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Advising FAQs

Below are the answers for many questions asked by our biology students.  We highly recommend you see a biology faculty advisor each semester as they can help with these topics and let you know what might taught next semester.  Scroll down to find the answers to the following questions:

  • How can I make sure I stay on track for my degree – what is the big picture? What’s offered next semester?

    The campus has several good digital tools associated with your account to help enroll in classes, suggest course order and predict graduation time. The more you learn about them, the more you can use them to coordinate your progress. The best way to stay on track is to regularly visit both an academic advisor (such as Cindy Yumiko-Harper or Kim Prince in Administrative Building) AND a faculty advisor.  We work as a team to make sure you complete your general requirements and degree requirements. When visiting faculty advisors be sure to download and bring a copy (ideally filled out) of our Biology Major Worksheet – this handy three page document shows the big picture of the degree requirements. Beware, even though it shows the majority of our elective courses at the end, they are never all taught at the same time and it might be many years between offerings of a particular course. The best way to find out what is coming up is to visit a biology faculty member.

    We've made two videos with detailed information on understanding the Biology worksheet and ARR, as well as how to search the schedule of classes for all offered electives and see what is still open.  The schedule video is currently for fall 2020 but the tips inside can help for spring 2021 as well.

  • Other than regular enrollment classes, how can I earn elective credit?

    There are several ways you can earn elective units towards your degree outside of regularly scheduled classes. Your degree allows for up to 8 units of elective credit from a variety of independent courses such as:

    Biology 489 Intro to Lab/Field Research (2 to 4 units). Want more hands-on experience?  You can help conduct research in a faculty member’s lab for elective credit (2 units each semester for up to 4 total). Students typically do research with a faculty member who they had for a course. The number of slots available per lab varies by semester and between faculty, it all starts with you contacting them directly. See the independent research FAQ below for more info.

    Biology 495 Internship in Biology. (3 units) You can earn 3 units of elective credit by participating in or creating your internship at a local organization or company.  You will work directly with a biology faculty member to arrange credit and oversee the internship.  See the internship FAQ below for more information.

    Biology 496A or 496B Supervised Laboratory Instruction (1 or 2 units).  Did you do well in and enjoy any particular lab?  We’d love to have you back as a teaching assistant to help future students.  You can get 1 unit of elective credit for being a helper TA in one lab section (Biol 496A).  This typically involves attending each lab to assist the instructor and a weekly pre-lab meeting.  If you TA two labs you can get 2 units (Biol 496B). You will work directly with a biology faculty member to arrange credit - contact them in advance of the semester (or the dept. chair if no instructor listed) and see if they need help.

    Biology 498 Senior Library Thesis (2 units).  For these units you work directly with a biology faculty member to design a project that involves in-depth reading and research of the literature on a current biology issue.  You will write a detailed literature review of approximately 30 pages that also includes citations.

    Biology 499 Senior Laboratory Thesis (2 units).  This course typically follows work done in a Biol 489 project.  It is done in collaboration with a biology faculty member and you will write a detailed culminating thesis about your project.

  • How can I get into a research lab? How do I get Biology 489/499 credit?

    One of the great benefits of our campus is the opportunity for you to do actual hands-on research (lab and/or field) with biology faculty (sometimes chemistry faculty too – ask about it).  Many of our faculty have active research labs and welcome the participation of undergraduates.  Research experience can not only generate elective credits (up to 6 units if you do two Biol 489 research courses and a Biol 499 senior thesis course), but the experience is helpful for job and graduate school applications and fun too! Because the number of research spots varies greatly between faculty and even semesters, we do not have an official process for securing a spot in a research lab.  Here are the steps to get started:

    1. Identify a research lab(s) that interest you. This might be work with a faculty member who you took a class from, or peruse our tenure-track faculty research descriptions on the department webpage. Do some research on them, even read a paper or two from their work.
    2. Reach out directly to that faculty member(s) and ask if you can discuss research opportunities. This can be in the form of an email, ask for an appointment, or drop into their office hours (posted outside their offices).  If you don’t hear back within a week, don’t be afraid to try again – be nicely persistent.  Be sure to use proper email etiquette when contacting faculty (or applying for jobs or grad school!)
    3. Ask about research early in your degree and be prepared to hear “no”. Depending on the time of year you contact them, they might not have anything at the moment. But, you can voice your interest and ask if you can do something the following semester.  Stay on their radar and be available or drop by every now and then.  We only have about 20 active research labs and over 1,000 biology majors so you can see there aren’t many opportunities.  However, by keeping in contact, most students get in a lab eventually.
  • What about other research opportunities such as summer programs at CSUSM and elsewhere?

    Did you know there are nearly a thousand short-term research opportunities for undergraduates both locally and across the US? These programs are typically a few weeks long, occur during summer, and many provide housing, travel and a stipend.  Imagine getting hosted and paid while doing hands-on research somewhere!  Many are federally funded and are called Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).  These experiences are wonderful for expanding your research experience and on graduate school applications. At CSUSM we host our own 10-week summer research program that provides a stipend, free campus housing and travel funds. It runs June through early August and you need to apply by Feb. 15th, visit Research Experience for Undergraduates for more information. 

    The Office for Training, Research and Education in the Sciences (OTRES) hosts a webpage with links to REU databases such as the NSF REU and Pathways to Science, and links to more local programs at Scripps, UCSD. Many have deadlines of late December through March so be sure to explore these links early. OTRES also often has workshops on applying to summer internships in late fall so check the OTRES calendar.  There are also internships offered. You can talk with a faculty advisor about how to narrow down the many opportunities.

  • How do I set up an internship? How do I get three units of course credit in Biology 495?

    There are many opportunities in our local area for scientific internships that not only teach you valuable skills, but can also earn course credit! To get started, visit our Office of Internships website and review their FAQ for students. There you can learn about internship types, how to search their database of hundreds of companies and even read their own handbook. They have great tips on how to contact and interview for an internship.  You might also be able to find a company or organization not listed yet in our database, but who would be willing to host you as an intern. 

    To get elective credit for the internship you will need to work directly with a biology faculty member.  They will help give advice as to how many hours you will need to spend (typically 90 to 110) and what final products (if any) will be required. They will generate a course permission code to help you enroll in Biology 495.  Internships can occur over summer or winter breaks with credit given in the subsequent semester.  Be sure to talk with a biology faculty member before setting up your internship.

  • What can I do with my biology degree?

    Plenty! While some careers require further post-baccalaureate schooling, many jobs are open to you with your biology degree. There are several good sources of information online, including a link provided from our campus to “What can I do with this major?”. You will have to scroll down, but there are several areas covered.

    If you are pre-health (medical school, dentistry, physician’s assistant, veterinary school etc.) we suggest you go talk with our pre-health rep Dr. Daun Everforest. You can also peruse these pages on exploring health careers). Talking with a faculty advisor in your area of interest can help too as they can offer more specific advice.

  • How do I get a letter of recommendation?

    There are whole blogs and wikis dedicated to this topic –  WikiHow - Ask Your Professor for a Letter of Recommendation is a good place to start.

    Here are our top tips:

    • The more experience you have had with a professor, the better the letter is going to be! It is very difficult for us to write a letter for you if we never interacted other than handing back exams. Go to office hours of every class you take as this will help for future letter requests. Get to know us, even if it is a year later, if we interacted frequently we can write a much more detailed letter for you.
    • You need to help us add detail to the letter so it can stand out. Tell us what it is for, why you are pursuing the job, graduate program etc.  If you have written a statement of purpose, share it with us so our letter backs up your aims and statements.
    • Give us plenty of warning - even if we write the letter the day before it is due, we need to get it on our to do list and often may letters are due at the same time. Over four weeks is ideal.
    • Remind us when it is due - especially the week and a few days before.
    • Here is a checklist you can use when gathering materials to request a letter of recommendation.