FAQs for the 2020-2021 Academic Year

Biology Department FAQs

Williams College has made the decision to convene an in-person semester for the fall of 2020. Your Biology faculty have been working hard all summer to adapt to our new circumstances, and we know you are eager to know more about what the coming year will look like. Below is a list of frequently asked questions and our best answers to date. Please note that these questions and answers are relevant only to the 2020-21 academic year.

Q1. Are there changes in the requirements for the biology major?

No. There are no significant changes in the major requirements. You will still need to complete nine approved courses for the major. Typically, these will consist of 101 (The Cell), 102 (The Organism), 202 (Genetics), two 300-level courses, one 400-level course, and three additional elective courses at any level.  As usual, two semesters of organic chemistry (CHEM 156+251) can substitute for one of the nine Biology major credits. Students who do not take BIOL 101 (i.e. if they place out) will need to take an additional approved course. Please discuss specific questions about your situation with your departmental advisor or the department chair, Lois Banta ([email protected]).

Q2. When and how will academic advising happen?

Please see the registrar’s website for general information about preregistration and the dean’s website for academic advising information. Briefly, rising juniors will complete the major declaration form remotely during the week of Aug 3-7. The preregistration period for all students will occur between Aug 10-17. In early August, current majors are welcome to schedule a remote appointment with their faculty advisor to discuss course plans for the fall semester.

Q3. How will large courses be taught in order to comply with distancing guidelines?

A few courses, as well as one section of BIOL 101, will be taught entirely remotely. Most of our courses will likely be taught in a hybrid format, with a mix of in-person and remote components, in smaller-than-normal sections. Note that all classes will be fully able to accommodate remote students. Please look at the “Notes” section of each course description for further details on the instructional approach that is anticipated.

Q4. If a class is scheduled for in-person meetings, but I am only able to attend remotely, will I be able to take it?

Absolutely. Any course that includes an in-person component will be open to students taking the course remotely, including those students who are on-campus but temporarily in quarantine. However, it may be the case that discussion sections or project groups will be organized such that students taking the course remotely will meet together and those taking the course in-person will meet together. Please contact the professor with specific questions.

Q5. Will courses that typically offer labs still include laboratory components?

Yes. The biology department remains very committed to ensuring that students learn through hands-0n experimentation, and almost all of our courses (other than 400-level seminars) have laboratory components. Courses that typically include laboratory experiences (e.g., BIOL 101, 102, 202, and 200- and 300-level elective courses) will continue to include labs, adapted for social distancing by reductions in length of time spent in the lab and number of students per section.  Students who enroll in a course in-person will be expected to attend the lab in-person as well.

Q6.  Will I be able to participate in labs if I am attending Williams remotely?

Yes.  All courses that have a lab component will offer a remote alternative.  In some cases, the remote students will be integrated into the actual lab session in real-time (e.g. via Zoom); in other cases, students learning remotely may focus more on the experimental design and data analysis, within the context of the course’s lab component. Either way, the lab component will fulfill the lab requirements for the major.

Q7.  Will I still be able to complete my thesis project?

All students who were planning to complete a senior honors thesis should discuss the situation with their advisors.  We recommend that you consult Options for Thesis Students table for more information.  The availability of certain scenarios (e.g. partially remote versus in-person research, doing an off-cycle thesis) varies from lab to lab, depending on the nature of the research you’ll be doing with your advisor.

Q8. Will we still have department “extracurricular” events such as colloquia, career and graduate study panels, social events, etc. 

Distancing requirements will certainly affect the ways in which we gather for social events and colloquia, but we remain committed to gathering (remotely and/or in person) in ways that allow us to celebrate, share, and learn from each other!