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Frequently Asked Questions

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    Is the Microbiology major right for me?
    The Course Load

    The Microbiology Major is designed to be in line with the number of credits other Life Sciences majors require. Don’t expect an excess of required credit hours if you compare this major to those in other departments. The courses in this program are designed with prerequisites for post-BYU schooling in mind, meaning this major will cover most of the topics necessary to apply to medical schools, dental schools, PA school, master’s programs, and PhD programs.

    A calculus or statistics class is required, as are both semesters of inorganic chemistry with accompanying labs. A semester of physics is required as well. For those looking to take the MCAT or go into higher-level (400-level and above) classes, organic chemistry and biochemistry are encouraged and, in some cases, required.

    The Benefits

    The Microbiology Major provides students a way to see concepts universal to biology illustrated in the simplest organisms, which makes it a great foundation on which to study these overarching principles. If you plan on pursuing a graduate degree or further professional training in the life sciences, microbiology is a good option to prepare you for that.

    The Microbiology program also has plenty of opportunities for experiential learning that move beyond cookbook lab sciences and help students get their names on published, peer-reviewed papers. Phage Hunters, mentored research, and project-based courses are just some of the options for research experience. This major also emphasizes written and oral communication of science, a soft skill that increases your own understanding, provides opportunities to do research, and attracts public interest in your projects.

    Besides being prepared for the next phase of education, bachelor level graduates from this major are prepared for quality assurance jobs in the food and cosmetic industries, laboratory technician jobs, and even some roles in satellite fields like biotechnology or life sciences consulting.

    The Ideal Student

    The ideal microbiology student is someone who wants to learn how to think and operate like a scientist. This may be the right major for you if you are curious about the unseen world of biology and how to measure and manipulate it. The most successful student is someone who recognizes that they will be working in teams for the rest of their life.

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    Is the Molecular Biology major right for me?
    The Course Load

    The Molecular Biology Major plan is rigorous. A calculus or statistics class is required, as well as both semesters of inorganic chemistry, a semester of physics, and either organic chemistry or biochemistry. Many classes are designed to have a hands-on laboratory element which can be difficult for those new to research.

    For 400-level courses and above, expect to study 1.5 to 2 hours outside of class for every time you meet in class.

    The Benefits

    The Molecular Biology Major allows students to learn how life works starting from the cellular level, all the way to complex organisms like humans. Molecular biology elucidates how human genes can affect a person’s likelihood to get cancer, how environmental factors affect the expression of genes, and how the structure of folded up DNA can determine whether a gene is transcribed or not.

    Molecular biology is at the forefront of the questions society faces right now, like how to vaccinate people against viruses like SARS-CoV-2 using mRNA vaccines, or how to use gene therapies to treat diseases like cancer and diabetes. Molecular biology technologies are helping scientists look for treatment options for previously unsolvable problems in a new way.

    The Molecular Biology Major in the MMBio Department can help you on the path of studying genomics from a human health perspective by preparing you for further education. The upper division courses in this major teach critical thinking and experimental design, which will help you to be successful in your next career steps, whether it’s pursuing a PhD and staying in academia, or going down a different road. Some graduates of the program have gone into patent law or biotechnology consulting.

    The Ideal Student

    The ideal student in the Molecular Biology Major is excited to learn about intricacies of life at the genetic level and how genes can be turned on and off based on a variety of factors. A successful student will be able to study, read, and memorize foundational information, but more importantly have the ability to synthesize. If you are looking to learn how to think analytically like a scientist, ask questions, and design ways to answer those questions, you may be a perfect candidate for the Molecular Biology Major.
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    Is the Medical Laboratory Science major right for me?
    The Course Load

    The course load in the MLS program is rigorous. You should expect to find time to study in every spare moment during the coursework-intensive semesters. Just remember that you will have classes with the same group of people and MLS students tend to be good about studying together between classes and labs. Having a job in addition to being a MLS student is a challenge and may affect your academic performance, but it is not impossible and with help from classmates and faculty, you can make it work for you. The last semester of the program involves clinical rotations in a laboratory, so your schedule will need to be free enough to accommodate an internship.

    The Benefits

    The demand for medical laboratory scientists is high right now—some states even have sign-on bonuses just for moving and working there. 90% of MLS students have a job in a lab lined up before they graduate.

    Additionally, working in healthcare is gratifying. Medical laboratory scientists supply about 70% of the information doctors use to diagnose patients. You will be helping doctors alleviate pain and improve patients’ quality of life because on the other end of a test tube is a person. If you are an introvert, you can help in healthcare without much patient interface.

    A degree in MLS is also a stepping stone to further education, like Physician Assistant school, where knowledge of diagnostic processes will give you an edge. Clinical lab scientists also often have the flexibility to work whenever they choose, and many labs have the option for their scientists to pick up shifts as needed. This flexibility allows you to stay current on your skills and credentials while still being able to devote time to your family.

    The Ideal Student

    The ideal student in the MLS program should be the type of person that gets excited about handling and analyzing blood and body fluids. If you are passionate about infectious diseases, potentially deadly microbes, and clinical lab safety practices, then this is the major for you. A good self-check is to take MMBIO 102, Introduction to Clinical Laboratory Techniques, which covers all the techniques you will learn in the MLS program.
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    What is the difference between Microbiology and Molecular Biology?
    At BYU, MMBio is short for “Microbiology and Molecular Biology”. But what exactly is different between the two? Where do they overlap?

    The Scale

    Both microbiology and molecular biology deal with tiny things—how life functions at microscopic levels. However, the two are at different scales. The human body is estimated to contain 30 trillion cells and 40 trillion bacterial cells [1]. E. coli, one of the most common bacteria on earth, is 20 times smaller than a human skin cell. That’s the level at which microbiologists are interested. Microbiology is all about the tiny microbes (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that coexist in the world around us, and often in our own bodies.

    Inside bacteria is DNA, the strands of molecules that comprise the genetic code of every living thing (and even nonliving things, like some viruses). A double helix of DNA is more than 4000 times smaller than an E. coli cell and can condense even further. Areas of DNA that code for important structures a d functions in a living organism are called genes. Along with tiny DNA are tiny proteins that carry out a cell’s functions, like DNA replication and waste cleanup. Molecular biology mostly studies these genes and proteins to determine how life works on a molecular basis.

    Research Questions

    Another difference is what kinds of questions each branch of biology asks. Like zoologists study the physiology, ecology, and evolution of animals and populations of animals, microbiologists look at the physiology, ecology, evolution, and applications of microorganisms. This means microbiologists study anything from how gut microbiota influence human health, to how bacteria can survive in the most extreme of environments like geysers in Yellowstone. Microbiologists also study pathogenic microbes like viruses and bacteria that cause infection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, microbiologists have been helping drive production of vaccines and educating the public on how viruses function and infect hosts.

    Molecular biologists are concerned with the structure and interactions of molecules found in cells, like proteins and the nucleic acids that form DNA. Molecular biologists ask questions of how RNA can be used to inhibit the transcription of cancer-causing genes and how to edit genetic material. Molecular biologists also study the molecular mechanisms behind parasite-host interactions and how viruses called bacteriophages can infect and kill pathogenic bacteria. Molecular biologists help therapeutic treatments for cancer and disease be identified and developed.

    The Overlap

    As in most fields of science, molecular biology and microbiology intersect. Microbiology labs will use molecular biology methods, like CRISPR-Cas9—a system derived from E. coli bacteria—to edit genes of target microorganisms. Molecular biology use microbes as model organisms to research questions regarding molecular pathways in cells.

    Sources
    Further Reading
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    What is the MLS application like?
    MLS Application

    The Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS) program in the MMBio Department is a great way to become a nationally accredited medical laboratory scientist. Here’s everything you need to know about the application:

    What is it?

    The MLS application is for prospective pre-MLS students that are ready to enter the major’s core coursework. Ideally, you will have finished all your prerequisite courses, but it is fine to be in the final semester of those prerequisites when you apply.

    What is the application process like?

    The application involves filling out autobiographical information, a graduation plan, writing an essay about your interest in the MLS field and future goals, previous work experience, and obtaining three letters of recommendation. All the information is submitted online and then reviewed by the MLS faculty. All applicants are interviewed by MLS faculty, and the results of the interview are usually sent out within a week. No service hours or tests are required.

    Applications are due every year on March 1st and October 1st by 11:59 pm. Applications are reviewed by MLS faculty. If you don’t get accepted to the program the first time, you can reapply. MLS faculty will work with you to plan for the next time you apply, which often means retaking classes.

    Previous Experience

    Previous experience working in a clinical lab setting is a plus. This includes processing samples in a clinical laboratory, working as a phlebotomist, or working as a medical laboratory technician (MLT). These jobs only require a high school diploma and provide on-the-job training and certification. Research lab experience is good but won’t help you stand out in the MLS application process.

    Letters of Recommendation

    Three letters of recommendation are required on the application: 2 academic references or job supervisors that can vouch for your work and reliability, and one personal reference like a bishop or mission president.

    To have the best chance of success, be proactive and reach out to the professors you would like to write you letters of recommendation. Perform well in their classes and have them get to know you by stopping by during their office hours.

    What are my other options?

    At BYU, the prerequisite courses for the MLS program coincide closely with the Molecular Biology and Microbiology majors, so if MLS doesn’t work out, you will still be on track for graduation.

    Other schools also offer MLS programs for undergraduates, or post-baccalaureate programs to receive MLS certification. Many clinical labs provide training for specific aspects of lab work that you can get certified in as a MLT. The military also provides MLS training for those who choose to contract with them.
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    How do I get into a lab in the MMBio Department?
    BYU prioritizes experiential learning wherever possible but getting into a lab may seem like a daunting task to the first-time researcher. If there is space available, it’s as easy as doing some preliminary investigation and reaching out to professors.

    Research your options.
    Students can go to https://mmbio.byu.edu/research-labs and explore the different MMBio labs and their research interests. Each lab website will have an overview of what their focus is, as well as what prospective students can do to contact the supervising faculty member. Some websites may list classes, skills, or experience as prerequisites so make sure you have done your research before reaching out. A common prerequisite class is MMBIO 240, but not every lab requires this.

    Meet with a professor.
    Once you have done your research, a particular lab may have stuck out to you. Reach out to the professor in the way they’ve specified on their website (if there’s no way specified, email is always a good option) and set up a time to meet. During this meeting, professors will get to know a bit about you and your interests, skills, and experience. They may explain their research more in depth, so it’s good to have a base understanding of what they do, and a few questions prepared beforehand. Together, you and your professor will determine if this lab is a good fit for you.

    Join the lab.
    Your professor will give you a permission-to-add code to join their lab and receive mentored research credit. Most professors have expectations for how long you should plan on spending in the lab each week, so make sure you are on the same page. Finally, enjoy the research and the opportunity to think critically and learn new skills!
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    How do I add a minor?
    To add a minor, contact your college advisement center. If you are applying to a limited enrollment minor, please see the advisement center that offers the minor.
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    How can I know when a class will be offered?
    By checking the class schedule or by clicking on the class in MyMAP. The class schedule can also be found on the BYU homepage under Academics.
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    How many MMBIO courses should I take per semester?
    It is recommended that students take no more than three MMBIO courses per semester in order to succeed in the program. Two courses per semester is preferred.
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    What do I need to know for graduation?
    All graduation information can be found on the Enrollment Services website (enrollment.byu.edu/registrar/graduation) In order to apply, you must have an active ecclesiastical endorsement covering the graduation for which you plan to apply.
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    What is the Biology Field Exam?
    As part of the requirements for most Life Sciences majors, you are required to take a national ETS exam. All institutions of higher learning use assessment tools, and the ETS Biology Major Field Test is one tool that the departments in the College of Life Sciences have chosen to assess the efficacy of the biology curriculum.

    “The Biology Major Field Exam contains about 150 multiple-choice questions, a number of which are grouped in sets and based on descriptions of laboratory and field situations, diagrams or experimental results. The subject matter is organized into four major areas: cell biology; molecular biology and genetics; organismal biology; and population biology, evolution and ecology. Some of the questions within each of the major areas are designed to test examinees’ analytical skills. It is designed to take two hours and may be split into two sessions. This test must be given by a proctor. Mathematical operations do not require the use of a calculator.”

    Students in the following majors are required to take the exam: Biodiversity and Conservation, Bioinformatics, Biological Science Education, Biology, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Physiology & Developmental Biology, and Genetics, Genomics, & Biotechnology.

    You do not need to study for the exam as it will cover material that you have already learned in previous courses. You do not need to bring anything with you except for a pencil or pen. Scratch paper will be provided.
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    Is grad school in the MMBio department right for me?
    The Course Load

    The MMBio Department offers both a Master’s program and a PhD program. The first year of both programs are comprised of the same core classes: Molecular Biology Applications, an introductory course in laboratory science, Genomics, and a writing course in which you can begin your prospectus and learn the skills to write your thesis and publish your data. In addition to the core classes, you may take elective courses to increase your knowledge on topics that directly apply to what you are researching in the lab.

    The rest of the program after the first year is spent in the lab and the length of time that your Master’s or PhD program will last depends on how well your experiments go. While the classroom aspect of these programs is relatively short, the research element is demanding and requires that you become an expert on what you are working on. Both the Master’s and the PhD tracks are thesis-driven. For Master’s students, publication is recommended but not required. At the end of around 2 years, you will be ready to defend your thesis. For PhD students, it is a requirement that you publish and contribute to the body of science pertaining to your topic. This usually takes around 4 years depending on how long it takes to troubleshoot and create tools needed to carry out experiments. The length of time you spend on your research can impact the quality of your data, publications, and resume. Sometimes an extra year in your PhD program can propel you forward to more prestigious postdoc and faculty positions in the future.

    Both programs are full-time programs. PhD students will receive coverage of their tuition by the department, as well as a living stipend. If you get accepted as a PhD student, you will be required to work as a teaching assistant (TA.) Master’s students also have the option to work as a TA to help with the costs of tuition, which will not be covered by the department.

    The Benefits

    The MMBio Department at BYU has a low faculty member to student ratio—most professors only advise 1 or 2 PhD students. You will be able to have regular facetime with your primary investigator (PI) and your advisory committee members. If you work best with plenty of opportunities to ask questions and discuss with your PI, the MMBio Department is for you.

    The MMBio Department encourages experiential learning for undergraduate students in lab research, so you will have the opportunity to teach and mentor undergrads in whichever lab you work.

    BYU campus and the surrounding Provo area is relatively safe, beautiful, and tucked right next to mountains, making it perfect for those who enjoy outdoor activities.

    The Ideal Student

    The ideal MMBio graduate student is someone who wants to learn all they can for the sake of learning and pushing understanding of a topic forward. If you think about science in the shower, in the car, and during downtime, graduate school is for you. If you enjoy collaborating closely with your fellow lab members and supervisor, and diving into primary literature to inform your experimental efforts while you wait for a solution to mix or a gel to run, then this is the department for you.

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    What is the MCAT and DAT?
    If you are a prospective medical or dental student, you may have heard “MCAT” and “DAT” floating around. They are both standardized tests that help medical and dental school admissions offices determine an applicant’s knowledge of life sciences, critical reasoning, and problem-solving skills.

    The MCAT is the Medical College Admission Test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Today, it’s administered on a computer in a proctored setting and lasts 7 hours and 30 minutes. The four sections on the MCAT are chemistry and physics, critical analysis and reasoning, biology and biochemistry, and psychology and behavioral science. Each section is scored independently and then added together. The cumulative scores range from 478 to 528, with 500 being the midpoint. A cumulative score of 515 puts the test taker in the 91st percentile according to the AAMC’s 2020 percentile rank report. Most test preparation services recommend a 520 or higher to increase an applicant’s likelihood of medical school admission.

    The DAT is the Dental Admission Test administered by the American Dental Association (ADA). It is also a computerized test that takes 5 hours to complete. The sections on this test are natural sciences (biology, inorganic and organic chemistry), perceptual ability (keyholes, angle ranking, etc.), reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. The DAT is scored on each section separately using standard scores from 1 to 30. These standard scores ensure there’s no score disparity between the different forms of the DAT administered that year. According to the ADA, the national average is around 19 in each section, so an applicant may aim for higher than that in their scores to be competitive. Usually, a 21 or higher in a section puts the test taker around the 90th percentile but this may change year to year.

    How do I nail them?

    • Ask around. Talk to people you know who have taken them and who are ahead of you on the career path you choose. If you don’t know anyone, look on YouTube for channels about being a dentist, medical doctor, or med or dental student. Facebook and Reddit can also provide access to communities to discuss and learn from others’ experiences. The AAMC also has a page of testimonials and advice from actual MCAT takers.
    • Invest in test preparation. Both the AAMC and ADA provide practice tests for a fee, and there are third-party services that provide test preparation courses and materials—sometimes for free. Use websites to create flashcards so you can review from anywhere.
    • Practice test taking skills. The MCAT and DAT are lengthy tests. Work up testing stamina by increasing the length of time you can study without interruptions until you can focus for a few hours between breaks. Practice the pacing of the test when you take your practice test. The time limits for each section are outlined on the AAMC and ADA websites.
    • Plan your preparation. Most sources recommend 250-300 hours of preparation in total before taking the MCAT and DAT. This is best done over 3 to 6 months. Make a plan that fits your schedule and don’t reserve a spot in a test before you have a good idea of when you’ll feel ready.
    • Zoom out. It’s easy to feel like the DAT or MCAT is the pinnacle of your educational career, but it is just a means to an end. Remember why you want to pursue medical or dental school and stay focused on that.
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    Can courses taken from other universities fulfill BYU requirements?
    Substitutions for General Education courses are done through Transfer Evaluation office.

    MMBIO course substitutions are evaluated by the Life Science Advisement Center or the MMBIO department Academic Advisor.
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    Where can I find Major Academic Plans (MAPs) for majors & minors in Microbiology, Molecular Biology, and Medical Laboratory Science?
    MAPs can be found here. Please note: The first page of the MAPs has all the classes required for both the University Core and the major. The second page has an eight semester plan for students, along with information about the major and career opportunities within the discipline.
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    How do I reserve a room in the LSB?
    When you need to reserve a space to study, work on a large project, or hold a club event visit lsscheduler.byu.edu to reserve a space.