Project Guidelines

The specific goals and expectations for each independent study project are determined by the student and faculty supervisor, and may vary to reflect the particulars of the research area. The following are some suggested guidelines:

1. The project should be appropriate work in the biological sciences.

Because Biology, as the study of life, has such a wide-ranging definition, there are many avenues of scholarship that could be considered Biology. The study of life can range in distance from nanometers to acres, and from femtoseconds to centuries depending on the subdiscipline of Biology. Some fields of study might technically be the study of life, but are more appropriate for another department. To use an Independent Study course for the Biology Major, the project must be firmly rooted in Biology and not another field.

For example, a project involving human behavior would not be appropriate for a Biology Independent Study nor use towards Biology major requirements, because that project would be Psychology; however a project  mapping behavioral neuronal circuits would be okay. A project comparing patient outcomes after treatment would not be appropriate (that would be Medicine), but one examining gene expression changes after treatment would be. Projects which are primarily clinical in nature are typically not appropriate for credit in Biology. The key thing is that the project, and therefore the independent study proposal, needs to have a clear statement of a research question, methods, and significance that anchors it in Biology.

Projects which have a primary focus in chemistry, psychology, environmental or health policy, engineering, or related areas may also not be appropriate for credit in Biology. Projects that are primarily interdisciplinary (like Bass Connections) may not be appropriate for credit in Biology, unless the projects are predominantly anchored in Biology. Students working with faculty outside of the Biology department or one of the Medical Center Departments should consult with the Biology sponsor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Biology to determine the appropriateness of a project.

2. The project should be an independent research project.

Although most projects are conducted under the close supervision of a mentor, the student should take substantial responsibility for the formulation of a hypothesis, experimental design, data collection, analysis and interpretation. A project should contain all of these steps, and not simply collect data for someone else, or analyze a data set. However, these steps should not be thought of as linear, but as a circle where after the interpretation step comes a new or modified hypothesis. Some Independent Study projects incorporate much of this circle, but may depend on already collected data. Such projects might start at data analysis and interpretation, but should circle back to a new hypothesis and experimental design, etc. The type of data analysis used will depend on the project.

3. The student should spend at least ~120 hours per semester on the project.

The expectation is that the student will invest time equivalent to a laboratory course, i.e. ~8-10 hours per week for 14 weeks. This may include planning, data collection (including field work), analysis and writing. Note that the time spent writing should be a relatively small portion of the total time investment, except in the case of ‘W’-coded registrations where it will be a more significant part of the experience and final grade. Conversely, a research supervisor should not expect a student to invest an excessive amount of time, to the detriment of their other course work. Students enrolling in Summer Independent Study should double their hours to 16-20/week to account for the shorter term length.

4. The student should produce a report of their work.

The University specifies that all independent studies must result in an ‘academic product’. Most commonly, this is a final written report describing the work. A student may also make an oral presentation of their work, in addition to the written report. Commonly, a student should also submit brief proposal at the beginning of the semester and/or a mid-term progress report. The details of reports, both written and oral, are to be specified by the research supervisor or sponsor. However, in all cases that report should document the background and rationale for the project, the methods and results, and some discussion of significance and future directions.

5. The research supervisor must submit a grade during the exam period for each semester.

A student's grade in Independent Study is primarily assigned by the research supervisor. As in any course, the grade should reflect a reasonable assessment of the student's effort and the merit of the work. The basis for that assessment is at the discretion of the supervisor, but it should be clearly communicated with the student at the beginning of the semester.

If the student has registered for Independent Study through a Biology sponsor who is not the project supervisor, the research supervisor must convey a grade to the Biology sponsor well before the end of the exam period. In addition, the student must submit a copy of the final report to the sponsor. It is the responsibility of the Biology sponsor to submit a final grade, based on the report and supervisor's recommendation.