a number of biology majors take the class as seniors.

Course 7A

It is also possible to major in biology as Course 7A. The formal designation for this major is "Bachelor of Science as Recommended by the Department of Biology" and is designed for students who "wish to obtain a background in biology as preparation for careers without laboratory research." Instead of taking the Biology Project Lab course, students take an approved laboratory class from another major. Course 7A is a feasible choice for students in other majors who wish to obtain a double major in biology without dedicating intensive time in completing the biology project lab course.

Course 7A has the same requirements as Course 7 (see above), except that it does not require a 30-unit laboratory subject. Because Biology Project Lab is one of the two required Communications Intensive courses in the major (CI-M), students must instead have completed an approved CI-M subject for Course 7A. These courses include 3.014, 5.36, 5.38, 7.19, 8.13, 9.02, 9.12, 9.18, 9.63, 10.26, 10.28, 10.29, 20.380, or 2.791J/6.021J/20.370J.

Possible Course Progression

  • Freshman Year -- 7.01x, 5.11x, 5.12 or 5.60
  • Sophomore Year -- 7.02J, 7.03, 7.05
  • Junior Year -- Project Lab, 7.06
  • Senior Year -- Biology electives, 5.60

It is also advisable to take advantage of the UROP program and supplement the biology major with practical laboratory experience. Early exposure to laboratory techniques (much of which will also be taught in 7.02J) will help in Project Lab significantly, although students with no prior experience will also be able to successfully complete the work required.

Minor Requirements

The Course 7 minor requirements are as follows:

  • Organic Chemistry (12 units): 5.12.
  • Genetics (12 units): 7.03.
  • Biochemistry (12 units): 7.05
  • Biology Electives (2 x 12-18 units each), two chosen from: 7.02J or 20.109; 7.06, 7.08J, 7.20J, 7.21, 7.22, 7.23, 7.25, 7.26, 7.27, 7.28, 7.29J, 7.31, 7.32, 7.33J, 7.35, 7.36, and 7.37J.

Official (External) Links