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David S. Olton Program in Behavioral Biology


Undergraduate Program

Faculty Advisors -  Acedmic Advising - Degree Requirements -  Checklists -  Research - Course Descriptions -  Double Majoring -  Scholarships/Awards - Departmental Honors

Faculty Advisors

Dr. Linda Gorman

 Dr. Peter Holland

Academic Advising

Upon entering the university, freshmen are initially advised by the Office of Academic Advising. Only after declaring a major are they assigned to a faculty adviser within their chosen major. Even after declaring their major, students are still required to meet with an Academic Adviser to ensure that all university requirements are being fulfilled prior to the students’ anticipated graduation. During the spring semester of their junior year, students are required to complete the Behavioral Biology checklist and verify their progress with both the Behavioral Biology Program Coordinator and the appropriate Academic Adviser.

The Academic Adviser responsible for approving graduation requirements for Behavioral Biology majors is:

Ms. Adriene Breckenridge
Office of Academic Advising
320 Garland Hall
(410) 516-8216

Degree Requirements

Upper-level courses (300-level or above) are required in two areas, social sciences and behavioral sciences. Often, lower-level courses are prerequisites for upper-level courses. You should plan carefully to take upper-level courses whenever possible, and to identify prerequisites for these courses so that you can take any lower-level prerequisites early in your education. Major requirements cannot be taken on a pass/fail basis.

Laboratory courses do not count as upper-level science courses.

Courses in humanities and social sciences, both upper- and lower-level, may be taken with the pass/fail option, except for the courses listed as required for Behavioral Biology. Calculus may be taken in either sequence 110.106-107 or 110.108-109. Both are acceptable for medical school and for the Behavioral Biology Program. However, 110.106-107 is usually the more appropriate for this major.

Students are required to take Statistical Analysis I (550.111) and Statistical Analysis II (550.112). A background in statistics is required for many psychology Ph.D. programs. Students interested in careers in organismal biology and ecology are encouraged to take courses such as A Guided Tour of the Planets (270.114), Population and Community Ecology (270.308), and Ecology (570.205). These courses can count under the “Distribution Requirements” category on the checklist.

 You should read carefully all the other information about University requirements in the relevant University publications. If you have any questions, please contact either your faculty advisor or the program coordinator. (back to top)


Click here for pdf version of the information on this page

Students are urged to take advantage of the many opportunities to participate in research projects carried out here at Homewood or at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Supervised research is initiated by an agreement between the student and the faculty member with whom s/he wishes to work. That agreement specifies what the student will do in terms of research, how much time will be spent doing it, when the student is expected to be present, what the student will give the research supervisor (e.g., a certain amount of time, a paper, the results of an experiment, etc.) and what the student will receive (e.g., supervision, readings, guidance in pursuing the project, etc.).

When attempting to identify potential research supervisors, it is recommended that students consult departmental web pages and other online information for research being conducted at the Homewood Campus and the School of Medicine. The research interests of faculty members in each department are usually listed, along with selected bibliographies of published works. Students are encouraged to read a brief selection of the articles that have been published by the potential supervisors, to ensure that the nature of the research being conducted is understood, and can be intelligently discussed by the student. It is best to contact faculty via e-mail to discuss possible research opportunities, with students being certain to introduce themselves as undergraduate Behavioral Biology majors, and explaining their interest in working for credit in the faculty member’s laboratory. Students are urged to make these arrangements well before the end of the semester prior to which they wish to begin work.If the research supervisor is not a full-time member in the School of Arts & Sciences, students must find a sponsor among the full-time Arts & Sciences faculty. The sponsor -- typically, but not necessarily, the academic advisor -- must decide that the work is relevant to the major and must agree to serve as the student’s sponsor. When registering for independent study or research, students must submit an Undergraduate Research/Independent Study/Internship Supplemental Registration Form that has been signed by the faculty sponsor. Forms may be obtained from the Registrar or the Program Office in 140 Ames Hall, and must accompany the student’s registration or add/drop form.The number of credits earned for supervised research ranges from 1 to 3, and is determined at the end of the semester. Each 40 hours of work is worth one credit. Because the semester is about 13 weeks long, each credit requires about 3 hours per week on average. If the student works regularly during the semester, then 3 hours a week will yield 1 credit, 6 hours will yield 2 credits, and 9 hours will yield 3 credits. Students may, of course, work more some days and weeks than others. In all cases, students should keep a record of the number of hours they put in during the semester. Because the number of credits is determined at the end of the semester, students should not indicate any particular number of credits when registering for research. The School of Arts & Sciences stipulates that students may earn no more than 3 credits of research, independent study, or internship per semester, and no more than 6 credits per academic year (Fall/Intersession/Spring/Summer).

All students who enroll for Supervised Research or Independent Study must (at a minimum) write a 3-5 page report that describes the substance of the research that was carried out during the semester. This report should be approved and signed by the research supervisor. This document must be submitted to the faculty sponsor at the end of the semester.

At the end of the semester, the following two items must be handed into the sponsor by 5:00 p.m. on the last day of the reading period to enable the sponsor to submit a grade to the Registrar in a timely manner. Unless an alternative arrangement has been made with the sponsor beforehand, late reports will not be accepted and may result in a grade of Unsatisfactory. All independent research is graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory scale.

(1)A typewritten report, about 3-5 double-spaced pages in length, on work accomplished during the semester. The following format should be used:

Introduction: Give background information including references to the literature and describe how the work fits into the overall research program of the laboratory (About 1 page).

Methods: Briefly describe experimental methods used in the work. Cite references when appropriate. Step-by-step detailed protocolsare not necessary (about 1 page).

Results: Describe results obtained, including graphs, tables, etc. If this isthe first semester of work and there are not sufficient results to report, there should be more emphasis on describing techniqueslearned during this period in the Methods section.

Discussion: Discuss significance of the results and relate them to futureplans, if appropriate.

(2)Supervisor’s Evaluation of Work: If the student is working under the supervision of a faculty member other than the sponsor, the supervisor should certify that the work described in the report was complete and provide an evaluation of the quality of the work. This information can be written directly on the student’s report or in the form of a confidential letter to the sponsor. (back to top)

Course Descriptions

200.141 Foundations of Brain, Behavioral and Cognition (formerly Introduction to Physiological Psychology)
The ability of an animal to adapt its behaviors to its environment so that it can survive is a fundamental role of the nervous system. The focus of the course is on how the nervous system controls behavior and how behavior can change the nervous system. More specifically, the course is designed to explain behavior in terms of its underlying physiology, its development, its evolution, and its function. (3 credits)

200.208 Animal Behavior
This introductory course examines the basic principles of animal behavior. Topics include orientation, migration, communication, reproduction, parent-offspring relations, ontogeny of behavior, and social organization. The evolution and adaptive significance of behavior will be emphasized. (3 credits)

290.101 Human Origins
This course examines the origins of human structure, function and behavior from an evolutionary perspective. It includes study of the evolution, behavior and behavioral ecology of nonhuman primates, hominid evolution (including the paleontological and archaeological records), and the origins of human cognition, social behavior and culture.(3 credits)

080.305 The Nervous System I
A half century’s research in neuroscience has brought the field to a point where the cell and molecular biology of neurons allows us to understand how the nervous system is put together and how it functions. In The Nervous System I, the structural and electrical properties of neurons will be explored in the context of how the auditory system of birds and mammals is organized and how it works to detect sounds, locate their sources, appreciate their content and understand their meaning. In addition, the cellular and molecular biology of synapses will be examined in parallel with the anatomy and physiology of the vertebrate visual system as a way to explain contrast detection, color perception, visual guidance of movement and face recognition. (3 credits)

290.420 Origins of Human Sexual Orientation Variation
This course will examine the historical and current theories of sexual orientation and sexual variation development. Sexual variations encompasses sexual behavior that fall outside of traditional heterosexual coital sexual activity. This course looks at various types of sexual variations also known as sexual paraphilias. Sexual paraphilias can include sexual sadism/masochism, fetishism, voyeurism, pedophilia, and exhibitionism. This course will examine the biological, psychological and social contributing factors that influence the development of sexual orientations and variations along with treatment and modification of problematic sexual behaviors.(3 credits)

290.490 Behavioral Biology Senior Seminar
This seminar is intended as a capstone course for senior Behavioral Biology majors. We will consider Great Ideas in all areas of behavioral biology through readings of both classic and cutting edge articles in the original literature. After consultation with the instructor, students will select many of the discussion topics. Enrollment is limited to 12. Registration preferences to senior Behavioral Biology majors. Offered in both fall and spring academic terms. (1 credit)

360.236 Tropical Biology and Ecology in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands (Intersession)
This course in an introductory field tropical biology course held in Ecuador and on the Galapagos Islands. The course will concentrate on the flora and fauna of the Amazon rain forest, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Special attention will be given to the consideration of the behavioral adaptations exhibited by various animal taxa. Final grade will be based on a field notebook that the student keeps and a final paper due late January. There are no prerequisites other than a valid passport and approval of instructors. Spanish speaking students are encouraged to apply. No S/U. Students are selected on a competitive basis by instructors. Application required. (3 credits)
(see the Study Abroad webiste to apply -

Double Majoring

The University does not encourage double majoring. Obviously, you can take as many courses as you wish in any area without actually declaring a second major. However, students may fulfill the requirements for more than one major with the approval of the associate dean for academic advising (A&S) or academic affairs (Engr.). A notation is placed on the academic record acknowledging completion of requirements for the additional major(s). A student with a double major receives the degree (B.A./B.S.) associated with the student’s primary major. The coordinator for the second major has the responsibility for advising students who are completing a second major. Completing a second major does not entitle the student to a second degree.

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David S. Olton Award

The David S. Olton Award will be given annually to support undergraduate research in the area of the biology of behavior, broadly defined. Undergraduate students from Johns Hopkins in any major but especially those in psychology, behavioral biology and neuroscience are encouraged to apply. The award will be for $2,500. This award is designed to help students complete a project of their own that they might not otherwise be able to carry out due to financial limitations. Therefore the award can potentially cover a wide range of costs including stipend support (either during the academic year or the summer) or equipment and/or supplies essential to the project.

Applications should consist of: (1) a short proposal (approximately 2 to 3 pages including references); (2) a letter of support from their research sponsor; (3) a budget with justification; and, (4) a 1 page summary of research and course experience relevant to the project and a transcript. The letter from the sponsor should be in a sealed enveloped signed by the sponsor across the back, with the student’s name on the front.

An email announcement is sent to all students in mid-Fall semester to provide information on applicable deadlines and requirements on submission.

Curt Richter Award

The Curt P. Richter Award in Behavioral Biology Research is given in recognition of outstanding achievement in the David S. Olton Behavioral Biology Program. It is awarded to a selected graduating senior to recognize his/her dedication to excellence in education and research. Dr. Richter is a former Hopkins graduate with passion for science and research. (back to top)

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