Undergraduate Research in Biology
Check out BURO
The new BioMed Undergraduate Research Opportunities
The Program in Biology exposes undergraduates to research through practical training, courses, and opportunities for independent study with faculty pursuing cutting edge science in a variety of fields.
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. Each year more than 500 students enroll in independent study courses and pursue summer research with our faculty.
Research and experiential learning are valuable and rewarding experiences for undergraduates no matter what the longer-term career plans may be. For students seeking the ScB degree, research is a requirement. For students in an AB program, research for credit is an option. For projects carried out over a longer period that take substantive shape, a senior honors thesis is a possible outcome.
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. Our new course BIOL 0100, Living Biology at Brown & Beyond, introduces students to the breadth of research underway across The Division and arms students with a suite of skills to help them secure positions in faculty member labs.
To Do: In preparation for research in a faculty member’s lab, first year students are strongly encouraged to participate in a Lab Techniques Workshop (described below). Biannually (even year fall semesters), the BUE Office and PLME Program team up to offer the Finding, Securing and Succeeding at Research Workshop for undergraduates. This is especially ideal for first year and sophomore students. Join the BUE listserv or follow us on Facebook for announcements about these workshops.
Sophomores and Juniors forge connections with campus-based and clinical faculty to begin exploring and experiencing research in their field of interest. Sophomore seminars such as Life in a Shell, Viral Epidemics, and Rhode Island Flora offer active learning opportunities that help students practice the critical thinking necessary for independent research. Inquiry based courses such as Inquiry in Biochemistry and Inquiry in Plant Biology use group work to orient students to the development of novel scientific questions and accompanying methods.
To Do: Students are encouraged to pursue BEARCORE training at the onset of research in a faculty member’s lab (described below). BEARCORE is offered only in spring and ideal for sophomore or junior year.
Juniors and Seniors pursue more independent research with 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.
To Do: Check out funding opportunities on the Resources page to the left. Learn more about honors theses, also at left. Each spring seniors are welcome to present their research in the Biology Senior Research and Capstone poster event.
Biology students find research opportunities in a number of ways. One way is through BURO – the BioMed Undergraduate Research Opportunities web portal. BURO is updated in real time and includes faculty posted 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.
Many students find research opportunities with faculty by talking with Professors they have taken a course with, seeking direction from the BUE Advising staff or their concentration advisor, or by searching for key areas of interest on Researchers@Brown.
Check out more TiPS on finding and securing research with BioMed faculty.
Preparing for Research
Lab Techniques Workshop
At the start of each semester the Multidisciplinary Teaching Laboratories (MDL) offers a Laboratory Techniques Workshop for undergrads. The workshop is designed to introduce basic laboratory skills and techniques to undergraduate students before they begin working in a faculty member’s lab. 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.
Upcoming workshops at the Biomedical Center are listed on the registration application and facilitated by the MDL. The Workshop is offered at the start of each semester. For more information concerning the workshop skills training, contact MDL Director Katherine Patenaude@brown.edu.
Brown Ethics and Responsible Conduct of Research Program (BEARCORE)
The Brown Ethics And Responsible Conduct Of Research (BEARCORE) program is designed to educate young researchers and trainees from a variety of academic fields on how to conduct their scientific investigations responsibly and with integrity. BEARCORE is an in-person training program that may be supplemented by on-line instruction through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI). It is held each spring and fulfills NIH and NSF requirements. While BEARCORE is used primarily by trainees and new researchers to fulfill NIH and NSF RCR requirements, it is open to anyone in the Brown community.
Biology undergraduates are strongly encouraged to participate in BEARCORE trainings at the onset of research in a BioMed faculty member’s lab group. More information on sessions can be found on the BEARCORE webpage.
Independent Study Courses BIOL 1950 and BIOL 1960
BIOL 1950 (fall) and 1960 (spring) are the undergraduate independent study courses designated for academic credit sponsored by BioMed Faculty.
BIOL 0960 (fall/spring) is a half credit Independent Study in Science Writing course incorporating a nontechnical science journalism component into the Biology curriculum. Assignments may include investigative or analytical reviews, or feature articles on ethical or social impacts of new discoveries in the biological sciences. BIOL 0960 is not for concentration credit in the biological sciences programs.
Registration and Proposal Process for Independent Study Courses
Registration for BIOL 1950, 1960 and 0960 requires the submission of a formal project proposal completed collaboratively by the student and faculty mentor.
The online project proposal form is available here: Project Proposal Form.
Once the project proposal is received and approved, faculty sponsors will be notified by the BUE Office to provide the Banner override and email the student to enroll in their section of independent study courses. Each faculty member in the Division has their own section of BIOL 1950, 1960, 0960. Students will register for their faculty mentor’s section. Faculty who are supervising Biology Independent Study for the first time will need a section created for them. Please contact the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education to facilitate this.
Students intending to use an independent study course to fulfill a concentration requirement must obtain approval from the concentration advisor prior to submission of the proposal.
Project proposals will be due by 5:00pm on the Friday prior to the add/drop deadline date to allow time for review. Specific due dates for each semester will be emailed to all concentrators. 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.
Students who continue an Independent Study Project over multiple semesters must complete a Project Proposal Form for each semester that they are enrolled.
BIOL 1950 / 1960 Project Guidelines for Students AND Faculty Mentors
Students registering for independent study courses should be involved with 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 should go well beyond a general literature review and should result in developing skills of locating, critically evaluating, and synthesizing original scientific data.
Faculty should agree to be an independent study course sponsor if able to provide adequate mentoring and advising throughout the semester.
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.
Faculty are responsible for supervising undergraduates in lab settings and ensuring they have had the proper training. This may include Animal Care & Use as well as Environmental Health and Safety Training. Plans for both are to be articulated in the project proposal.
Faculty are strongly encouraged to have undergraduates pursue BEARCORE training as described above.
Sponsors will evaluate the work of the student, based on pre-determined criteria discussed with the student at the onset of the semester. Criteria for evaluation are submitted in the project proposal form described above.
BIOL 1950, 1960, 0960 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 selection (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 Smith with questions about independent study.
Best Practices: Collecting and Presenting Data
The Journal of Biological Chemistry has compiled a helpful resource for both students and research mentors containing guidelines for collecting and presenting data.