Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate Research in Biology                                       

Check out BURO 

The new BioMed Undergraduate Research Opportunities  
web portal                                                       


The Biological Sciences programs feature opportunities for undergraduates to work with faculty on cutting edge research projects in a variety of fields within the areas of Biology and Medicine. The Division of Biology and Medicine is made up of six basic science and 14 clinical departments, all of which support faculty engaged in research.

Undergraduate research is valuable for students contemplating graduate school in the life sciences. For students seeking the ScB degree, research is a requirement. For students in an AB program, research for credit is an option. For projects that are carried out over a longer period and take substantive shape, a senior Honors thesis is a possible outcome and pursued to round out the research project in the concentration.

Research in Years 1-4

First-year students have the opportunity to experience research through the BIOL 0150 and 0190 course series including Techniques in Regenerative Medicine, Medicinal  Plants, and Phage Hunters.

Sophomores and Juniors delve into course work and develop a concentration plan that reflects emerging interests. Students forge connections with campus-based and clinical faculty to begin exploring and experiencing research in their field of interest. Sophomore seminars such as Conservation Medicine, Viral Epidemics and Rhode Island Flora offer active learning opportunities that help students practice the critical thinking necessary for independent research.

Juniors and Seniors pursue more independent research, again advised by campus and clinical faculty. Students intending to develop a senior thesis will typically commit the final summer and last two academic semesters to the research project.

Finding Research

Biology students find research opportunities in a number of ways. One way is through BURO - Brown University’s BioMed Undergraduate Research Opportunities web portal. BURO is updated in real time and includes opportunities that are short-term, long-term, take place over summer or the academic year, those that are paid, voluntary, or take the form of a Biology independent study. Check out more TiPS on finding and securing research with BioMed faculty.  

Independent Study Courses

BIOL 1950 (fall) and 1960 (spring) are the undergraduate independent study courses designated for academic credit sponsored by BioMed Faculty. BIOL 1950/1960 projects may be used as general elective courses, even for non-science students or non-Biology concentrators. Use of projects toward Biology concentration programs must be consistent with the goals of the program and approved by the student's concentration advisor.

BIOL 0960 (fall/spring) is a half credit Independent Study in Science Writing course incorporating a nontechnical science journalism component into the BioMed curriculum. A series of four to six specific assignments are recommended, based on topics derived from another biology course taken previously by the student, whose instructor has agreed to serve as a BIOL 0960 sponsor.  Assignments may include, for example, investigative or anlytical reviews, or feature articles on ethical or social impacts of new discoveries. The student and instructor schedule meetings to discuss topics and due dates, review rough drafts, and evaluate completed work. BIOL 0960 is not for concentration credit in the biological sciences programs.

Biology concentrators who wish to pursue projects sponsored by non-BioMed faculty will provide a project proposal (see registration process), however, students will enroll in the non-BioMed Department independent study course.

Registration Process for Independent Study Courses

1) Students should meet with faculty sponsors and concentration advisors (if applicable) prior to completing the online project proposal. Bring a copy of the proposal form when meeting with your sponsor to discuss in detail.

2) To begin the registration process complete the online project proposal form available here: Project Proposal Form.  The proposal forms are submitted to the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education for review and approval. Students and sponsors will be notified by email when the proposal is submitted.

3) Faculty sponsors will be notified by the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education to provide the Banner override and to email the student to enroll in their section of independent study courses. Students will be able to register for independent study courses until 5:00 pm at the end of the add/drop period (two weeks into the semester). Students should follow up with their faculty sponsor if they have not received the Banner override within 24-48 hours of submitting the online proposal form. Faculty who need assistance obtaining a section of BIOL 1950/1960 should contact the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education.

Project Guidelines 

Students registering for independent study courses should have a major role in both the design and execution of the project. Under some circumstances one semester of independent study can be devoted to detailed planning of a laboratory or field research project for the next semester (or for summer independent research). Such independent studies would be expected to result in a detailed proposal including research plan and justification, and a review of the relevant scientific literature or theory. Library and review projects should be limited to situations in which the subject covered is an important part of the student's concentration and not available in the context of regular courses (including term papers) and GISPs. Such projects sh0uld go well beyond a general literature review and should result in developing skills of locating, critically evaluating, and synthesizing original scientific data.

Faculty Sponsor Guidelines

Faculty should agree to be an independent study course sponsor if able to provide adequate mentoring and advising throughout the semester. Many sponsors support students using their own research funds, but students can apply to the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education for modest funds.

It is the joint responsibility of the student-faculty pair to ensure that the student is intellectually involved in an original research project with expectations appropriate to their level of education and experience. 

Sponsors will evaluate the work of the student, based on a pre-determined criteria discussed with the student at the onset of the semester. Criteria for evaluation are submitted in the project proposal form, which the student forwards to the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education.

BIOL 1950 and 1960 are formal courses and so students are expected to work 180 hours on the project. Faculty should work with students to set a reasonable work schedule for an independent study course that amounts to ~12 hours of total work each week. This includes work in and out of the lab/research site.

A grading alternative (ABC/NC or S/NC) must be determined in advance, in consultation with the student. Faculty are expected to submit the grade by the  Registrar's deadline.

Faculty outside of BioMed may serve as the primary sponsor for biology students pursuing independent study, but should do so using their home department's independent study course number.

Faculty may contact Dean Katherine Smith with questions about independent study.

Lab Techniques Basic Skills Workshop

Upcoming workshops at the Biomedical Center are listed on the registration application and facilitated by the Multidisciplinary Teaching Labs.

The Laboratory Techniques Workshop is designed to introduce basic laboratory skills and techniques to undergraduate students before they begin working under the direction of principal investigators who offer independent study opportunities in BIOL 1950/(1960). The MDL technicians tailor the two-hour session to the skill level of the students.

The following topics are covered: guidelines for keeping a lab notebook; good laboratory practices; use of balances, centrifuges and autoclaves; using a microscope; dilutions; making solutions; pipetting; assessing accuracy of pipetting technique; using balance and preparing a simple solution; sterile technique (including auto pipetting); and sterile transfer of reagents in a hood.

For more information concerning the workshop skills training, contact Katherine Patenaude@brown.edu.