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Overview Advances in biology have broad societal implications. Over the centuries, debates have raged about when human life begins, how to effectively treat disease and suffering in the living, and how to preserve dignity in death. The elucidation of evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century focused attention on the seminal questions of the origins of life and the human species, and had a profound influence on the way we view the development of society. Ready access to individual human genome information, advance in stem-cell research, and tissue and organ cloning, raise numerous ethical and regulatory questions. The increased longevity resulting from medical advances poses major challenges as our society must allocate increasing resources for an expanding elderly population. The treatment of individuals living with HUIV/AIDS, the increasing prevalence of multi-drug resistant bacteria, and the specter of pathogens being utilized as agents of bioterrorism, raise daunting social and scientific questions. The contribution of expanding human-generated pollution to acute and progressive diseases and its relationship to cognitive disorders in children and adults ad further complexity to our already challenging global health needs.
Addressing such issues, questions, and challenges requires not only an understanding of biology, but an appreciation of its context within the humanities and the social sciences. The interdisciplinary, distinguished major in Human Biology draws upon faculty from virtually every school at the University in order to provide students the opportunity to study the extraordinary interplay between modern biology and society. This program will prepare a select group of students to address ethical, legal and policy issues raised by developments in the life sciences. The major requires a solid foundation in biology and interrelated, complementary courses in the social sciences and humanities. Students will integrate their studies through participating in a capstone seminar, co-taught by faculty from several schools and departments, and by writing a thesis that encompasses scientific, ethical, legal, and policy issues relevant to the student’s topic of independent study. The Human Biology major prepares students for post-graduate studies and careers in law, medicine, bioethics, public health, national and international health policy, the health evaluation sciences, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Students The major is comprised of outstanding, creative, independent, and enthusiastic students with diverse backgrounds in biology, the social sciences and humanities, who wish to pursue an intellectually challenging and genuinely interdisciplinary program. Approximately 15-20 students are admitted into the program each year. Admission requires application and evaluation which occurs in the spring semester of the student’s second year. Students are chosen based on their academic record, a written statement describing the student’s goals in pursuing the major, and how the major will prepare them for their immediate post-graduate academic or career plans. Two letters of recommendation from faculty members familiar with the student and their potential for academic success are required. Students entering the college as transfers and having completed two years outside of UVA are eligible to apply at the start of their third year. Transfer students interested in joining the program should contact the program director following their acceptance to the University.
Administration and Faculty The program is currently under the direction of Michael P. Timko, PhD, Professor of Biology & Human Health Sciences. Ruth Garre Bernheim, JD, MPH, Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences in the School of Medicine, Associate Director of the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, serves as co-Director. Faculty in the program are drawn from a wide range of departments and centers throughout the University including Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Science, Politics, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Public Health Sciences, the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, and the Center for Global Health. Because of the major’s interdisciplinary nature, numerous faculty throughout the University community, including faculty at the University of Virginia, School of Medicine and Curry School of Education, participate in courses and serve as advisors and thesis mentors.