Name: Rebecca Canter
Year: Class of 2009
Hometown: North Potomac, MD
Major: Behavioral Biology
When I tell people I am a behavioral biology major, I get one of a few different reactions. The first and most surprising to me is that many students don’t realize that it is a major offered at Hopkins. The David S. Olton Behavioral Biology program is a small, interdepartmental program offered to students who have an interest in human and animal biology and behavior. The next most frequent response is that I clearly was just too lazy to double major in psychology and biology. While it is true that many of the classes that count towards the major are offered in both the biology and psychology departments, the overall coursework is designed to give students an understanding of how the nervous system, physiology, and behavior produce and affect one another. This is clearly distinct from the biology and psychology departments because putting together a biology major and psychology major will not lead to an understanding of the relationship between the two. Another frequent question is whether the neuroscience program was too hard, and that’s why I picked behavioral biology. There are many similarities between the neuroscience program and the behavioral biology programs (interdepartmental, similar faculty, similar course requirements), but despite having many of the same required core courses, the focus in neuroscience is on how the nervous system works, and the focus in the behavioral biology program is behavior and its biological basis, including the nervous system. In other words, behavioral biology has a wider focus and is more formally concerned with behavioral outputs than the neuroscience program. Finally, a lot of students will ask if I’m a pre-med student because most of the requirements for premedical students are included in the major curriculum. Though many of the students in the major are pre-med, many are not. Students from the behavioral biology program go to medical school, graduate school, and often have the opportunity to work around the globe in exotic locations once they graduate. I’ll expand on this later, but it reminds me to mention all of the awesome perks associated with being a behavioral biology major.
There are so many reasons why the program is great that I don’t know where to start. I think perhaps the best part about the major is flexibility. Though there are required courses, there are 30+ different classes to choose from for the elective requirements. There is also an Intersession trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos islands offered through our program faculty (and open to anyone at the university) that counts for course credit. With so many choices, you can make the program whatever you want it to be. If you’re more interested in human biology and how it relates to behavior, you can choose electives that will focus on that aspect. Conversely, if you want to know how animals think, your course work can get you a well-rounded basis for understanding that as well. If there are classes that you feel fit nicely into the major and want to count for credit within the program, it’s also possible to petition your adviser (who is usually fairly flexible) to make it count. This leads me to another perk of the program: the size. With between five and fifteen behavioral biology majors per academic class, it is among the smallest of the programs at Homewood. You will have the opportunity to get close to the faculty and advisers, and through program-specific seminars you will get to know many of the students in the program. After my senior seminar met for the first time, we all made plans to have a weekly outing for dinner, happy hour, or whatever we felt like so that we could get to know each other even better, and make class even more fun. Another major strength of the program is the diversity of the faculty and students associated with the program. Research interests range from the neuroscience of learning and memory, to bird song and behavioral ecology. As a behavioral biology major I’ve had the opportunity to interact with people and learn about things I had never considered before, despite their overwhelming relevance to my own interests. Finally, one of the greatest strengths of the program is the opportunities outside of the classroom. Though research is not required, it’s strongly encouraged and you can do it in almost any department within the Hopkins community, and many beyond it. Due to the flexibility of the major, it is easy to create time to study abroad. This is unique for a science major, especially since courses taken abroad are often easily incorporated into the program requirements. Though some students go to places like France or Spain, behavioral biology majors also have the opportunity to go to exotic locations in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean.
So all of this sounds great right? Sign me up! What could be a better choice at Hopkins? Well, it’s also important to consider your future prospects when you graduate with a behavioral biology degree. Almost every student will go on to graduate education. Whether medical school or graduate school to pursue a masters or Ph.D., most students want to be a doctor, do research, teach, or have ambitions to combine those prospects. Though many of us take time off to do things before graduate studies, the program is designed for students who want to further their education in some aspect of the field. Not everyone goes directly to graduate school though. For example, this year there is a student applying to do work in Africa before she heads off to complete her Ph.D., and another is working with children in South America before starting her studies in the fall.
Hopefully this has helped get you better acquainted with the behavioral biology program at Hopkins. While it is a fantastic program, especially if it suits your interests, it is not for the faint of heart. Students in the program work hard and our faculty and advisers expect great things from us both during and after our time at Hopkins. Thanks for taking the time to learn about the program. You’re a step ahead of most students here already!
To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective as wells as the Behavioral Biology question thread.