Undergraduate Teaching Mission
Students concentrating in Molecular Biology will attain both breadth and depth in Molecular Biology and associated areas of science.
We expect all students to acquire broad mastery of the core disciplines that form the basis of modern Molecular Biology. The overall topic is covered by formal instruction in the introductory Gateway courses (MOL 215/EEB 215 Quantitative Principles in Cell and Molecular Biology or MOL 214 Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology ) or the Integrated Science program (ISC 235 and ISC 236) and further elaborated in the Core courses (Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell and Developmental Biology, Core laboratory). Students pursuing certificates in associated multi-disciplinary fields may substitute other courses for specific designated Core courses.
We expect that all students will acquire depth in their chosen sub-discipline within Molecular Biology. Students will be able to pursue topics in greater detail and sophistication in upper level courses, which will emphasize current topics and readings from the primary literature.
We firmly believe that the best way to learn science is by doing science. All students in Molecular Biology will be expected to apply their knowledge and skills to the practical acquisition of new scientific knowledge. All students in Molecular Biology will do original independent research beginning in the spring of junior year, continuing throughout the senior year, and culminating in the senior thesis. Students may elect to begin independent research earlier than junior year.
We expect students to gain mastery in all aspects of the practice of scientific research. Beginning with the Core lab and continuing through the independent work, students will have multiple opportunities for learning and applying all aspects of modern scientific research. In addition to becoming scholars in their field, they will become adept at the formulation of testable hypotheses, the planning and execution of well controlled experiments, the thorough analysis/interpretation of data, and the formal presentation of their findings.
Beginning with the junior independent work, students will read extensively from the primary literature, the principal mode of scientific communication. A major goal of the fall semester will be to learn how to do critical analysis of the formal scientific literature. In the spring of the junior year, students will meet in individual tutorials with their faculty advisors. The goals of the spring semester are four-fold. First, students are asked to master the relevant background literature and context for their research project. Second, students will learn to formulate hypotheses and design experiments to test the hypotheses critically. Third, at the end of the spring semester, students will integrate the relevant background literature with their ideas for future research to generate a research plan in the form of a grant proposal. The writing of the grant proposal will give students direct experience in the formal communication of scientific hypotheses. Finally, the spring semester and succeeding summer are the times when all students begin the research for their Senior Theses.
The capstone of the Princeton degree is the opportunity for all students to conduct original research in their chosen field of study. Over the course of the year, students will work both independently, and under supervision, to plan and conduct experiments to advance scientific knowledge, with due attention to proper controls. These students will be expected to analyze and interpret critically the results of experiments, to use the conclusions of individual experiments to plan and revise subsequent experiments, and to integrate their knowledge from all sources. Students choosing to do non-experimental thesis research will, likewise, be expected to describe thoroughly, and analyze critically the full body of experimental work on a topic directly related to Molecular Biology. As their research progresses, students will have several opportunities to present their work in the form of poster presentations to their peers, to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and members of the faculty. At regular intervals, students will give formal oral presentations to the members of their laboratories or to the group of students doing non-experimental theses and their advisors.
Ultimately, students will formally describe their research in the form of a written thesis. Taking the form of an extended science paper, the thesis will describe all aspects of the research, from the context and hypothesis, through the materials and methods, to the results, conclusions, and discussion. The thesis will be read and evaluated by three faculty readers, including the advisor, who will evaluate all aspects of the thesis research. Finally, the student will defend the thesis orally before the two non-advisor readers. The oral defense will provide an opportunity to assess the students' ability to discuss their research, test their knowledge of the discipline, and their ability to extend their research by proposing new hypotheses and experiments to test them.