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Undergraduate Research and Teaching



Majors in Biological Sciences are encouraged to carry out research projects for credit. Students usually start with either BSCI 3860 or BSCI 3861 in the sophomore or junior year. A typical progression is BSCI 3860, followed by BSCI 3861, then one or more semesters of BSCI 3961, depending on the level of interest in research that a student has. Other sequences are possible; consult the catalog for prerequisites.

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. This usually entails reading primary literature papers either from the lab or from labs doing very similar research. The student should learn about the aims and projects of the lab, the organism being studied, the significance and importance of the research, how it fits with other research in the field, what methods and techniques are used to address the questions being examined, and the current status of what is known and what is unknown in the field.

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. This course attempts to provide experience in all of these areas culminating in a written presentation in the form of a scientific journal article. The research is performed under the direct supervision of a faculty mentor. It is expected that during  the directed research semester the student will make a substantial intellectual contribution to the goals of part of the mentor's research program. The mentor will define the initial problem and design the first experiments to be performed by the student. As the semester progresses, it is hoped that the student will begin to develop the necessary skills to define a problem independently and to plan and carry out meaningful experiments.

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. Although independent in activity, the student enrolled in an Independent Studies course has frequent and regular supervision by the sponsoring faculty member. Usually, the research expands and builds upon the research undertaken in the 3861 course, and it is a continuing development of the independence shown in 3861. Reading and writing are again important ingredients of independent study but this course also provides more opportunities for conceptualizing and demonstrating originality.

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The Department of Biological Sciences has many opportunities for summer research. Students may be paid or they may carry out research for credit, and there are several specific summer research programs in which students may participate.

These programs offer exceptional opportunities to begin research or to continue a research project started during the school year. They are available to students at all levels, although some programs give preference to rising seniors. Most programs last approximately 10 weeks and include a stipend.   All students in residence during the summer are encouraged to attend special summer seminars, designed to complement our various summer programs.
If eligible, students are advised to apply to more than one program. In all cases, students should first make arrangements with an individual faculty member or contact  the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

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Many labs within our department seek undergraduate research assistants to participate in ongoing research programs. As part of the research team you will gain valuable experience and have opportunities to interact with the research community. Research assistant schedules are usually flexible, and students who are enthusiastic about the research are frequently given the opportunity to work on their own projects. In addition, paid research positions can lead to research for credit in later years.  You can apply for a paid undergraduate research assistant position by contacting a professor directly. If you do not have a specific lab in mind, you can search the Student Employment Office website for available positions.

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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 TA 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 TA position, please submit an application  to Alicia Goostreein the Department of Biological Sciences, VU Station B 351634. 

Tutors are needed for the introductory and intermediate level BSCI courses.  For information, click here.

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