Why Choose Biology at Pittsburg State University?

students working in natureThe Department of Biology meets instructional needs for students:

  • on a variety of career tracks within biology
  • as support for other disciplines
  • as a basic body of shared knowledge for general education

We have undergraduate programs covering the range of modern biology including pre-health (pre-med, pre-dentistry, pre-vet, pre-optometry), pre-physical therapy, medical technology, cell and molecular biology, field biology and environment, ecology and organismic biology, and secondary education.

There are over 400 students in the undergraduate program and about 20 in the graduate (masters) division. The Department has 15 full-time faculty with a wide range of interests. The faculty are dedicated and committed to the University and the Department, but most importantly, to the students. Most faculty are actively engaged in research activities, national professional organizations, and in professional service.

The practice and instruction of biology depends on equipment, supplies, and facilities. Although there is much to be learned by reading, biology must be expressed as a "hands-on" science. The Biology Department's physical facilities and equipment provide opportunities for both field biology and laboratory/health science teaching and research. Today, both undergraduate and graduate students use these facilities and equipment as a part of classroom instruction or research.

The Biology Department is located in Heckert-Wells Hall just across Joplin Street from the stadium and on the east side of the oval. Locate Heckert-Wells Hall using Google Maps or the PSU Map (PDF) showing Hecket-Wells Hall and University Police and Parking Services building highlighted. The department has provided quality education in the life sciences for southeast Kansas and the surrounding region since 1909 (read about the history of the department).

Biology occupies the top two floors (with a roof-top greenhouse). The building contains faculty offices, the departmental office, and numerous teaching and research labs. Classrooms in surrounding buildings are used for lectures as are some of our lab rooms.

  • High School Student Preparation
  • Careers in Biology
  • Student Life
  • Transfer Students

Students often ask about what they should do in high school to be prepared to enter college as a biology major. It is important to realize that the biology major is a challenging curriculum with required chemistry and math and physics required or recommended in some areas.

Success in these university courses is actually less dependent on having had specific high school courses, and more dependent on their content and rigor. Successful students bring some facts and general knowledge with them, but more than anything else they bring a studious attitude, good study skills, and the determination to work hard. Surprisingly, high school biology, taken by itself, is a poor predictor of success in college biology. An easy time in high school can leave a student under-prepared for the college biology major. If you were not made to work hard in high school, you will have to make a transition to the college biology major.


  • Take challenging high school coursework in and out of the sciences.
  • You need chemistry and physics - they provide a solid foundation in the physical sciences for biological study at the university. In general, students with good chemistry and physics backgrounds from high school have a better chance of succeeding in biology.
  • Additional biology or science classes, such as anatomy and physiology, genetics, or advanced science are often taken in high school. These are beneficial classes, but do not neglect solid chemistry and physics classes! Take biology as a sophomore, chemistry as a junior, and physics as a senior. Then while a junior and senior take additional science courses if they are available. Tackle a challenging Science Fair project, too!
  • Math courses are also important. Algebra I, algebra II, and trigonometry are common high school math courses you should have. If you have the chance, take calculus, or wait for a university class. Math is important because it is a "way of thinking", as much as anything else, and helps prepare your mind for chemistry and biology.
  • Take a computer course that allows you to develop real skills using spreadsheets, word processors, and databases. While Internet browsing is fun and interesting - we use it all the time - you can learn the net anytime.
  • English, literature, history, and speech? Yes! You will become a biologist, but biologists read, write, and speak - a lot. Reading is so fundamental to success that student test scores on reading are often better predictors of success in science than is a science background. If you read well or like to read and are curious about the world, you have the basic skills to succeed at the university.
  • See your guidance counselor for information about the Regents Qualified Admissions and other requirements for acceptance into PSU and other Kansas Board of Regents institutions.

Attitude and Aptitude

A good attitude is important. But a good attitude comes from working hard. Satisfaction comes from achieving goals you had to work for. A good attitude is a mature view of learning - a desire to learn everything you can and not let minor complaints about the course load, the tests, the book, or the instructor get in the way of your achievement. And what about aptitude? You don't have to be a "rocket scientist" to be a decent biologist. While high scholastic achievement certainly puts you in the competition for some very competitive medical fields requiring post-graduate study, in most other areas a solid GPA and good technical skills will do.

Will I succeed?

Many students like biology and are drawn to it because of life experiences - love of animals, an encouraging high school teacher, a family relative or friend that is a health professional, or the love of the outdoors. While these experiences are a start, they must be accompanied by the ability to do well in university coursework.

Overall, the biology major is a very demanding curriculum. In the medical areas, even very qualified students do not always get into the professional school of their choice - the competition is great. Medical schools and physical therapy programs are full and many more students apply than get in. Consider alternative careers in health, some that may be achieved at community colleges. Visit our careers web page for links to your future in all the various areas of biology. See your high school teacher or counselor and be realistic when you evaluate your skills and interests.

How to apply! Want to visit?

Contact the Pittsburg State University Office of Admissions for all the details. Want to visit? We'll be happy to see you.

What does a biology major do?

Your interest in biology and the life sciences can come from several directions.

  • Perhaps your primary interest is in one or more of the many human health career areas like medicine, medical technology, veterinary medicine, physical therapy, or any of the new "assistant" health careers in dentistry or medicine or therapy.
  • On the other hand, you may be an outdoor person, interested in jobs involving animals or plants, ecology, fish or wildlife management, natural history, pollution, or environmental science.
  • You might also be fascinated by a teaching career or biological research in any area: health, genetics, or ecology.
  • Maybe you're not sure, but just know that biology is an area you are very interested in.

This page has many links to web sites with career information. Many sites change addresses - if you run across a bad link, please contact the webmaster (bottom of page) with the information. Each link opens in a new browser window.

Don't forget to check PSU's Career Services for related information. Stop by their office in Horace Mann for all kinds of help.

General places to start learning about careers in biology

Health and Laboratory Sciences - online career information

Many students are interested in "health" careers. From being a doctor to a physical therapist to a medical laboratory worker, the career opportunities are many and varied.

The links provided serve as a good introduction to the range of health career opportunities possible and the types of training needed. Also try the major search engines for more information.

To help your search, think of the health career opportunities in terms of primary care by the "medical" doctor with support from the "allied health" professions, including professional health providers such as physical therapists and medical and laboratory support professional staff such as dental hygienists, phlebotomists, and respiratory therapists. The distinctions are based on educational and professional requirements as much as anything else.

Many of these allied health careers do not need four year of college and training is available at 2-year institutions or 4-year colleges with 2-year programs.

  • "Public Health Online" provides public health resources, materials and tools to those considering a career in public health or currently employed in the industry
  • You'll find descriptions of 18 allied health professions from the commission that accredits many allied health programs. A comprehensive site.
  • Information on many lab-related careers can be found at this site, sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology.
  • Information on the allied health occupations and educational programs from the Career Library of the University Health Services at UC-Berkeley.
  • This links you to the "PSU Biology Health Professions Handbook." It contains much information for the student who has already decided on a program that we can help them with, but it also provides links to many of the professional and college associations.
    PSU Biology Health Professions Handbook

Field Biology, Environment, and Conservation

General environmental job links

Summer jobs/volunteering/internships

Marine and Animal Sciences

General On-line Job Information

Who are biology majors?

student with bird

The 340 Biology majors represent a cross-section of all students on campus. By gender, you almost equally divide between male and female. While most are traditional students (recent high school graduates), non-traditional students are well represented.

Biology majors come from all parts of Kansas, the greater 4-states area (especially Missouri and Oklahoma), and around the world. Many students reside in residence halls, while some live in town, or commute.

You will find biology majors as student leaders in residence halls, in student government, and as student ambassadors. In 2003, 5 of the 20 students selected for service awards were biology majors.

What do students do besides study?

As is the trend everywhere, most students work more hours now than did students 10-20 years ago. This places an additional burden on students, with less time for study but still a desire to graduate on time.

Southeast Kansas has many recreational opportunities for swimming, fishing, hiking, and camping. The southeast Kansas strip pits (lakes formed from pits left from mining days) are great for fishing and the land around them for hunting. We're close to great Kansas lakes and state parks (Lake Crawford, Elk City Lake, Fall River Lake) and not all that far from great outdoor opportunities from the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. In the summer, the city of Pittsburg opens a large "Aquatic Center" with swimming, a raft ride, and slide.

Culture comes to southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri, too. Music and theater programs are scheduled throughout the year. PSU sponsors the Performing Arts and Lecture Series each year, there is the Pittsburg Community Theatre, and the famous Labor Day weekend "Little Balkans" Festival.

What's the biology building like?

Heckert-Wells Hall has only laboratories and offices. Lectures are held in surrounding buildings. Three student lounge areas are located in the building and are especially crowded with students studying before exams. The department also maintains a small computer lab.

Do you have large class sizes?

The Department tries to keep class size low for our majors. The largest class is probably Principles of Biology I in the fall, with about 48 students in each section. Most freshmen labs are capped at 32 and some at 24. General education classes, like General Biology or Environmental Life Science will seat from 75-100 students.

What about advising?students in lab class

Advising is taken seriously in Biology. Each student is given an advisor in their field of interest. While pre-enrollment is always a time to "see" your advisor, come by anytime. To a great extent, we try to mentor our majors. More an apprenticeship than just "instruction", faculty look upon students as the future of our field. You will be assigned an advisor based on your area of interest.

What other experiences can I look forward to?

In biology, you will have the opportunity to do more than sit in a class or lab. During the semester or summer, students may participate in research projects - as a part of coursework, an independent study, or working with faculty on sponsored research. These experiences enhance the undergraduate program. Several students have gone on to give research presentations at state or regional meetings of professional societies.

We encourage our students to take advantage of summer opportunities for relevant employment, workshops, internships, and so on. These experiences expose the students to the "real world" of practicing biologists. Often, credit can be arranged for these experiences.

Any scholarships?

The Department offers a variety of scholarships. Each spring, many departmental scholarships are awarded. Any enrolled biology major may apply. The funds are a combination of alumni funds from several sources. Unfortunately, there are no departmental scholarships at this time for incoming freshmen or transfer students, but the university does provide opportunities for freshmen (https://admission.pittstate.edu/scholarships-financial-assistance.html).


There are two major issues for transfer students (more than 24 hours earned after high school graduation):

  1. The logistics of transfer - what courses will transfer and how much longer will it take to get the Bachelor's Degree?
  2. What courses should you take at a community college or other four-year institution - are you as prepared as possible to continue or start as a biology major?

PSU tries to make transferring you and your credits as easy as possible - but there are always challenges. Be prepared. The following sections are designed to summarize the most important issues.


  • Go to the PSU Admission's "Transfer Students" for information about transfer equivalencies and a lot more about how to transfer. Someone here will make a decision about whether a course you took elsewhere is equivalent to a course here, so always be prepared - keep a copy of your previous college catalogs (at least the course descriptions) and all course syllabi - they might be needed to resolve issues about transfer credit.
  • Discuss with your advisors and instructors what you need to take and see more details below. If you graduated from a Kansas high school after 2000, you must meet the Kansas Board of Regents Qualified Admissions requirements.
  • Plan your coursework to meet curriculum needs when you finally transfer - know going into it what you will be taking out of it. Know what courses will transfer to meet not only general education requirements, but also specific biology requirements including biology, chemistry, and math (discussed in next section).
  • While many community college transfer students come to biology and can graduate in two years, careful choice of coursework before and after entering PSU is needed. Always consult catalogs, web sites, and knowledgeable counselors and faculty at your community college and here at PSU.

What coursework should you take?

The first step is to review the course requirements in biology. See information on the PSU Registrar webpage or PSU Biology's Areas of Study.

What is the best scenario for coming to PSU Biology after two years of community college?

  • Complete a two-semester introductory biology sequence similar to our Principles of Biology I and II. Why? With this two-semester sequence completed, you can start here with the mid-tier courses like genetics, microbiology, or ecology saving you time.
  • The second best is to come in with a one-semester general biology course. Your General Biology course may or may not substitute for Principles of Biology I - see your PSU advisor and bring your General biology syllabus to any conference. If your General Biology can sub for BIO I, then you can go on to Bio II.
  • You should also have taken College Algebra - it is an excellent prerequisite for chemistry!
  • You should also have taken General Chemistry, then you'll be ready for Organic Chemistry here. If you have taken Intro Organic, that's even better.

The most difficult community college transfer scenario is coming to PSU after two years without any science or math. It is a logistic challenge to get all courses in on time (two years and out) and not always possible or desirable.

Under either scenario, be prepared to double-up on some lab courses in order to graduate on-time. You may also want to consider summer school. Try to "connect" with a faculty member in your area of interest here as soon as you can - even before transferring if you can. An early visit to campus (see below) can go a long way to making the transfer smooth.

  • Most Likely to Succeed: Biology I and II with Labs, College Algebra, General Chemistry I/Lab, Introduction to Organic Chemistry/Lab.
  • Most Difficult to Succeed: no science and math.

Will I succeed?

Overall, the biology major is a very demanding curriculum and your experience at other colleges will be helpful to you here. Since many of you will have all, or close to all, of your general education requirements completed, you will tend to have a heavy science and lab schedule. This can be demanding, but understand it and plan for it and you will succeed.