Undergraduate research is an important element of the biology curriculum at Lafayette. It is such a critical component of student learning that we infuse research at the very onset of our program. In our introductory biology sequence, students begin Biology 111 using a module with a Course Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE as per HHMI, Howard Hughes Medical Institute). This experience is complemented by our SEA-PHAGES-focused Biology 112, where students become part of the nationwide community of researchers by exploring phage diversity, and isolating and characterizing bacteriophages from soils.

These experiences equip our students with the skills to deepen their approach to critical thinking in science as they migrate into our intermediate (200 level and higher) courses.  Many of these courses include CURE modules as well, and are more extensively rooted in the scientific literature. Collectively, these experiences will prepare our students to seek out both on-campus and off-campus research experiences.  This can happen through specific research coursework for credit (Biology 401-404 and Honors Thesis in Biology 495 and 496), summer research as EXCEL, Nalven and Newton Scholars, or as other independent or Lafayette-sponsored research opportunities promoted by science departments, national foundations and our Gateway Career Center partners.  For students taking a course in research, they should expect to spend a full 180 hours across the semester in active engagement. Students approved to complete these courses will consult with their faculty mentor in developing, executing and carrying their projects to completion. Many of our graduating majors each year have been involved in collaborative research with faculty mentors. Thus, all Biology majors can expect genuine research experiences multiple times in both 100- and 200-level courses, and many more extend their research training with 400-level courses. 

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 that includes mentoring and research opportunities for several first-year students each year

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