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Washington and Lee University

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Student Research for the Biology Major

An important aspect of modern science education is the hands-on experience that exposes students to the process of science in a way not possible in the classroom. Toward this end, the majority of our courses include laboratory work, and we encourage students to collaborate with faculty in original research. Student researchers are treated as colleagues, not merely assistants. There are five vehicles for student research:

Please see our section on student opportunities for further research opportunities.

Current Research Projects

Please check with individual faculty for more research opportunities.

Student-Faculty Research in Biology

The members of the Department of Biology are pleased to offer students the opportunity for individual study in depth on topics of mutual interest to faculty and students. Directed Individual Study (DIS) and Directed Individual Research (DIR) may be repeated for degree credit by permission, if the topics are different each time. DIS may be taken as preparation for a research project, or as a discrete course, and may be taken during the school year as preparation for the R. E. Lee summer research internship. Although no more than six credits of 400 level work may apply to credits required for the biology major, all 400 level credits will apply to graduation requirements. The basic requirements for these courses are outlined below.

Biology 401-403 (1-3 Cr. hr.)—Directed Individual Study (DIS)

DIS involves searching, reading, and critical evaluation of an extensive body of primary research on a topic of mutual interest to student and faculty mentor. The student will be expected to meet with the faculty mentor on a regular basis (i.e., a scheduled hour each week) to discuss progress. The expected time commitment is the same as described for DIR above.The output, either an extensively annotated bibliography or formal written report, will be graded on the basis of how well the quality and quantity of written work reflects the level of expected effort.

Biology 422-424 (2-4 cr. hr.)—Directed Individual Research (DIR)

The specific research objectives, procedures, and expectations for research projects are necessarily variable, depending on the aim and scope of the project. However, the general expectation is that the student will work at least four hours per week for each credit hour taken (eight hours per week during spring term). Evaluation of DIR may, at the discretion of the instructor, consist of any of the items in the list that follows. In cases of group research projects, the individual contribution of each student will be separately evaluated.

  1. A written report, explaining the work in progress for a project to be completed during a subsequent semester. This report may include figures, tables, materials and methods, introduction, and an outline for a paper to be written when the project is completed.
  2. A formal written paper, in the format of a suitable scientific journal of the instructor’s choice. This will include literature search and synthesis, as well as data analysis and interpretation.
  3. An abstract of a paper, suitable for an extramural scientific meeting, that may be presented to all or part of the department, or may in fact be submitted as a presentation for a scientific meeting. This will include preparation of audio-visual aids (e.g., slides, transparencies, poster).