BIOL C3500 - Independent Research for College
BIOL F3403 -- Independent Study for GS Students
For further information about these courses, contact:
Professor Bob Pollack
Office hours: by appointment
Introduction to the course
BIOL C3500/F3403-Independent study is an opportunity for undergraduates interested in laboratory research to share in the work of an ongoing research program in our Department or in a comparable laboratory elsewhere in the region.
The grade for the work as a course, is determined by the sponsor in consultation with Professor Pollack. The grade is based on regular attendance in the laboratory, a demonstrable understanding of the underlying question being asked by the research, and a clear report on the work accomplished. This last, a paper, is required in time for the sponsor to have it when recommending a grade. Further details are below.
Relationship of this course to BIOL 3600
This course may be taken in either semester, but enrollment in the fall semester is encouraged, especially for students planning to take two semesters of the course, or students wishing to arrange a continuation of their summer SURF laboratory work as this course. In any event, students who take 3500 in the fall should then take BIOL 3600 in the spring, when it will be taught by Professor Hazelrigg.
Try your hand at research
(click to find out how undergraduates can get experience working in a research laboratory)
A. Finding a research sponsor
step towards doing independent study research is finding a sponsor who will
supervise your work. You must take the initiative to find a sponsor by
contacting faculty who do research you are interested in. Any faculty member
doing laboratory-based research in biological and biomedical sciences is an
eligible sponsor. Most sponsors are at
B. How to register (4 steps)
You must complete the following steps to register for C3500 or F3403. Note that you have to register with the Registrar, as for any other class, AND you have to register with the Department, which requires completion of ALL FOUR STUDENT'S TASKS, listed below, in a timely manner.
Register for C3500 with the Registrar. Generally students register for 3 or 4 credits. Registration for more than 4 pts per semester requires permission of Dr. Pollack. A general rule is 4 hours lab time/week/credit, i.e. register for 3 credits for 12 hours of lab time/week and 4 credits from 16 or more.
2 * Departmental
Fill out the on-line registration form. Due Date: As early as possible during the registration period, but definitely no
later than one week from start of classes. (Tuesday, Sept 9, for fall term 2008; Tuesday, Jan 27, for spring term
2009) Late registration requires permission of Professor Pollack
3 * 1 Page
After consulting with your sponsor about the project that you will work on, you should write a one-page proposal in
clear prose describing the planned work, and submit this to 600 Fairchild by Friday of the second week of classes
(Sept.12 for Fall 2008; Jan 30 for Spring 2009). Do not copy your sponsor’s grant application or research papers; we want your own words.
Within a week to 10 days after submitting your material in 600
Fairchild, you should receive an email either approving your project, or
requesting additional information. If you run into difficulties with deadlines,
please inform Professor
4 *Approval Letter
Make sure your sponsor has sent an approval letter (see below) by the deadline for departmental registration (Tuesday, Sept 9, for fall term 2008; Tuesday, Jan 27, for spring term 2009).
C. Sponsor's Approval Letter
sponsor to write a letter by email, confirming that s/he will supervise your
work in their lab and describing in a brief paragraph the work you will be
doing. This letter should be sent to
D. Course Requirements Progress Report
About 6 weeks into the semester, you must turn in a one-page progress report, describing your work thus far. Most students will not have research results at this point, but the progress report must provide an indication that your project is proceeding in the context of your own understanding of the underlying issues and hypotheses being tested. This paper may not be cut and pasted from a grant application nor a published paper; it must be in your own words. This report should be submitted to 600 Fairchild by the following deadlines: Fall semester: Thursday, October 16; Spring semester: Thursday, March 5.
Final Paper Near the end of the term, you are required to write a paper -- in the style of a scientific research article -- at a level understandable to a scientist who is working in a different area of biology. Do not copy or paraphrase your mentor's grants or papers. Assistance with the writing of your first scientific paper can be found on the page Writing a scientific research article. All College students should in addition review Professor Helfand’s book “Habits,” from their Core science course Frontiers of Science for guidance.
Bring your paper to 600 Fairchild by the last day of the reading period, i.e., before the first day of finals. Fall semester deadline: Dec 13; Spring semester: May 8. Since you should plan to write a first draft of the paper, submit it to your mentor for comments, and then revise the paper accordingly, and since the final paper is due in 600 Fairchild by the last day of the reading period, it is incumbent upon YOU to make sure that you submit the first draft to your sponsor early enough for him/her to have a chance to read it and for you to revise it.
Students who register Pass/Fail are required to follow all the above steps, except that a one-page summary of research will be accepted in lieu of the research paper, for the grade of P, with the sponsor’s agreement. Failure to submit that paper by the deadline will lead to the assignment of an F.
E. Sponsor's Grade
Your sponsor submits a grade for the semester, based on your laboratory work and your research paper. Professor Pollack will assign your final grade, based on your progress report, a review of your paper, and your sponsor's recommendation. Important: you must have submitted all the information required ON TIME in order to receive a full grade.
Grading Guidelines for mentors
After reading your paper, your sponsor should submit a grade
or by mail to the address listed above. The deadline for receiving this grade is the last day of finals (Fall semester 2008: Dec 19; Spring semester 2009: May 15).
The grades for this course are not curved. Nor is a student expected to win the lottery; that is, to have carried out experiments not only reliably and well, but also with important success. To maintain a rough parity of grade from lab to lab, we ask mentors to hold to the following guidelines:
The student who gains both experience and acceptance as an articulate and productive member of a lab team, should receive a grade in the A range [A-, A, or RARELY, A+]. An A+ student should not be expected on average to appear more than once in a number of years in a given laboratory.
The student who has a routine, uneventful lab experience should receive a grade in the B range [B-, B or B+.
The student who is episodically unreliable or lazy should receive a grade in the C range [C-, C, or C+]
A student tracking worse than that, should be brought to the attention of Professor Pollack by the mentor early enough to avoid a disaster [a D or an F].
Laboratory research gives you a chance to learn laboratory skills used in real research labs, develop skills in observing, recording and analyzing biological phenomena, and engage in the kind of critical thinking required for biological research. However, independent research is NOT a required part of the major, and NOT a requirement for acceptance to medical school. It should be pursued by only those students who have a genuine interest in basic research and sufficient time to devote to their research project.
You must be able to keep up with your other coursework, so allocating your time is critical. Many students register for C3500 in their junior or senior year. Generally students register for 3 or 4 points each semester, which corresponds to a minimum of 12 or 16 hours/week of lab work, respectively. Most students work more hours in the lab, especially since, as for other lab courses, much of your data analysis and preparation of the final paper will occur outside of the 'classroom' in this case the 16-hr/week spent in the lab. You must be able to keep up with your other coursework, so allocating your time is critical.
1. * A bit of advice: Whether you take 3 or 4 points of C3500, you will be joining a research team, which may include graduate students, post-doctoral research scientists, and lab technicians, in addition to the head of the lab. Many of these people put in all of their work time -- over 60 hours of work a week -- on their research projects. They may initially expect you to do the same. Because you are a student enrolled full-time in classes, you have the responsibility of budgeting your time, and assuring that your time commitment is within limits that you set. If difficulties arise, consult Professor Pollack promptly.
2. * Lab safety. Research laboratories contain equipment and chemicals that can be dangerous if used improperly. If you are working with radiation or animals, you will be required to complete specific training by the university. You should take seriously the risks involved in laboratory research, and make yourself aware of proper laboratory procedures. It's a good idea to read through one of the on-line manuals of laboratory safety that may be found on the page at the SURF site.
Academic Credit for C3500
Biology majors may earn up to 2 semesters of lab credit or one semester of elective course credit toward the requirements for the biology major, but not both. If 2 terms of C3500 or a combination of C3500 and summer research work (in SURF) is used to fulfill the lab requirement, no additional terms of C3500 may be accepted towards the major. Although additional semesters of C3500 do not count towards the biology major, additional credits will count towards the 124 points needed for graduation; see the Dean of your year for more information.
Biochemistry majors should speak with Professor Alex Tzagoloff about the maximum number of credits in 3500 allowed.
Biophysics majors should speak with Professor Julio Fernandez about the maximum number of credits of 3500 allowed.
Biology Concentrators, Neuroscience & Behavior majors, Pre-med Concentrators, and all other majors may register for C3500 for degree credit, but that credit will not fulfill any of the requirements of their majors. Two terms of C3500 will fulfill the premed lab requirement, but one term of W2501 will do so just as well.
You cannot receive academic credit for salaried lab work.
Academic Credit for F3403
The regulations regarding credit are the same as for C3500. If there are any questions (for any biology related major or special program in GS) see Dr. Pollack. Again, note that one cannot receive academic credit for salaried lab work, nor for unpaid work that was done before you registered for F3403.