Undergraduate Studies

Teaching Mission

Independent Work

Brief descriptions of the format for the junior independent work in the Department of Molecular Biology are given below. For current and detailed information, students can consult the 2014-2015 Guide to Independent Work or Blackboard, entitled MOL Junior Independent Work.

Fall Semester

In the fall semester of the junior year, students participate in tutorials in which they discuss research papers from the primary literature. The purpose of the tutorial is to provide a forum for students to understand and analyze the primary scientific literature in current topic areas in molecular biology. Students participate in discussions headed by postdoctoral instructors once a week for 1.5 hours. The tutorial is broken into two sections, each with a distinct topic area. At the end of each 4-week session students will be asked to write a short critique of a relevant research paper assigned by the instructor.

Format for the paper (7 pages for each paper, 14 pages for the semester)

Summary/Abstract (no more than 200 words, or ½ a page)
Background (approximately 1 page)
Experimental Approach and Findings (approximately 2 pages)
Critical Review/Original Analysis (approximately 2 pages)
References (approximately ½ page)

In summary, the students will attend and participate in 8 discussion groups and will write 2 short papers for the fall tutorial.

Please contact Alison Gammie or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have any questions. The rubric is posted on Blackboard.

Spring Semester

In the spring term, students carry out a second program of independent work with a faculty advisor with whom they will eventually do their Senior Thesis. The typical formats for junior independent work include:


Frequent discussions (6 to 10 meetings) with advisor to analyze the relevant literature and formulate a research topic in combination with the following paper format: a literature survey & research proposal—a comprehensive literature survey and research proposal modeled on a grant proposal.


Frequent discussions with advisor to formulate a research project (6 to 10 meetings), laboratory work (~6 hours or more per week), and a paper with the following format: a research report & proposal—a brief background, a summary of preliminary results for the semester and a research proposal modeled a grant proposal.

Format for the research proposal (no more than 15 pages)

Abstract (200 words)

Specific Aims (half page outline of project)
Background and Significance (2-3 pages)
*Progress / Preliminary Results (2-3 pages)
Research Proposal (5 -8 pages)
References (at least 10 primary sources)

*Laboratory and non-laboratory papers will differ in this section. Laboratory students will write up the progress from the semester. Non-laboratory students will write up the preliminary data (gathered by others) leading into their thesis project.

Students should turn in their junior papers to their advisors by 5:00 PM of the Deadline For Junior Independent Work. Faculty assign a rubric score to the paper and the undergraduate committee assigns a grade based on the rubric score. The rubric is posted on Blackboard.

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