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Resources for Undergraduate Students

Obtaining an Adviser

Note: freshmen are assigned a pre-major adviser. In the sophomore year, students obtain an adviser from the department of their major.

To be assigned to an adviser in Biological Sciences, e-mail the Program Specialist and ask to be assigned an adviser. In your e-mail, note:

  • Your name
  • Your year (sophomore, etc.)
  • Major: Biological Sciences in general (BSCI), Molecular and Cell Biology (MCB), or Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology (EEOB)
  • Professors from Biological Sciences that you have had in class
  • If you prefer a certain professor

The Program Specialist will assign you to a professor and will send you a major declaration form for you to complete. Once department approvals have been received, the form will be returned to you for you to submit to .

Research and Reading Courses

BSCI 3850 Independent Reading is a 1-credit course involving reading and discussion of research papers with a member of the faculty, typically organized around a specific topic. At the conclusion of the semester, the student will write a review article summarizing the topic area. Registration requires consent of the supervising faculty member.

BSCI 3860 Research Internship is an introduction to research intended for the student to become familiar with the principal current projects and publications of a research laboratory.

BSCI 3861 Directed Research is taken after BSCI 3860. This course is to provide the student with an opportunity to participate in original laboratory research including problem definition and experimental design, performance, and interpretation of results.

BSCI 3961 Independent Research is taken after BSCI 3861. Independent research is defined as scholarly activity that includes the conception and execution of a project by the individual student, with minimal input from the mentor.

How To Enroll in Research Courses (BSCI 3850, 3860, 3861, 3961)

  1. Select a research mentor. Before deciding on a research mentor, contact several faculty members and discuss potential projects. Decide on a project by agreement with a potential research advisor. If you are considering a mentor in the medical school, you must first obtain a co-mentor who is a faculty member in Biological Sciences.  
  2. Submit  the application  form to your research mentor.  Complete the  application form   and have your mentor sign it. If your mentor is not a part of the faculty of Biological Sciences, then you’ll need a co-mentor from the department faculty. Your mentor can help you find one. This process assures the department that the research advisor approved the application. Assuming you meet all of the requirements and have taken the appropriate prerequisites, you will be registered. The application process should be completed early during the registration period and certainly prior to the deadline for adding a course.

Keep in Mind…

  • You cannot register for these research courses through YES.
  • Keep track of your total hours when registering for a class.  An undergraduate student cannot take more than 18 hours per semester unless the student has special permission from the Dean of Undergraduate Education.  You will delay the registration process if you submit a request for a research course where the number of requested hours puts you over the 18 hour limit. 
  • Before you apply, ensure that you don’t have any holds on your record.  Your registration cannot be completed until all holds are removed. 
  • Apply for BSCI 3861 or 3961 as soon as you can. The department will not register any student past the registration deadline except under extraordinary circumstances and will require the approval of the course coordinator.  Registering late will cause you to have fewer hours in the lab, hours that you will have to work to make up. 

BSCI 4999 Honors Research

Read more about the Honors Program and how to enroll. 

Undergraduate Teaching Assistant and Tutoring Positions

Each semester, there are a number of teaching assistant positions available to senior and second semester junior students. Applicants must be majoring in biological sciences or a closely related field with a concentration of courses in biological sciences. Serving as a T.A. provides an opportunity for those considering graduate school or a career in teaching biology to gain experience. It is also an honor reserved for outstanding students in the department. For additional information about specific duties for each course, contact the lab coordinators: Dr. Denise Due-Goodwin (BSCI 1100/ 1105) or Dr. Jim Pask (BSCI 1510L, 1511L, 1512L).

If you would like to apply for a T.A. position, please submit an application to LaDonna Smith in the Department of Biological Sciences, VU Station B 351634.

Tutors are needed for the introductory and intermediate level BSCI courses. Become a tutor.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can locate a professor’s office three ways: 

  • Through the faculty list on the biological sciences website.  

  • Search in the Vanderbilt University 'People Finder' directory. 

  • Enter the professor’s name in the search box at the top of the screen on the VU website. 

E-mail is a good way to communicate with a professor, particularly if they are not in the office. 

Your adviser is the ultimate authority when planning your schedule. Carefully go over the requirements of your major and the courses required.  In general, start with BSCI 1510/1510L (Introduction to Biological Sciences) and 1511/1511L and then move on to intermediate courses.  Note what is offered when and, when possible, spread out over time the courses with heavier workloads.  Also, bear in mind the registration dates.  If you decide to enroll in a research course but enroll after the first or second week of the semester, you’ll have to do extra paperwork to enroll plus you’ll have to make up the time you’ll have missed in the lab.  In addition, keep in mind the number of hours you can register for each semester.  You can enroll for up to 18 hours, and if you want additional hours, you’ll have to see an advising dean.  See your adviser for further information. 

The “L” indicates a lab class.  For example, BSCI 1510L is the lab course associated with the lecture course BSCI 1510. 

The undergraduate catalog for the year that you were admitted to Vanderbilt is the best source of information for a course.   

Your instructor will let you know where you can get your graded tests.  Some hand them out in class while others take them to the biological sciences front office at 1210 MRBIII. If you’re instructed to pick up your test at the front office, stop by from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm.  You must show your VU ID in order to pick up your test. 

The office for biological sciences is located on the first floor of the Medical Research Building III (MRBIII) at 1210 MRBIII.   

See your adviser. Your adviser can see what the hold is and advise you on what to do. 

Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) for the Department of Biological Sciences.  The DUS can help anyone with a biological sciences major (BSCI, MCB, EEOB). 

See the Vanderbilt undergraduate work study program for more information. 


Yes! Biological sciences has a reception for graduating seniors and their families on the day before graduation. Each family will receive an invitation and each student will be e-mailed one. You can also refer to the VU Commencement site for more information.

Guests may dress in anything from casual to dressy casual; most are in dressy casual attire.

Research Courses

Biological sciences offers five research courses:

  • BSCI 3850 – Independent Reading (1 credit hour)
  • BSCI 3860 – Research Internship (1 credit hour)
  • BSCI 3861 – Directed Research (2 – 4 credit hours)
  • BSCI 3961 – Independent Research (2 – 6 credit hours)
  • BSCI 4999 – Honors Research (2 – 6 credit hours)


  • To take 3860, you must have taken BSCI 1510, 1510L and 1511,1511L, or take 1511 and 1511L along with 3860 (called “co-requisites”).  (1510, 1510L, 1511, and 1511L are Introduction to Biological Sciences and the associated lab courses)
  • To take 3861, you must have taken BSCI 1510, 1510L, 1511, 1511L, and one intermediate course or BSCI 3860.  
  • To take 3961, you must have taken 3861 and have a GPA greater than or equal to a 3.0.
  • Note: BSCI 3850 may be taken twice, 3861 may be taken only once, and 3961 may be taken more than once.

To enroll:

For all research courses, you must ask a professor to be your mentor. This professor may or may not be on the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences. If the professor who agrees to be your mentor is not within the department faculty, then you must ask a faculty member of biological sciences to be your co-mentor.

For all research courses, you must fully complete the application form and have your mentor e-mail the form to the Chair’s Assistant for Biological Sciences. If you have a co-mentor, then your mentor will send your form to your co-mentor who will then send it to the Chair’s Assistant. The Chair’s Assistant will then enroll you.

You can enroll during open enrollment of the prior semester, or you can enroll during the first week of the semester in which you take the course. 

Note: if you try to enroll during the second week of the semester, the Chair’s Assistant will send your application to the Instructor on Record (the faculty member of biological sciences who oversees the course), and the IOR will review it and decide whether to ask the A&S Registrar’s office to enroll you.

If you try to enroll for a research course after the first two weeks of the semester have passed, you must then go in person to the A&S Registrar’s office for a “yellow” form and follow the instructions on the form. As part of this process, the IOR will review your application and determine whether to ask the Registrar’s office to enroll you.

Note: BSCI 3861 and BSCI 3961 require that you work 3 - 4 hours per week in your mentor’s lab for each credit hour that you’re enrolled for.  

For example, if you’re enroll for 3 credit hours for 3861, you must work 9 – 12 hours per week in your mentor’s lab from the first week of the semester until the last week. Your mentor will ultimately determine the exact number of hours you must work per week. So, if you register late, you’ll have to work to make up the time that you’ve missed in the lab. 

It will benefit you to meet with your adviser and plan your schedule carefully, so that you don’t have to enroll at the last minute.

Your mentor will ultimately decide the number of hours per week, but it will be 3 – 4 for each credit hour that you’re enrolled for. For example, if you’re signed up for 4 hours of 3961, you will work 12 – 16 hours per week, starting from the first week of the semester to the last. If you enroll after the semester begins you will have to work additional hours to make up for the time you’ve missed.

A co-mentor from the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences is required if your mentor is not from the BioSci faculty. Your mentor will probably know a professor from BioSci that you can ask to be the co-mentor. If you have a BioSci major (BSCI, EEOB, or MCB), your adviser might know a faculty member you can ask. You can also look through the list of BioSci faculty and see whose research is similar to your research project.

Once you’ve obtained a co-mentor, your mentor will send your completed research course application to the co-mentor, who will look it over and forward it to the Chair’s Assistant.  The Chair’s Assistant will then enroll you.


For students choosing a research pathway for their immersion requirement, the Department of Biological Sciences offers Directed Research (BSCI 3861), and Independent Research (BSCI 3961). These courses offer valuable hands-on work in a lab setting and are a great way to carry out an Immersion project, particularly for those interested in a career in the sciences. See “How do I register for a research class?” for further information.

Summer Programs

The Department of Biological Sciences offers a Maymester course in Australia: Corals, Koalas, and Cassowaries: Great Barrier Reef and Tropics of Australia (BSCI 3228-01). This is a very popular course and has been offered for the past several years. Keep a watch out for the Maymester promotional event held every fall.


Most didactic classes in the Department of Biological Sciences are open to visitors who wish to familiarize themselves with the class experience. Contact the chair’s assistant with the dates and times when you will be on campus and we will find a freshman or sophomore level class for you to observe and to obtain the instructor’s permission. We will send you the location and times of the class and the instructor’s name. Please plan to arrive before class and introduce yourself to the instructor.

See also the College of Arts and Science Frequently Asked Questions.