Bio 226: How to do research in biology

Course description:

This discussion-based course is designed to prepare students to pursue independent research in biology. Students receive an overview of the multiple levels and subdisciplines of biology, develop skills in critically evaluating literature and presenting and writing on scientific research and become exposed to diverse experimental methods, research strategies and ethical issues.

Learning objectives/goals:

1. understanding of biology as an integrative, multi-leveled science with diverse perspectives, strategies and methods.

2. skills for carrying out library research, discussing and writing about primary literature, and avoiding plagiarism.

3. skills for designing and writing up research papers and research grant proposals.

4. writing and communication skills by having students write an abstract and research proposal and prepare and give an oral presentation on a specific research paper.


1. the research perspectives, strategies and experimental methods used in at least three different subdisciplines of biology.

2. breakthrough discoveries, cutting edge events, and major controversies in biology.

3. research ethics in biology and biotechnology.

4. research activities in upper division courses and research labs in the biology department.

5. specific research topics as selected from the primary literature.

Course Information:

2 credit hours, 3 sections, all sections meet at same time for 2 hours once a week

Prerequisites: BIO 114.

Course time and place: Tuesday 2-3:50 Biosciences 1007; sections 2 and 3 will meet in 1009 and 3029 for some weeks.

Required texts and materials: none

Adding/dropping class: Policy and deadlines can be found at

Disabilities: Policy and deadlines can be found at

Course schedule:                                     





1: Jan. 8

Overview of biology as a diverse, integrative, multi-level science with a wide range of career opportunities


lecture/discussion/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice)





2: Jan. 15

Research perspectives, strategies, and experimental designs by subdiscipline (instructorsÕ choice of one of ecology, micro, neuro, behavior, molecular, genomic, organismal, etc.)

rotating section

lecture/discussion/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice) + homework assignment TBA





3: Jan. 22

Research perspectives, strategies, and experimental designs by subdiscipline (instructorsÕ choice)

rotating section

lecture/discussion/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice) + homework assignment TBA





4: Jan. 29

Research perspectives, strategies, and experimental designs by subdiscipline (instructorsÕ choice)

rotating section

lecture/discussion/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice) + homework assignment TBA





5: Feb. 5

Overview of research areas in dept and upper division courses


presentations by live faculty (or provided by faculty using powerpoint plus voice)





6: Feb. 12

Workshop on library research, discuss avoiding plagiarism, advice and strategies for how to read a scientific paper and how to write a summary of it for a general audience.


Students review example summaries of scientific papers. Homework assignment: select a topic of interest, find 3-5 scientific articles on that topic, write a 400-word summary of one article and 2-sentence summaries of the others.





7: Feb. 19

Workshop on peer editing: answer questions about writing summaries, discuss difficulties and challenges, and make recommendations.

individual section

Students review each otherÕs summaries in pairs, revise articles, read revised versions aloud and have class submit comments. Homework assignment: revise summaries using class feedback. Bring all 3-5 scientific articles to class next week.





8: Feb. 26

Workshop, advice and strategies on preparing oral presentations

individual section

Students use summaries to design 5 minute talks on the paper summarized that include the most important figures from that paper and reference to at least two other papers collected on the topic; talks should be aimed at an undergraduate –level research audience. Homework assignment: complete and rehearse talks. Final summaries due along with copies of original article, original summary and feedback from students.





March 5

Spring break







9: Mar. 12

Student presentations

individual section

Half of class presents their talks, each 5 minutes plus 5 minutes of discussion and peer review





10: Mar. 19

Student presentations

individual section

Half of class presents their talks, each 5 minutes plus 5 minutes of discussion and peer review





11: Mar. 26

Workshop on research proposal writing, funding opportunities, grant review process


Students start to develop a 3 page research proposal based on their paper





12: Apr. 2

Research ethics - Interface with Society

rotating section

lecture/case study/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice); final research proposals due*





13: Apr. 9

Research ethics - Fraud in Science

rotating section

lecture/case study/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice)





14: Apr. 16

Research skills: what you need to know when starting to work in the lab or field

rotating section

in class exercises





15: Apr. 23

Biology in the News


lecture/discussion of recent breakthroughs, discoveries, controversies





16 : Apr.30

Proposal review session**

individual section






* professors grade all 15 proposals from their individual sections, return anonymous copies of the proposals from another section to their students to read, and assign two to each student to produce a one page written critique.

** students discuss their 15 critiques in turn with the goal of identifying and ranking the top five proposals most worthy of being funded. Final rankings are made available online and students hand in their critiques for grading.

  exam week if only 15 weeks per term.


Grading based on:



Attendance and participation in section discussions and interactive exercises:



Homework assignments:



Abstract based on scientific paper:



Research talk:



Research proposal grade from professor:



Proposal critiques and participation in proposal evaluation process:



All sections will follow the same rubric.


Final letter grades will be assigned using the standard numerical scale (e.g., > 90 = A, 80-89 = B, etc.). Grades of WP and WF will not be given out in this class.


Attendance and missed performance and deadline policies: Attendance will contribute to 15% of the final grade. Failure to meet deadlines will be subject to a grade penalty. If you have a valid excuse (school-recognized religious observation; official school business; job, court or graduate school interview; sickness with doctorÕs note; death or serious illness in family) for failing to meet deadlines, contact your professor by email at least three days before the date in question to arrange an extension for a deadline.


Inclement weather policies: Missed meetings will be made up at times to be announced at the next meeting.

Religious observation accommodations: Policy and deadlines can be found at


Honor Code: All students are expected to be familiar with and abide by the JMU Honor Code. ( Forms of academic dishonesty include cheating on tests or homework, lending your work to another person to submit it as his or her own, reporting false data, selling or uploading unauthorized documents from a class, deliberately creating false information on a works cited or reference page; and plagiarism, presenting another personÕs writing, ideas or results as your own, whether intentional or not. Work submitted for this course must be your own and written for this course. To avoid plagiarism in writing, paraphrased and quoted materials must be properly cited in the text and referenced in the bibliography; unnecessary or excessive use of direct quotations will be penalized; uncited use of direct quotations will be treated as plagiarism.