Directed Research in Biology|Guidelines for BIOL 1950/1960

BIOL 1950/1960 are the undergraduate directed research “independent study” courses designated for academic credit. Research carried out for two or more semesters often form the basis for senior Honors projects. Because of the large number of faculty who generally sponsor undergraduate research projects, and the variety of research opportunities available, it is difficult to make a rigid set of rules for all. However, since a substantial number of concentrators will take BIOL 1950/1960, these basic guidelines are provided.


(Independent Study/Directed Research Projects)

All course registration for BIOL 1950/1960 requires the completion of a Proposal Form that describes the project and its evaluation.

  1. Signatures must be obtained from the project sponsor (a Brown faculty member) and the student’s concentration advisor.
  2. Once the proposal form is completed, submit it to the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education (Arnold Lab, Suite 124) for review and approval by an academic advisor.
  3. Once the proposal is approved, we will do the override in Banner to enable you to register.
  4. After the override is done, student must go into Banner to register. This can be done until 5:00 p.m. at the end of the add-drop period, two weeks into the semester.

If student’s proposal is submitted after the last day to add a course without a fee, student must go to the Registrar’s office to complete the registration process once the override is done. The Office of Biology Undergraduate Edcation will let you know by email when the override is done.

*Last day to add a course in both fall and spring is the end of the 4th week of classes. It is always a Tuesday as classes begin on Wednesday.

Most students do not preregister for BIOL 1950/1960, but add the course close to the start of the semester when the project will begin.


  1. Projects may be sponsored by faculty of the Division of Biology and Medicine, either campus “basic science” or hospital-based “clinical.”
  2. BIOL 1950/1960 projects may be used as general elective courses, even for non-science or non-Biology concentrators.

    Use of projects toward concentration programs must be consistent with the goals of the program. For example, in order to carry credit in Biology, projects must be of a substantial biological nature. However, projects dealing with medical sociology, human behavior, epidemiology or clinical issues may be suitable for programs in Human Biology. In all cases, approval for concentration credit is given by the concentration advisor or Dean Katherine F. Smith in the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education.
  3. Projects are usually based on aspects of ongoing faculty research, but will be conducted by the student, and have a substantial intellectual content.
  4. Conflicts arising between sponsor and student can be mediated by Dean Smith.

II. STUDENT GUIDELINES (Steps to Register for BIOL 1950/1960)

**All students who plan on conducting research that involves human subjects should consult with their advisors and with an officer at Brown’s Research Protections Office to determine whether you need to submit an application to the Institutional Review Board. This consultation process should be done well in advance of the start of your project. Relevant research includes, but is not limited to, collection and analysis of human tissues, direct inerviews, analysis of records. It can be helpful to consult the website of the Research Protections Office in the early stages of developing research project.

  1. Please see the Guide to Independent Study, which explains when and how to find a research project. This process should begin during the semester before you plan to take BIOL 1950/1960.
  2. All course registration for BIOL 1950/1960 requires the completion of a PROPOSAL FORM that describes the project and its evaluation. Signatures must be obtained from the project sponsor and the concentration advisor. Once the proposal form is completed, it must be turned in at the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education where it will be reviewed, and if approved, permission to add the course will be granted by means of a Banner override through the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education. Most students do not pre-register for BIOL 1950/1960, but add the course close to the start of the semester when the project will begin. Filing for Honors can occur during the 7th semester, and is a separate process described at the website location above.
  3. Be prepared to devote from 10-20 hours per week, on average, to the project.
  4. Research outside of the area of concentration (e.g. psychology, chemistry, sociology, etc.) may be taken for course credit, but not for concentration credit or for Honors unless prior approval of the Honors Advisor and concentration advisor is obtained.
  5. BIOL 1950/1960 may be co-sponsored by a faculty member outside of biology and medicine (i.e., chemistry, engineering, geology, mathematics, psychology or sociology, but if so, the student must be primarily biological and the concentration advisor must approve.


  1. To be a sponsor only if willing to provide adequate supervision and direction throughout the course.
  2. To sponsor projects only within the scope of facilities available. Many sponsors support students using their own research funds, but modest funds—generally $50-$100 per student—can be requested on a budget request form.
  3. That the student should be intellectually involved in an original research project with expectations appropriate to their level of education and experience. Sponsors should keep in mind that this is an educational experience and not treat the student as an unpaid technician.
  4. To recognize that this project represents one of the student’s regular courses, and that time expected should fall within the recommended range for independent studies (10-20 hours per week, on average). Students cannot be expected to spend spring or winter recesses unless by mutual agreement or to make up for other lost time.
  5. To evaluate the work of the student (by a paper or oral presentation or poster) and award a grade at the end of the semester. The grading alternative (ABC/NC or S/NC) must be determined in advance, in consultation with the student.


  1. Independent laboratory or field projects. The student should have a major role in both the design and execution of the project.
  2. Theoretical and/or computer modeling projects. The primary focus should be on a biological problem and its solution.
  3. Research project design. Under some circumstances one semester of BIOL 1950/1960 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. Such a design project by itself does not meet the independent study requirements for Honors.
  4. Library/discussion projects. These independent studies 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 literature. Only in exceptional cases will such projects be acceptable for Honors.

V. RESEARCH AWAY FROM BROWN FOR ACADEMIC CREDIT - Policy on Projects Conducted at Non-Brown Affiliates

If the research activity carries course credit at an institution other than Brown is subject to the same review and restrictions as apply to other courses submitted for transfer credit.

If research activity is conducted away from Brown, as part of a non-credit granting program, then research proficiency may be acknowledged if the following conditions are met:

  1. A brief proposal or outline should be submitted for preliminary approval prior to the activity; a form for this purpose is available at the Office of Biology Undergraduate Education. Dean Smith will help direct the student to the appropriate faculty member for this evaluation. The student’s concentration advisor must also approve of the activity (in writing), in the context of the individual’s program.
  2. The length of time spent on the project must be equivalent to what would be expected for a semester-long independent research project at Brown.
  3. Following its completion, the project must be written up in such a way that it can be reviewed and approved by the Brown faculty member (same as in item 1.) familiar with the particular area of research. Written approval is required.
  4. The student’s (non-Brown) research sponsor must submit an official letter of support attesting to the intellectual content of the project. Undertakings that are principally job-shadowing or highly technical are not appropriate.
  5. Satisfaction of the research proficiency requirement by the means outlined above DOES NOT reduce the total number of actual courses needed to complete the concentration program. Therefore, other courses must be taken instead of BIOL 1950/1960.