Bio 226: How to do research in biology

Professors, contact info and office hours:

Section 1: Christopher Rose,, 8-6666, Bioscience 2028A, TuTh 9-10:30

Section 2: Idelle Cooper,, 8-6008, Bioscience 1028C, M 10-11, W 1-2

Section 3: Kyle Seifert,, 8-2286, Bioscience 3028F, TuTh 2-3:30

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: Thursday 3:30-5:20 Biosciences 2009 for sections 1 and for other sections on weeks with class format; sections 2 and 3 will meet in Biosciences 2033 and 3033 respectively for weeks with rotating and individual section formats.

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: Aug. 28

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


lecture/discussion/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice)





2: Sept. 4

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

rotating section

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





3: Sept. 11

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

rotating section

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





4: Sept. 18

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

rotating section

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





5: Sept. 25

Overview of research areas in dept and upper division courses


5-minute live presentations by faculty (or faculty powerpoint with voice-over)





6: Oct. 2

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. Presentation by science librarian Yasmeen Shorish.


Homework: select a topic of interest from weeks 1-4 or elsewhere, use library resources to find 3 pdfs of scientific articles on that topic that they understand, write a 400-word summary of one article and 2-sentence summaries of the others. Write for a freshman biology reader and bring summary and pdfs to class next week.





7: Oct. 9

Workshop on rewriting in response to feedback: faculty answer questions about writing summaries, discuss difficulties and challenges, and make recommendations.

individual section

Students work in groups of 3-4 to improve their summaries, by reading them aloud to each other and listeners writing down feedback on how to improve them. Homework: students use feedback to revise summaries and bring summary and pdfs to class next week.





8: Oct. 16

Workshop, advice and strategies on preparing oral presentations.

class for first half, individual sections for second half

Students use summaries to design 5-minute talks that include the most important figures from the article and reference at least two other papers collected on the topic. Aim talks at a freshman biology listener. Hand in summaries along with pdfs of original article, original summary and feedback from students. Homework: complete and rehearse talks.

Oct. 16- 23



Professors grade and return summaries

9: Oct. 23

Student presentations

individual section

Half of class presents their 5-minute talks plus 5 minutes of Q&A and peer review





10: Oct. 30

Student presentations

individual section

Half of class presents their 5-minute talks plus 5 minutes of Q&A and peer review





11: Nov. 6

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


Homework: Student groups* start to develop a 3 page research proposal based on one of their papers that has two statements: intellectual merit and broader impacts





12: Nov. 13

Research ethics - Interface with Society: types of research, conflicts of interest, professional pressures, discovery, consequences

rotating section

lecture/case study/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice);

+ homework assignment





13: Nov. 20

Fraud in Science: what is it, how does one make decisions about using data

rotating section

lecture/case study/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice)

+ homework assignment





14: Dec. 4

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


Or Biology in the News

rotating section

lecture/case study/interactive exercise (instructorsÕ choice)

+ homework assignment

Hand in research proposals by email

Dec. 4-5, Dec. 6-11


Professors grade and return proposals, students write critiques of proposals**

15: Dec. 11

(exam week)

Proposal review session:

individual section

Students discuss critiques of proposals in turn with the goal of ranking the five proposals most worthy of being funded. Hand in critiques.

*   groups do not have to adhere to original sections but each group must be assigned to a specific professor.

** each professor grades their assigned group proposals, returns anonymous copies to another professor who emails them to all student groups currently in their section. Each student produces a one page written critique for each proposal.


Grading based on:



Attendance and participation in section discussions and interactive exercises:



Six + homework assignments:



Final summary based on scientific paper:



5-minute presentation:



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.

Consult the following websites for information on educational rights and privacies:


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974

FERPA for Parents

FERPA for Faculty

JMU compliance with FERPA


Consult the Student Success Center website for information regarding disability services, student counseling and the writing center.