Biology Boot Camp Jump-starts College Life for Incoming Freshmen

UM biology instructor Beckie Symula discusses gene transcription during the pilot Biology Boot Camp, a one-week, pre-college experience designed to introduce incoming freshmen to the university and its freshman-level biology course for science majors. UM photo by Nathan Latil.

OXFORD, Miss. – Here’s the question: How can four nucleotides code for 20 amino acids?

With that, biology instructor Beckie Symula plunges ahead into her discussion on gene transcription with 87 incoming freshmen participating in a pilot Biology Boot Camp, a new effort to acquaint incoming students with the rigors of life as a science undergraduate at the University of Mississippi.

Lucile McCook, director of Biology Boot Camp, said that while lectures are a core component of the four-day intensive camp, “it’s really about developing a learning community for the freshmen to thrive.”“Many students struggle with freshmen biology, even students that have made all A’s in high school. Bootcamp gives students a glimpse of what life is like for a science major, and also provides tools needed to succeed in college,” said McCook, also director of Health Profession Advising Office.

These tools include test- and note-taking tips that are especially helpful during long lectures, plus time management guidelines.

The Ole Miss Biology Boot Camp is modeled after a successful program offered at Louisiana State University. In the LSU program, which is in its seventh year, research shows that students who participate in an intensive biology camp score better grades in their introductory fall classes and go on to have significantly higher GPAs during their undergraduate years, McCook said.

“Our boot camp replicates a typical midterm week at Ole Miss,” she said. “The program is intensive and intended to help students set priorities for their transition into a major research institution.”

During the camp, held the week before fall classes begin, participants attend content lectures and laboratories, complete assignments, and take three exams to prepare for Biological Sciences I and II (BISC 160 and 161). But it doesn’t stop there.

In order to simulate the time constraints of a real college schedule, Ole Miss professors, with the help of peer mentors, make sure to load the students’ time with meetings and additional lectures. The result is a well-rounded program that allows students a “sneak preview” of college life and course work.

Mara Vernier, a freshman biology major from Dallas, said she hasn’t taken a biology course since she was a high school freshman.

“The first test was so hard, and I will admit I am having a hard time keeping up with the reading assignments. I’m definitely not in high school anymore,” Vernier said. “But my goal is to be a veterinarian, so I need this boot camp to help me establish good study habits from day one.”

Marcus Daniels, 19, a sophomore biology major and program peer mentor, said the camp is tough but effective.

“It shows the challenges of being responsible for your own success,” said Daniels, of Brandon. “High school studying is not effective for college. It’s way more intensive. This program gives you enough tips to help you establish the self-discipline needed to succeed.”

Good study skills are the biggest goal of the camp, McCook said.

“This is ideal for any student interested in studying the hard sciences, such as pharmacy, chemistry and biology, or for those going into the health professions,” she said.

Symula said she is excited to help implement the inaugural boot camp.

“Researchers from UT Austin and the University of Wisconsin at Madison have had overwhelming success with similar programs,” she said. “This is a great new program and I am excited to help implement new teaching methods that will surely lead to student success.”

The inaugural Biology Boot Camp at Ole Miss concludes Saturday (Aug. 18). For additional program information, visit or contact Lucile McCook at