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Environmental Biology

404 Altschul Hall
212-854-5760 (fax)
Department Administrative Assistant: Catherine Cook

Advisers: Hilary Callahan (Biological Sciences), Stephanie Pfirman (Environmental Science)


The mission of the Environmental Biology major is to provide students with an understanding of the structure, function and interrelationships of diverse living systems within the context of earth’s changing environment.  It addresses some of the most important issues of our time—climate change and declining biological diversity--and efforts to address these problems.  To this end, students take courses in both the Environmental Science and Biology departments, including laboratory and field courses that help them learn how to design and test hypotheses, use modern scientific equipment, interpret data, and evaluate and solve problems.  Students learn scientific communication skills by critiquing research articles, writing laboratory reports and research papers, and participating in oral presentations and debates.

Environmental Biology students are encouraged to become involved in research under the guidance of a faculty member at Barnard or elsewhere in New York City.  Our urban setting, the proximity to the Hudson River, and the numerous affiliations we maintain with Columbia University through Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute, and the School of Public Health, as well as Black Rock Forest, the American
Museum of Natural History, and other institutions, allow us to offer undergraduates unparalleled opportunities for student research and educational experiences.  Upon successful completion of our program, our students are well prepared to pursue successful careers in research, teaching or the allied health sciences.  The Environmental Biology major is appropriate for students interested in careers as diverse as university-level research and teaching, curatorial work and research in natural history museums and parks, environmental education, and decision-making in environmental policy, law, public health, and government agencies.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss the structure, function, and interrelationships of key environmental systems: climate, earth, life
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the many different life forms on planet Earth
  • Design and execute an independent scientific analysis, including the formulation of a testable hypothesis and assembling a logical chain of reasoning ranging from observation to inference
  • Locate, integrate, and evaluate information from multiple and disparate sources
  • Apply appropriate analytical and quantitative approaches including calculating statistics and displaying data to interpret relationships, trends and make predictions about past and future changes
  • Resolve uncertain, complex problems in the lab and field
  • Clearly communicate  analyses, interpretations and significance through variable media: oral presentation, poster, proposal, research or review article, report

The program in Environmental Biology is jointly administered by the departments of Biology and Environmental Science, and students should maintain contact with the advisers in both departments. A major in Environmental Biology provides a strong background for students interested in the intersection of Biology and Environmental Science. The major is suitable for students who intend to pursue a research career in conservation biology, ecology, or environmental biology as well as for students interested in environmental law or policy. Students who elect the Environmental Biology major will enroll in introductory and advanced courses in Biology and Environmental Science and related fields. All Environmental Biology majors complete a senior essay either in the Biology or Environmental Science departments.

Students may substitute courses taught at Columbia (in the Departments of Biology, E3B, Earth and Environmental Sciences, or Statistics) or at other institutions with the prior approval of both major advisers. Students interested in Environmental Biology often choose to spend a semester abroad in the field. Courses completed in such programs may be accepted in fulfillment of some major requirements.

Students may also pursue an interdisciplinary program by electing a major in either Biology or Environmental Science and a minor in the other discipline, or by planning a double major.

There is no minor in Environmental Biology.