Division of Biology and Medicine
Biology Undergraduate Education

Independent Study

Students have the opportunity to experience research and mentorship in the life sciences through a series of independent study courses in biology.

Independent Study Courses

BIOL 1950, 1960, and 0960

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 (BIOL 1950, 1960 and 0960)

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.
Students who wish to see the questions in advance can view a blank 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, IRB,  as well as Environmental Health and Safety Training. Plans for both are to be articulated in the project proposal.


BEARCORE: The Brown Ethics And Responsible Conduct OResearch (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.

Lab Safety: It is the responsibility of the faculty sponsor and the faculty sponsor’s institution to ensure that all Brown University students working in the laboratory have received all necessary site-specific safety training and lab-specific practical training from their faculty sponsor and the faculty sponsor’s institution before any work is initiated. The faculty sponsor and the faculty sponsor’s institution must also ensure that all appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is readily available and that students utilize the appropriate task-specific PPE when working in the laboratory.

IRB: Projects that involve work with human subjects may require IRB (Institutional Review Board) review before they can be undertaken. The IRB process should be addressed with the research project sponsor, and set in motion in time to allow the full project to be undertaken following IRB approval. It must be determined whether hospital vs. Brown campus IRB is appropriate, in each instance.

Animal Care and Use: Any student doing animal research is required to adhere to the IACUC policy entitled, "Training and Education Policy for Personnel Working with Laboratory Animals." This policy lists all of the required training for any individual working within the Animal Care facility at Brown. The Principle Investigator (PI) of the IACUC protocol under which the student will be working also certifies (among other things) the following statements: 1) All personnel who work with animals under this protocol have received, or will receive, appropriate training in protocol procedures and animal handling methods prior to working with animals. The PI will ensure that individuals not listed in this protocol do not participate in the protocol experiments. 2) All listed personnel will read this protocol after it has been approved by the IACUC and before undertaking any procedures on laboratory animals.

Undergraduate Volunteers and Research

Faculty should note that any individuals who volunteer for research or other lab work must conform to University guidelines, which can be found in the Unpaid Internships and Volunteer Opportunities Policy.

HHS Office of Research Integrity has a series of resources, including the interactive video "The Lab", which focuses on Research Misconduct.

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 Achilli with questions about independent study at anytime.

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.

Preparing for Research: Foundations of Lab Techniques Workshop  

At the start of each semester the Multidisciplinary Teaching Laboratories (MDL) offers a Foundations of Lab 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, in preparation for independent study, or for summer UTRA opportunities. 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 in these techniques will be facilitated by the MDL each semester, consisting of an asynchronous component featuring content through Google Classroom followed by an in-person lab practical component to master the hands-on, technical skills presented. Please join the BUE Email List for future registration announcements. 

For more information concerning the workshop skills training, contact MDL Director Chuck Toth.