Undergraduate research is an important element of the biology curriculum at Lafayette. Approximately half of our graduating majors each year have been involved in collaborative research with faculty mentors, and our research students are encouraged to present their work through the conventional scientific outlets. This may mean publication of a scientific paper with the adviser or presentation of a talk or poster at a scientific meeting. Limited financial support is provided by the department and the College to make this possible.

Biology majors may participate in research by enrolling in one or more courses: BIOL 401-404 Independent Research, or BIOL 495-496 Thesis. These courses are intended to provide students with individual instruction in a subdiscipline of biology and to allow them to develop and pursue their own laboratory or field research projects. Rather than simply serving as laboratory technicians, students taking these courses are expected to develop their own research projects in consultation with a faculty mentor, to carry the projects to completion and, in most cases, to submit a written research report at the end of each semester. Research students should expect to spend at least 10 hours each week working in the lab, reading published research papers, caring for living material, etc. Although students enrolled in Independent Research or in Thesis are treated in the same way by the department and by their faculty mentors, the courses are different and they serve different purposes.

Independent Research

Biology - ResearchThese courses (BIOL 401-404) are intended to allow any biology major to pursue an advanced laboratory research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor. Independent Research may be taken for up to four semesters by junior or senior students. These courses share the intellectual characteristics of the Thesis courses, but do not require any particular grade point average, production or oral defense of a thesis, or approval by the Faculty Committee on Honors and Academic Awards. In all other respects, faculty expectations of the Independent Research student are identical with those for honors candidates. In their sophomore or junior year, students interested in taking an Independent Research course should discuss their research interests with the faculty member whose research program most interests them. The adviser and student identify the problem to be investigated, develop a plan of research, and carry it to completion.

Many students who participate in the honors program begin their research projects in their junior year by taking a semester of Independent Research to define their research projects, learn the necessary techniques and to obtain preliminary data.

Honors Thesis Research

Biology - Zeiss opticsAs is the case with Independent Research, the Thesis courses (BIOL 495-496) are intended to allow any biology major to pursue an advanced laboratory research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor. The research is done in the area of expertise of the mentor and frequently results in the publication of a paper in a refereed journal with the student as co-author. Thesis courses are normally taken only by seniors, and they are expected to lead to the presentation of an honors thesis by the student at the end of the senior year; all honors work in biology is laboratory research of an original nature. The honors program in the department of biology functions under the general rules for graduation with honors supervised by the Faculty Committee on Academic Progress. Students must be accepted by a faculty mentor and their thesis research proposal must be approved by the department.

Following a year or more of work, each honors candidate must defend her or his thesis before members of the department and at least one examiner from outside the department and other invited persons in a public forum. The student must be approved for graduation with honors by the department, the Faculty Committee on Academic Progress, the entire faculty and, ultimately, the Board of Trustees.

Additional information about Honors Thesis research can be found here.

Other Opportunities

Other undergraduate research opportunities include:

  • EXCEL Scholars, in which students receive a stipend for assisting a professor in research
  • LEARN (Lafayette Alumni Research Network), in which alumni and parents give students summer research experience in neuroscience
  • Science Horizons, a program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which includes mentoring and research opportunities for 20 first-year students each year
  • Interdisciplinary Research Fellowships, another HHMI-funded program, which provides support for three summers of research, including a project involving professors from two different disciplines

Learn much more about student research at Lafayette by reading our Handbook for Research Students.