Getting Involved in Research for Academic Credit
Students may enroll in Bio 490 (senior level) or Bio 390 (junior level), Independent Study, for one or two courses of elective credit towards the Biology major (see the College Catalog). Independent Study is performed with a Biology professor as an adviser, and involves an independent research project performed in that professor's laboratory. The exact nature of the project is outlined in consultation with that professor but typically involves the continuation of on-going research in the professor’s area of expertise. Some independent study projects result in a published journal article, some of which are on display outside the Biology office on the first floor of LSP. Many of the posters in LSP hallways also describe work done by students during 390/490 projects. Different professors require different amounts of written work from the independent study student, but the Department requires a thesis at the end of the project, and a progress report at the end of the first semester in the case of two-semester projects. See Written Reports link on this page.
In a typical year, up to a third of the senior biology majors will enroll in Bio 490. Students who complete a two-semester project and who meet other requirements may be candidates for Departmental Honors; a successful oral defense of the project is required for Honors in Biology. Requirements for Honors work are found here.
Any student with an interest in Bio 390 or 490 should talk to faculty about the possibility of doing research. You will not be committing yourself! You may decide that research is not for you; that's fine. But don't hesitate to discuss the possibilities. You should think about one semester (fall or spring) or two semester projects. Talk to several faculty members about their work if you do not have a fixed idea of the area you wish to study. The specific project you do is not as important as the interactions you have with the faculty member who is sponsoring your research, the thought process involved in developing and testing your own hypotheses, and the opportunity to actively participate in your own education. You should think about your preferences for level of biological organization (population, organism, cell, molecule), the kinds of tools used in particular areas, and the styles of student/professor interaction that different faculty have. We also encourage you to talk to students who are currently enrolled in Bio 390 or 490 or who have done summer research projects. Most faculty members will advise two or at most three independent study students at a time. Students in Bio 390 or 490 must ordinarily have achieved a 3.0 average in major courses, but we have waived this requirement for students who have a strong commitment to research or who have shown improvement in their course work. If this policy affects you, don't hesitate to discuss your situation with potential research advisers.
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