Approved by University Studies Sub-committee March 2004.  A2C2 action pending.

Approved by Faculty Senate April 5, 2004.

University Studies Course Approval

Department or Program: Biology

Course Number: BIOL 499

Number of Credits: 3

Course Title: Student Research

Student Information: Course Syllabus

Catalog Description: BIOL 499 (3 sh) Student Research.  An opportunity for an advanced student to work with a faculty member on an independent research project.  Written report on results of research required.  Prerequisites:  BIOL 308, BIOL 310, BIOL 312 and instructors permission. Offered every semester.

This is an existing course that has previously been approved by A2C2: Yes

This is a new course proposal: No.
(If this is a new course proposal, the WSU Curriculum Approval Form must also be completed as in the process prescribed by WSU Regulation 3-4.)

Department contact Person for this course: Frances R. Ragsdale


A2C2 requires 55 copies of the proposal

The proposed course is designed to satisfy the requirements in (select one area only):

Course Requirements:

A. Basic Skills:
     1. College Reading and Writing ____
     2. Oral Communication ____
     3. Mathematics ____
     4. Physical Development and Wellness ____

B. Arts & Sciences Core:
     1. Humanities ____
     2. Natural Sciences ____
     3. Social Science ____
     4. Fine & Performing Arts ____
C. Unity and Diversity:
     1. Critical Analysis ____
     2. Science and Social Policy ____
     3.a. Global Perspectives ____
        b. Multicultural Perspectives ____
     4.a. Contemporary Citizenship ____
        b. Democratic Institutions ____
D. Flagged Courses
     1. Writing      
     2. Oral ____
     3.a. Mathematics/Statistics ____
        b. Critical analysis _X__

Approval/Disapproval Recommendations

Department Recommendation:  Approved _____         Disapproved _____      Date ___________

Dean's Recommendation:  Approved             Disapproved           Date                   

USS Recommendation:  Approved             Disapproved           Date                   

A2C2 Recommendation:  Approved             Disapproved           Date                   

Faculty Senate Recommendation:  Approved             Disapproved           Date                   

Academic Vice President's Recommendation:  Approved             Disapproved           Date                   

President's Decision:  Approved             Disapproved           Date                   

Material Submitted for Course Approval


Biology 499: Student Research (3 s.h.)

Biology is a research-based science.  The purpose of this course is to provide all biology majors with an opportunity to learn “hands on” the process of science.  For our field this involves applying methods of scientific inquiry to address a specific biological question.  This is a capstone experience for students where they apply their knowledge of their biology foundation to a specific situation or setting.  To that end, students will consult with an instructor about a specific question, design and perform experiments, analyze data, statistically interpret results and create a formal manuscript.  The grade evaluation of the student work will be based on student effort and their thoroughness when it comes to conducting the investigation.  Their grade will also be based on the final report submitted to the supervising instructor.  Directions for the formatting of the paper will be according to the guidelines provided by the professor, and will be appropriate for the subject area.  The report will include results in tabular or graphic formats and will emphasize statistical analyses such that scientific conclusions can be drawn from their research efforts.  This course emphasizes analyzing and interpreting the scientific information available in the literature and communicating scientific discoveries that enhance understanding of a particular biological topic.

According to the University Studies Guidelines, this course will meet the following requirements and learning activities that promote the students’ ability to:

1.      recognize and evaluate appropriate evidence to advance a claim.  To achieve this learning goal, students will be asked to complete a literature review for the topic of their choice.  In doing this review, students will become familiar with the breadth of information available for a single biological topic and will begin to learn how to narrow their research topic. 

2.      apply critical analytical skills in making decisions or in advancing a theoretical position.  To achieve this end, students will learn to evaluate articles from the primary literature relative to their topic question.  In other words, the students will be asked if the literature addressed the following types of questions:  Were the hypotheses addressed with experimentation that provided data directly related to their question?  Were the findings based on legitimate statistical procedures?  Did the investigators make conclusions their data did not support or test?

3.      evaluate alternative arguments, decision strategies, or theories within a systematic framework.  To achieve this learning goal, students will be asked to write a formal manuscript addressing their findings. In this manuscript students will summarize the state of the field of biology relative to their topic, present their finds, and discuss how their investigation furthered the understanding of this topic.


Catalog Description:

Catalog Description: An opportunity for an advanced student to work with a faculty member on an independent research project.  Written report on results of research required.  Prerequisites:  BIOL 308, BIOL 310, BIOL 312 and instructors permission. Offered every semester.  This course is designed to fulfill the University Studies Critical Analysis Flag.

Sample Syllabus

Course Title for Research Idea                                              Spring 2004
BIOL 499 for 3 semester Credits
Student Name
Instructor’s Name, Title                                                                                            Office

This course is designed to meet the University Studies Critical Analysis Flag.

This is an independent study course designed to fulfill the Biology Department’s Capstone Research requirement.  As such, this course is designed to provide you with an opportunity to:

You will be asked to meet with your instructor on a weekly basis (if not more regularly) to discuss your project and to hand in any necessary paper work.  This time is flexible and designed to accommodate both your schedule and Dr. Ragsdale’s schedule.

Prerequistes: BIOL 308, BIOL 310 and BIOL 312.  You are also required to have instructor’s permission.

Catalogue Description: 

Catalog Description: An opportunity for an advanced student to work with a faculty member on an independent research project.  Written report on results of research required.  Prerequisites:  BIOL 308, BIOL 310, BIOL 312 and instructors permission. Offered every semester.  This course is designed to fulfill the University Studies Critical Analysis Flag according to the criteria established by the University.

Grades:  You will be assigned a letter grade upon completion of the semester.  Your grade will reflect effort and thoroughness.  It will not necessarily reflect completion of the project or of acquisition of expected results.  We will work together on a weekly basis to determine where the project is currently at, and to set goals/objectives for the next week.  We will then review these goals on a weekly basis, set new goals and review the project in terms of pitfalls and problems.

You will be using a laboratory notebook that has carbon copies in it -- use them.  You will keep one copy and I will ask for the duplicates every week.  This will allow you to have a complete record of your progress, but will also allow me to monitor your progress, review your protocols, assess your understanding and help direct your efforts.  This is how I will monitor your effort and thoroughness.  Your notebook is everything.  You need to write everything you can down in this notebook.  If you have thoughts about how systems are inter-related, or how new procedures may work better, you should write it down.  Do not worry about errors.  We all make mistakes.  To eliminate errors, simply cross them out with a single line and initial the line.

The final report is really the capstone of the project and will be the showpiece of your actual work.  A polished manuscript is the goal and where we strive to be at the end of the semester, but we also need to keep in mind that research is a dynamic process and that “things” can happen at anytime.  You may find that a procedure, one you thought would be straight forward, is actually not “do-able”, and you may need to look for alternatives.  You may find that a chemical that you need for an assay is on back order from the drug company, or you may want an animal to reproduce on your schedule rather than on its own.  All of these things can and do happen as a part of scientific research.  Part of doing research is coping with these delays and working around experimental complications.  With all of that said, by the end of the semester a final report must be generated and will include a complete literature review and all experimental procedures used to address a given biological question.  Data can be just a set of numbers until interpreted.  So there is also a big emphasis on statistical approaches to analyze data and how your findings are presented and discussed.



1.            Complete a literature search on the research topic. (For example, a student project might address how estrogenic compounds influence blood vitellogenin levels in a fish model system.  Their project would be to isolate and purify vitellogenin and create monoclonal antibodies against this protein in a mouse model system.)  For this search students are expected to utilize the databases the library has available:  First Search, Science Direct, or PubMed.  Internet sources will not be acceptable unless supported with additional findings.  The professor will demonstrate how to conduct a rudimentary search with the student.

2.            Based on background information we formulate a research question.  What research problem did you want to address?

a.            Follow a developed rudimentary research protocol.

b.            Discuss alternative experiments.  Do we have all of the necessary equipment?  Do we have the necessary     chemicals?  All of this is designed to help the student assess the feasibility of their research and to potentially narrow their focus, or broaden their view.

c.            Review potential pitfalls that might occur.  A discussion about how many procedures fail is always part of the research learning experience.

3.       Review how notes should be written in lab manual.  Almost all clinical and laboratory job settings require set note-taking procedures.  Learning how to keep meticulous notes will benefit you in the long run.


4.            Conducted experiments.  Work with instructor to develop experimental expertise.  Collect data for research question by filling in data sheets, tables or charts in your notebook.  Create summary tables or graphs as you complete exercises.  Enter data into computer (if appropriate) and statistically analyze data (whenever appropriate).

Write Final Report:

5.            Write up a report based on your research questions.  Your Instructor will review the draft and provide critical comments.  You will work on modifying your draft at least once to address these comments.  All researchers have their work reviewed prior to publication.  This is your introduction to this peer-review process.

a.            Abstract – Summary of Report in 500 words or less.  (This is typically completed after everything is done.)

b.            Introduction – Summarize the background information and should lead reader to your research question.  State question in succinct form, do not make reader guess what you are testing.  (This section is typically started first, modified as new information is uncovered from the literature and then completed after experiment is complete.  However, your question should not change.)

c.            Material and Methods – In paragraph form write out all of the techniques used to address research question.  (This section of the paper can be written as you actually do the procedures.  It is typically one of the easiest sections to write.)

d.            Results – In paragraph form, state your results.  You may want to supplement the written results with graphs, tables or charts, but typically only when these documents enhance a reader’s understanding of your data.  You do not put raw data into this section.  This section is truly for summary information and is based on your interpretation of the analyses.  Do not discuss the significance of your findings in this section.  (Although this should be an easy section to write, you must wait till the experiment is complete and the data have been analyzed in order to summarize your findings.)

e.            Discussion – How has your research answered the question?  This is where you get to restate some of the background information that specifically relates to your question, you want to restate your question, discuss the relevance of your results, discuss future directions of research.  (This is the toughest section, but also the most rewarding.  You are putting together what you know about this topic and because you completed the background work and experiments, you are the expert.  Flaunt it!)

f.             Literature Cited Section.  You need to have a complete literature section based on your background search.  By keeping this as you first begin to collect reference materials, you will not be overwhelmed when the final report needs to be completed.

Time Commitment:  You should be willing and able to devote approximately nine hours per week to this project. Ordinarily 2/3 of the time is spent in the laboratory or meeting with the instructor. The other 1/3 represents an external time commitment spent writing up results, preparing for experiments, doing library research etc. (i.e., "homework").