Academics Blog

Archive for the Category Biology *



Name: Katherine Tan

Year: Class of 2013

Hometown: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Majors: Molecular & Cellular Biology, Applied Mathematics & Statistics

Minor: Entrepreneurship & Management

JHUBio – The Rigor and Flexibility to Explore Possibilities

 I am a somewhat unusual Biology major: I’m NOT premed. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against premeds. It’s just not the route that I’m interested in. In this blog post, let me introduce you to the Biology major at Johns Hopkins University and what you can expect.

I actually applied to Hopkins as a Biophysics major. First semester freshmen year, I realized I was not particularly interested in many of the courses from the Biophysics department. I wanted a major that would give me a lot of flexibility yet provide a rigorous training in basic science – and I’m glad I declared my major as Molecular & Cellular Biology (MCB)!

The Biology Department offers two majors: the B.A. in Biology and the B.S. in Molecular & Cellular Biology. There is not much difference between both majors, but the B.S. requires more upper level electives and research experience. It is common for a Biology major to be involved in research (and I strongly recommend that if you’re thinking about grad school!), and hence about 60% of our undergrads are doing the B.S. in MCB pathway. You can read more about the Biology department here: http://www.bio.jhu.edu/

As you would notice in the requirements section, the Biology major is rigorous yet flexible. Its series of core courses provides a strong foundation for the MCATs or GRE subject tests. I interned at the JHMI (Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions – we LOVE acronyms here!) last summer, and my Cell Biology knowledge proved to be very helpful: I had the language of Biology to communicate with world class researchers. It is also very flexible: you get to choose your upper level electives from a variety of related field. As I am doing a second major in Applied Mathematics & Statistics (AMS), I was able to double count my AMS core courses for my upper level electives.

Dr Schildbach (Director of Undergraduate Studies) holds a meeting for the Undergraduate Student Advisory Board once a semester. In fact, I’m going to it later today! Student representatives from all classes can, and are encouraged, to provide feedback about the major. Last year, a student representative voiced out concerns over the grading of a core class – that was taken into consideration seriously, and the grading of the class was made more transparent and fair at the end.

As you might already know, we also have world class faculty in the department. They are all either pioneers or great contributors to their respective fields, and they are passionate about research. As I mentioned earlier, Hopkins IS a great place to do research, because of the plethora of opportunities available. The “downside” to having world class faculty is that many of my classmates have expressed that their faculty advisors rarely respond to emails.

I am lucky enough to have a great advisor who cares a lot about undergraduates: Dr Wendland, Department Chair, one of the most amazing ladies in Science I have been lucky to know on a personal level. Nevertheless, I have had experiences with professors not responding to emails… The most general advice is to be persistent, persistent, and persistent!

First Time Seeing Snow (Freshman Year)!

Scarlett (read blogpost below this) mentioned about the Tri-Beta honors society and the PURA (again, acronyms, read her blogpost to find out more!). Nevertheless, you can always initiate an effort, for example, study groups. For example, Scarlett herself has a Biology (Science) blog, where she posts lecture notes from the classes she take. Last semester, I hosted weekly review sessions for Genetics, which turned out to be one of my favorite classes in the department. Some of my good friends who are Biology majors started student groups such as Medlife.

I hope to go to graduate school for Epidemiology or Biostatistics after graduation. Most Biology undergraduates I know want to go on to medical school or graduate school in the biological sciences. Wherever your heart lies, Biology CAN bring you there.


Click here to access more information about the Molecular and Cellular Biology Undergraduate Program of Study.

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 well as the Biology question thread.



Name: Scarlett Hao

Year: Class of 2013

Hometown: Cockeysville, Maryland

Major: Biology

Bio-logy: study of life.  And why not study life?  I initially chose a Biology major because I had a relatively fun experience in my AP Bio class in high school, and-yes-because it covered a lot of premed coursework anyway.

I am entirely satisfied.

Some of my most enjoyable classes include Development Biology, and a lot of the lab classes.  Many of the core biology courses are taught by multiple professors, so you can experience various teaching styles (and have more than one option for recommendation letters :D).  The labs give great exposure to the most common and most useful lab techniques to give you a heads up when looking for research positions.  I also took one of my electives abroad: Human Health & Disease was offered through DIS (Danish Institute of Study Abroad) and gave me more clinical exposure than any undergraduate offering in the US–we were able to practice history taking on actual patients!

Mother Booby and Babies, Galapagos, Ecuador

My major is awesome not in and of itself but that it provides a foundation that gives me something to work off of and I can reach out to all sorts of opportunities. January of my sophomore year, I jumped on the intersession study abroad to Ecuador to study evolution.  The following summer I attended a summer internship with the Noble Foundation in Oklahoma–my work there is pending publication in the Hopkins Undergraduate Research Journal (which is not limited to biology), and the following Fall semester took place in Denmark.  I do research at JHMI (whose campus is a convenient shuttle ride away).  Other opportunities include Beta Beta Beta–the biology honor society–and PURA, the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Awards (which also isn’t limited to biology) that funds proposals of independent research.

Blue Wing Tanager, Mindo Cloud Forest, Ecuador

Reading SkyMagazine with Galapagos Tortoise

Some neat things about the biology department at Hopkins are the people–-postdocs keep dogs in the lab (the undergrads have the duty of walking them :D), Dr. Norris lets students take lab embryos home to raise pet sea urchins or axolotls, while Dr. Edidin is an immunology professor and a professed watch collector–he specializes in English watches dating from the few scores prior to the 1840s.

For me, my major is carrying me to medical school, but there’s no limit to where you can go.  Don’t ever feel limited by whatever major you choose–undergraduate school is for exploring, graduate school is for career pondering.

Fame and Publicity on the Noble Foundation Website


Click here to access more information about the Molecular and Cellular Biology Undergraduate Program of Study.

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 well as the Biology question thread.



Name: Craig Sadler

Year: Class of 2010

Hometown: Poolesville, MD

Major: Biology

Minor: Psychology


Hello prospective Hopkins Bio majors! I’m Craig Sadler, a Junior biology major and Psych minor here. Yes, I’m premed. I’m going give you the run down of all you need to know about the Hopkins Bio department.

Established in 1876, the Biology department is the very first in the nation. Believe me when I say, there are some serious ballers in this department. Example- Prof. Moudrianakis (who you will likely have during Cell Biology). You know all those pictures you’ve seen in textbooks of DNA wrapped around a histone? Yep, that was all him. If you get a chance, ask him his opinion of Watson and Crick. Let’s just say, the man told them they were wrong, and backed it up (as T.I. would say: “It ain’t trickin’ if ya got it”).

The department offers two undergraduate degrees, a B.A. and a B.S. The two degrees only differ in that the B.S. requires two more upper-level classes and a year of lab research with a faculty member. Both programs include all the pre-med required coursework, so you don’t have to worry about remembering extra courses to apply to med school. The bio requirements are as follows:

1 year Intro Bio Biochemistry w/ Lab
1 year Intro Chem w/ Lab Cell Bio w/ Lab
1 year Intro Physics w/ Lab Genetics
1 year Calculus Developmental Bio
1 year Orgo w/ Lab Either Genetics or Dbio lab

3 or more upper level courses totaling 8 credits (5 classes, 13 credits for B.S.)

The problem with the Biology major is that its coursework is VERY restrictive for your first 2 to 3 years here. So while your Anthro friends are taking “Anthropology of Clothes” or “Thinking and Nemo Living with Animals” (no lie, both are real courses) and your Public Health friends are choosing which of a million elective courses they want to take, you will be looking forward to another semester in Mudd 26 watching a professor draw gene expression diagrams. Honestly, if you are interested in learning about anything larger than a protein, you will be very bored for your first 2 years or so. Don’t worry, developmental bio solves that issue, and you will soon remember that you are, in fact, studying LIFE and not just a random bunch of protein cascades (plus, you will learn how the scientifically correct version of “Finding Nemo” would cause the rise of a generation of very gender confused children).

Your intro classes almost all require that you take the associated lab (though interestingly, Bio Lab isn’t required). If you have a good TA and you work well with your lab partner, these can be extremely rewarding classes. My cell bio partner and I started hanging out outside of class and stayed up till 4 am regularly making painted banners for the Lacrosse games (LET’S GO HOP!). Fig2 Chem lab is the worst of them all, so once you suffer through that, it’s smooth sailing. I swear, there are few things more invigorating than stirring reagent grade sulfuric acid (while wearing 3 layers of protective gloves, gowns, and headgear) or seeing your fluorescently labeled chicken embryo fibroblasts’ actin cytoskeletons light up like mini Christmas trees.

Since I’m a junior, I’m only just now getting into my upper level electives. Some are really awesome, like Human Anatomy, Eukaryotic Molecular Biology (EuMoBo), and AIDS. Some aren’t so awesome (I’ve never heard of anyone enjoying Intro to the Protein World). What matters though is that once you get your base classes taken care of, you get to study classes that you really enjoy with professors who are the top of that field (they’ve got some serious swagger).

Image3Outside of class, the bio department offers a ton of research opportunities. I mean a TON. Almost all students in the department do research at one time or another, and many get their names on publications. Your relationship with your PI (Primary Investigator) can be very rewarding, and they often give sweet recommendations for grad or med schools (as well as take you to Lab happy hours [if you’re 21]). The department also hosts TriBeta, the national biology honors society. Many students (including yours truly) in the department are part of Alpha Epsilon Delta, the pre-health honor society.

Long story short, the Bio department here is full of professors that are total Gs, teaching us some of the most cutting edge information so that we too will be known as Gs in turn.


Click here to access more information about the Biology Undergraduate Program of Study.

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 well as the Biology question thread.



Name: Trang “Diem” Vu

Year: Class of 2012

Hometown: Baltimore, MD

Major: Molecular & Cellular Biology, Writing Seminars


Like a lot of other kids, I grew up wanting to be something new basically every year. The first thing I can remember wanting to be was an archaeologist. Then I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and was terrified of the prospect of being trapped in a labyrinth of insect pits, rooms that try to smash you, and crazy I’m-going-to-rip-your-heart-out-and-grin-as-you-plummet-to-a-fiery-death people.

Then I wanted to be a paleontologist, but Jurassic Park ruined it for me. I imagined velociraptors lurking in my doorway for weeks after that movie.

In fifth grade I temporarily settled on the title of “ornithologist.” The word was sufficiently intimidating (everyone was jealous) and birds were my favorite animals. I don’t know what happened that made me change my mind. Maybe it was when a pigeon gave me a present on my shirt during that trip to the zoo, but I went through middle school and the beginning of high school not really knowing what I wanted to do.

But by the end of eighth grade, I made a more permanent decision. I lost my aunt to uterine cancer, and I knew I wanted to become a doctor so that no other thirteen-year old girls had to grow up without their aunts. I looked at the world around me and realized all the death and pain, and I discovered that being a doctor was one of the many ways—though not the only way—I could leave an impact, however small, on the world and its people.

And since then, things have fallen into place for me. In high school it dawned on me that I was particularly good at a few things: biology, writing, working really hard, and interacting with people. (I know, I know, it’s all subjective. I am actually not a jackanapes…I hope.) Doctors have to know their way around biology, they are always interacting with people and they always have to work under great pressure and for long hours. And I knew writing would be something I’d do on the side. I know for a fact that I immediately lose interest in my hobbies as soon as I am forced to do them.

The decision to become a doctor was my own. I hope that the belief that all Asian pre-meds chose the profession to which they aspire only because they were forced to do so by their parents will someday be dispelled. (As a kid, my parents actually encouraged me to pursue art, so there.)

Yes, I admit my sister, who is six years ahead of me in the game and currently in medical school, is aspiring to the same profession. But please! Enough of this “following in your sister’s footsteps” thing! I’m my own person, too, you know!

So because of this decision, I thought it only made sense to become a Molecular and Cellular Biology & Writing Seminars major here at Hopkins. It is a bit of a hefty goal, taking on two majors. But I take comfort in the fact that I’ve chosen the majors I have because I am genuinely interested in them. My work towards the Molecular and Cellular Biology degree will prepare me to medical school and feed my curiosity, while my work in Writing Seminars will help me fine tune the one art I can see myself pursuing for the rest of my life.

Why Molecular and Cellular Biology as opposed to Biology? There’s so much interesting research here at Hopkins—why not get in on that action? The Molecular and Cellular Biology results in a B.S. degree instead of a B.A. and includes six extra research credits. This coming spring semester I will be getting three out of the way.

I will be working with Dr. Christopher Ruff at the medical school, tracing molds of ancient femur, tibia, and humerus bones and uploading the images onto a computer. The lab is trying to contribute skeletal measurements of ancient and modern human specimens to an international database so that scientists can better correlate variations in bone shape to different lifestyles of different historical eras and regions. I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty cool to me. Bones can tell stories!



Here is a set of tracings I did: cross sections of femur, tibia, and humeri. These molds were taken from one of the largest samples of Iron Age Englishmen in the world!


Posterior femurAnd this is a picture of the anterior view of a femur. I drew it (yes, from a book!) just so I could get a better understanding of a bone for which I was creating cross sections. You heard me right—I did it for the fun of it.

In the future, I might also be working with Dr. Ru Chih Huang, who is studying how certain chemicals from rain forest plants can prevent HIV transcription (just like in Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice!), and Dr. Beatrice Kondo, who maps the genealogy of wild Baltimorean birds (I will get to channel my fifth-grade dreams!).

Wall It is a bit of a hefty goal, taking on two majors. But I take comfort in the fact that I’ve chosen the majors I have because I am genuinely interested in them. And the two balance nearly perfectly, and each of my semesters will be a mix of science and humanities classes. I am one of the people who can’t work on only one thing at a time, or only have one interest. I’m made up of a lot of puzzle pieces; just look at the wall in my dorm, my current pride and joy! Moving on. In first semester I tackled Chemistry 101 and its lab, Biology Workshop, Introduction to Biological Anthropology, Introduction to Fiction and Poetry, and Philosophic Classics.

Chemistry I and Chemistry lab were difficult, but everyone survived. I studied really hard and I actually got an A on one of the midterms. That gave me hope, and now I feel like I’m really pumped to get into the ring again, ready to take on the second semester of Chemistry. The second semester features a professor whose lecturing style I prefer, as well as less homework. Always a good sign. But Chemistry lab is the same as last semester: do all your work early, go over it a few times and with a TA at a help session, and get a good grade.

In Biology Workshop we listened to interesting lectures: one about cystic fibrosis, another on the Chesapeake, and another on the language of birds! And Biological Anthropology was an amazing course taught by the great Dr. Teaford, who happens to teach anatomy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. You know Homo erectus, but did you ever hear of Homo heidelbergensis or Sahelanthropus? We even talked about a lot of anthropological issues like race and culture, and even how culture can change evolution!

This semester I only have one biology class: Mammalian Evolution. I’ve heard from the graduate students in the lab that the class is intense, but I’m glad that it’s about a subject I enjoy. Who doesn’t love mammals, the fuzziest and cuddliest of them all? You just have to get around memorizing their taxonomical names and respective geological time periods…

For my Writing Seminars major requirements, last year I took Philosophical Classics and Introduction to Fiction and Poetry (IFP) I. Philosophy was difficult for me, but I loved that I didn’t have to take any exams! Papers are better in the aspect that you have more time, and you can go to the Writing Center to get your paper proofread.

Marquez And in IFP I, I learned that my writing style is very similar to that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My TA told me that he can see me writing something almost as good as 100 Years of Solitude in (let’s be honest) someday. I just started 100 Years of Solitude, and I realize now that my TA must have been lying through his teeth, and I am certain that Marquez is one of my favorite writers ever. Just look at him! How can you not love a man like that? But seriously, that’s the great thing about IFP; you discover so many things about the craft of writing and about writers whom you have never heard before!

This semester, I’m taking History of Occidental Civilization: Modern Europe (Occiv) and IFP II. I’m excited for IFP II, of course, because once again I get to do something I normally do for fun for a grade. I’m also excited for Occiv because I haven’t taken a history course since junior year of my high school! And Europe is just plain great.

After first semester, I got to check off a sizeable chunk of the requirements for each of my majors, and at the end of this semester I get to check off even more! Actually, I just met with a Vietnamese professor on campus so I could get confirmation that I’m a native Vietnamese speaker. Now I get to check off a four-semester requirement of a foreign language!

Each step I get closer towards fulfilling my majors makes me feel more and more accomplished. It’s a great feeling when your hard work is rewarded. But I’m not all about studying. I’m involved in lots on and off campus, and each activity reflects a facet of my interest in writing or biology.
I have a job at Strategic Results, where I help in the organization of National Institute of Health conferences. Sometimes I get to contact really prestigious scientists in different biomedical Mefields, and even look over their abstracts.

I’m active in our school’s branch of American Cancer Society, and I volunteer at the Hope Lodge, making dinner for cancer patients every month. I also help out Relay for Life, a group that works all year towards a huge fundraiser in April–pulling an all-nighter on the Upper Quad, jamming to music and doing all sorts of fun activities.

And I’m a staff-writer for our Newsletter: oldest student-run campus newspaper in the nation! Go us!

I’ve learned that I can study what I want, in almost any combination here at Hopkins. And evenwith two majors, or three (some people are trying it), or two majors and two minors (yep, I’ve heard of it), you can still enjoy classes, your social life, or just life in general. I’ve had a lot of fun so far, and I’m so happy to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.

I think even the younger version of myself would look at me today and approve of the path I’ve taken. And appreciate the lack of ancient snake pits in my daily life.


Click here to access more information about the Molecular and Cellular Biology Undergraduate Program of Study.

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 well as the Biology question thread.