BIOL W3500 - Independent Research for College, GS and SEAS Students
For further information about this course, contact:
Professor Ron Prywes
Office hours: by appointment
NEW for SPRING 2014
There are two recitations times for the course, Wednesdays at 5 PM and Thursdays at 5 PM, each for 60-90 minutes. You must sign up for one of these times and be present at most sessions (details will be announced during the course). These sessions will be used primarily for student presentations. They will not meet every week but as announced during the course. (If you have a conflict with both of these times, you must write to Dr. Prywes with detailed reasoning to ask for an exemption. Exemptions will only be granted for required course conflicts.)
There will be no W3600 – Biological Research Skills – in Spring 2014 (so you are not required to register for it).
Introduction to the course
BIOL W3500 -Independent study is an opportunity for full-time undergraduates in College, SEAS and GS 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 in the course is determined by Prof. Prywes in consultation with the sponsor. 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 W3600, Biological Research Skills
BIOL W3600 is a course in which students learn important aspects of research communication. Students will present their research plans and results in order to gain experience in communicating about science and to get feedback (from the instructor and other students) to improve their presentation and research skills. This is a pass/fail course. Students who register for W3500, who have not taken part in the SURF/Amgen program, must register for this course.
W3600 is not offered in Fall 2013. It will not be offered during the Spring 2014 semester.
Students interested in clinical research should register for W3700.
A. Finding a research sponsor
The first 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; however mentors that are not on the approved list require departmental approval before registration is considered final. There are many excellent mentors not on the list; we would just like to make sure that the projects are appropriate for this course. Most sponsors are at Columbia’s Morningside Heights or Health Sciences Campuses, however, sponsors in the New York area outside Columbia are also allowed. Some research projects are not allowed if they are not sufficiently related to the type of laboratory-based biological science performed in the department. Examples of disallowed work are clinical studies, reading of patient data and surveys of human behavior. Therefore, if there is any question, it is good to get approval from Prof. Prywes as early as possible. Note that sponsors approved for SURF are not all eligible for W3500 as SURF is a broader program.
You can find a spot in a lab as late as the first week of the semester, but you'll have the best chance at getting into a lab of your choice if you start looking during the previous semester. Some further suggestions are given on the page "How you can do biological research."
B. How to register (4 steps)
You must complete the following steps to register for W3500. 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.
1 University registration. Register for W3500 with the Registrar. Students register for 3 or 4 credits. A general rule is a minimum of 4 hours lab time/week/credit, i.e. register for 3 credits for 12 hours of lab time/week and 4 credits for 16 or more.
2 Departmental registration. 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 10, for fall term 2013; Tuesday, Jan 28, for spring term 2014). No late registration will be accepted.
3 One Page Proposal. 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 the proposal through "Assignments" in the Courseworks site for BIOL W3500. Do not copy your sponsor’s grant application or research papers; we want your own words.
a. If you chose a mentor on the approved list, your proposal is due by Friday of the second week of classes (Sept. 13 for Fall 2013; Jan. 31 for Spring 2014). You should receive an email either approving your project, or requesting additional information, within a week to 10 days after submitting your proposal. No late proposals will be accepted.
b. If you chose a mentor who is NOT on the approved list, your proposal is due by noon on Friday of the first week of classes (Sept. 6 for Fall 2013; Jan. 24 for Spring 2014). There will be no extensions or exceptions. You should receive an email either approving your project, or requesting additional information, early the next week. Your registration for the course is considered tentative until your project is approved. If your project is not approved, you may still work in the lab as a volunteer, but you will not receive course credit for your work.
4 Sponsor’s Approval Letter. Make sure your sponsor has sent an approval letter (see below) by the deadline for departmental registration (Tuesday, Sept. 10, for fall term 2013; Tuesday, Jan. 28, for spring term 2014).
C. Sponsor's Approval Letter
Ask your sponsor to write a letter by email, 1) confirming that s/he will supervise your work in their lab, 2) describing in a brief paragraph the work you will be doing, and 3) that they understand that they are taking on the responsibility of mentoring you and that they will provide a grade for your final paper during finals period. This letter should be sent to Jaya Santosh at Jaya@biology.columbia.edu. The deadline is the same as for on-line registration (Tuesday, Sept. 10, for fall term 2013; Tuesday, Jan. 28, for spring term 2014). Note that the sponsor must be a faculty member, not a postdoctoral fellow or research associate, though a lab member may be designated for day-to-day supervision during the semester.
D. Course Requirement: 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 report should be submitted through "Assignments" in the Courseworks site for BIOL W3500 by the following deadlines: Fall semester: Thursday, October 17; Spring semester: Thursday, March 6.
E. 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. Students may in addition review Professor David Helfand’s book “Habits,” from their Core science course Frontiers of Science for guidance. Submit your paper through "Assignments" in the Courseworks site for BIOL W3500 by the last day of the reading period, i.e., before the first day of finals- Fall 2013 semester deadline: Dec 12; Spring 2014 semester deadline: May 8. You should plan to write a first draft of the paper, submit it to your mentor for comments, and then revise the paper accordingly, before the deadline. Since the final paper is due 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. Please make sure your sponsor reviews the grading guidelines below. 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.
F. Sponsor's Grade. Your sponsor submits a grade for the semester, based on your laboratory work and your research paper.
Grading Guidelines for Mentors:
After reading your paper, your sponsor should submit a grade to Jaya Santosh (firstname.lastname@example.org). The deadline for receiving this grade is the last day of finals (Fall semester 2013: Dec 20; Spring semester 2014: May 16).
The grades for this course are not curved. Students are expected to do credible work, but not necessarily to have solved a major problem. 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. A grade of A+ requires a detailed explanation to Prof. Prywes as to the reasons for this extraordinary accomplishment.
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 Prof. Prywes by the mentor early enough to avoid a disaster [a D or an F]. Note that not every student should expect to earn an A or A-.
G. Final Grade.
The undergraduate committee of the department along with Prof. Prywes will review your paper. Prof. Prywes will assign your final grade, based on your progress report, the 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.
H. 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 Laboratory Safety page at the SURF site.
I. Academic Credit for W3500 for Biology Majors: Biology majors may earn up to 2 semesters of lab credit toward the requirements for the biology major. W3500 cannot be used to fulfill an elective requirement. If 2 terms of W3500 or a combination of W3500 and summer research work in the same lab (in SURF) are used to fulfill the lab requirement, no additional terms of W3500 may be accepted towards the major. Although additional semesters of W3500 do not count towards the biology major, additional terms of W3500 can be taken and should count towards the 124 points needed for graduation; see the Dean of your year for more information. Students who carry out summer research elsewhere (not SURF-Columbia) may not combine that with one semester of W3500 to fulfill the laboratory requirement.
J. Salaried work is not allowed. Note that one cannot receive academic credit for salaried lab work, nor for unpaid work that was done before you registered for W3500.