Independent Study in the Biological Foundations of Behavior Program

Undergraduate research experiences are sought for a number of reasons from a passion for discovery to a good means for “testing the waters” before graduate school.  Students typically begin their research experiences at very different points in their undergraduate career — some as early as their freshman year, others in their final semester or two at F&M.  We have developed the following guidelines to assist you in deciding how and when to begin your undergraduate research experience.

Simply curious about what research is like?

The Hackman Scholars program, a 10-week summer research program at F&M, an Internship for Credit in a lab outside of F&M, or an advanced research course in BFB may be for you.  See your advisor for details about these programs/courses.  Any of these options will allow you to explore what it is like to be a part of a team working on a novel long-term research project (as opposed to a pre-determined 4-hr laboratory exercise) with little or no prerequisites.

Notes on fulfilling the Advanced Research Requirement for the BFB major – BFB majors typically pursue one of the following to satisfy the Advanced Research requirement for the major:

1) BFB 390 or BFB 490 – see descriptions below.

2) Bio or Psy 390 or 490 – please see the BFB Chair for approval.  In general, one must make a compelling, intellectually-sound argument for the relationship between the proposed Bio or Psy 390/490 research and the Animal Behavior or Neuroscience major.

3) A Bio "W" elective or BFB/Psy Advanced Research Course (e.g., BFB 341 - Neurochemistry; Psy 487 - Adv. Research in Biopsychology).  One must make a compelling, intellectually-sound argument to his/her BFB advisor for the relationship between the proposed Bio or Psy 390/490 research and the Animal Behavior or Neuroscience major.  

I’ve had some basic research experience, but would like to learn more and do more.

BFB 390 – Directed Research in Neuroscience/Animal Behavior may be the right choice for you.

BFB 390 may be taken for one semester or two for 0.5-1 credit/semester of research conducted.  See your advisor for details.  Research in a BFB 390 will allow you to develop independence in the scientific process including background literature research, research protocol development, data collection and analysis, and dissemination of research results in written and/or oral form while working as part of a research team in a faculty member’s laboratory.  Prerequisites to be determined by research advisor.

I enjoy research and would like to pursue my own project.

If this describes you, or if you would like to act as lead investigator on a faculty member’s project (you propose, design, conduct, and analyze experiments necessary to answer a research question already posed by your research advisor), BFB 490 – Independent Research in Neuroscience/Animal Behavior may be the right choice for you.  See your advisor for details.  Students who opt to pursue BFB 490 research should have successfully completed one of the following significant research experiences (or an equivalent*):

• BFB 390 - Directed Research in Neuroscience/Animal Behavior
• Advanced research course in BFB, Psychology, or Biology
• Hackman Scholars research, Research-based Internship for Credit

*See your prospective research advisor to discuss whether your prior research experience is an appropriate prerequisite for BFB 490. 

As a 490 student, you will be expected to use the skills you have developed through previous research experiences to independently conceive of and develop an empirical study to answer a scientific question that you and/or your advisor pose.  You will then be responsible for all aspects of your research from research proposal and research protocol development to final dissemination of your results in written and, if you wish to be considered for honors†, oral form (with oral examination) at the end of the 490 period (usually 2 semesters, although this is negotiable with your research advisor).

Given a limited number of research advisors and practical limits of one to three 390/490 students per advisor, access to BFB 390/490 is not guaranteed.  Please meet with your prospective research advisor during the semester prior to enrolling in BFB 390/490 to discuss your options. 

† see Honors section below.

Writing for the BFB 390/490

The Final Report (see section on ‘Honors’ for Progress Report format)

Copies of the final report must submitted to your advisory committee.  This should be a complete scientific report of the project and should include:

Title page

•    Title of paper
•    Author’s name and program affiliation
•    Date of submission
•    Primary Advisor’s name
•    Names of ODC (honors candidates only)    



(a)  A consideration of both theory and research related to the problem area selected.
(b) The rationale for the proposed study, including a specific statement of hypotheses to be tested.


(a) A detailed description of the subjects, apparatus, and procedure to be used in the experiment.
(b) A description of the dependent variable and the statistics to be used.


(a) A detailed description of the major findings of your independent research with references to figures and/or tables depicting your data.


(a) Your interpretation of the results of your independent research with reference to how your results integrate into the consideration of both theory and research related to the problem area described in the Introduction.

Literature cited

(a) A complete bibliography of the literature cited in your paper (see your advisor for specific formatting instructions).

Your final report should also include the following pages:

  • Table of contents
  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • Acknowledgments page


You should consult with your primary advisor regarding the contents of any appendices.  Generally, the following may be included:

  • Copy of instructions to human subjects
  • List of stimuli or computer programs
  • Example of response record
  • Randomization schedules
  • Data summary tables
  • Complete statistical tables and/or computer printouts

Figures and Tables

These should appear within the body of the paper as close as possible to the page upon which they are first mentioned.  Short tables may appear on a page within the text, while longer tables and figures should be presented on separate pages.  Figures and Tables should be accompanied by appropriate descriptive captions (see your advisor for formatting details).

Grade Determination 

Determination of your grade is the responsibility of your primary advisor, who may seek advice from your secondary advisor (non-honors) or ODC (honors).  You should realize that the quality of your activity throughout every phase of the project will affect your final grade.  This includes such factors as:

• The conceptual and/or methodological sophistication of the project
• The extent to which you met the schedule of deadlines
• The quality of your research effort, including preparation, testing, and analyses
• The quality of your proposal, your final report, and oral review (honors only)

Honors in BFB

Honors in the Biological Foundations of Behavior Program is bestowed upon those students who demonstrate not only superior academic performance in the major, but who also become outstanding young scholars as judged by the completion of a carefully conceived and well executed independent research project which they successfully defend in oral examination by faculty of the Program, the College-at-large, and by an external reviewer in the candidate’s area of research specialization.

Please review the College’s policy on Granting Departmental and Program in The Catalog 

Students interested in applying for candidacy for honors in BFB should plan to complete no less than two semesters of independent research.  Normally, prospective honors students will enroll in a two semester BFB 490.  However, in some cases it may be appropriate for a prospective honors student to apply for candidacy following a Hackman Scholars research project, or a BFB 390 project, that was structured to develop the student’s independence in the laboratory.  Such students would then enroll in BFB 490 to complete their independent research.  Requests for such exceptions should be made to the BFB chair in consultation with the 490 research advisor before enrolling in BFB 490.

Application for Honors Candidacy

BFB majors†† possessing a cumulative GPA in the major of 3.33 or greater††† who feel strongly that their independent research is worthy of Program Honors should, in consultation with their BFB 490 advisor, form an oral defense committee (ODC) at least two weeks prior to the end of their first semester of BFB 490 research (or equivalent as described above).  The ODC should be composed as follows:

• two to three faculty members from BFB and Biology and/or Psychology at F&M 
• one faculty member from outside of BFB, Biology, and Psychology at F&M
• as availability permits, one faculty member with expertise in the prospective candidate’s area of research specialization from outside of F&M.  This individual will be selected by the BFB 490 research advisor and approved by the Program Chair in consultation with the Provost of the College.

††† The GPA requirement may be appealed, in exceptional cases, through written appeal to the BFB Program Chair.  Successful appeal requires the strong support of the BFB 490 advisor.  The BFB Chair will bring the appeal to the BFB Committee for consideration.  The BFB Committee will report the results of their deliberations to the BFB Chair who will report the Committee’s decision to the BFB 490 student and his/her advisor. 

The Progress Report  

Formal application to candidacy for honors in BFB is made to the ODC by submitting a Progress Report of no more than six pages (excluding figures, tables, and references) in formal research paper format (see your BFB 490 advisor for details) to the ODC by 4:30 PM on the last day of classes of the first semester of the BFB 490 (or equivalent).  Whereas the discussion section of a research paper documenting a completed research project would place the interpreted results of the research into the broader context of the field, the discussion section of the progress report should describe how the results gathered to date have stimulated new research that will be conducted during the second semester of independent study.  The goal of the Progress Report is to demonstrate to the ODC that the prospective candidate has the potential to produce a “significant body of independent work”.

After carefully reading the Progress Report, the ODC will report to the Program Chair whether they approve the student for candidacy for honors.  Advancement to candidacy for honors does not guarantee that the candidate will be granted Program Honors.

The ODC will convene again at the end of the second semester of the BFB 490 to read the final paper and orally examine the candidate on his/her research project according to the rules laid forth in the College Catalog. Bear in mind that the candidate should not only be prepared to defend his/her specific research results and analysis, but should also be able to entertain questions about the literature and principles that form the foundation for that research (the “forest” that surrounds the “tree” the candidate has studied, so to speak).  As a rule, the BFB 490 research advisor is censored during the oral presentation and defense and may answer only those questions directed to him/her by the ODC in the private deliberation session that follows the oral defense.  Following their deliberations, the ODC will make a recommendation of “Honors” or “No Honors” to the Program Chair or a designee of the Program Chair.  The Program Chair will communicate the results of the deliberations to the Registrar and to the candidate and/or his/her advisor.  Under normal circumstances, the ODC will have final say in the granting of honors unless an appeal is made to the Program Chair.  In the event of an appeal, the Program Chair will consult with the BFB Committee to hear the appeal and come to a final decision regarding the granting of honors.

Other Relevant Information

Please consult your primary advisor for all decisions concerning the project. This includes:

(a)  Final selection of the research question (prior to writing the research proposal).
(b)  Decision about the subject population and completion of  appropriate forms for safeguarding the rights and safety of subjects.
(c)  Apparatus needs (including purchases and construction).
(d)  Research space.
(e)  Computer needs.
(f)  Difficulties which arise during data collection, which have a bearing on the design, procedures, or data interpretation.

•    Obtaining assistance from the Animal Lab Manager, Technicians, computer programmer, or any faculty member not on your committee.

•    The possibility of applying for a college grant or grant from other sources (e.g, F&M Committee on Grants, PsiChi, the Brookshire or Shand Funds) for money to support your research (e.g., apparatus, supplies, travel, animal purchase &/or husbandry, human subject payment, etc.).

Adherence to ethical standards  Students using nonhuman subjects must follow the College’s guidelines for conducting research with animals and file the appropriate protocol with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (see your advisor).

Students interested in independent research may arrange with a professor to undertake one or more semesters of supervised laboratory research, usually during the junior or senior year. Two-semester projects may qualify for BFB Program honors.

Special programs provide summer research opportunities at F&M or other colleges and universities. The Hackman Scholars Program enables students to work with faculty at Franklin & Marshall College during the summer. Huffnagle Field Study Scholarships are awarded each year to two students for summer study or research at a biological field station. Other summer programs for field and or laboratory research experiences are announced as they become available