Independent Research

Our independent research courses allow students to gain academic credit and research experience in biological science labs on River Campus or at the University of Rochester Medical Center during the fall and spring semesters.

BIOL/NSCI/CHEM/IND/BCH/MBI/PHP/PTH* 395/395W: Independent Research courses are hypothesis-driven research experiences. Students work with University of Rochester teaching faculty to design a project that aligns faculty's overarching research goals of their laboratory.

*The course prefix is determined by the supervising faculty member’s appointment.

Projects are usually hands-on and non-clinical in nature. Students typically use laboratory and computational experimentation to gather and analyze primary data. At the end of the semester, students work with their instructors to write a final report or poster, and upload a copy of the report or poster to Blackboard.

Registering for the Program

Before registering for a biology independent research course students will need to:

  1. Find a full-time faculty member who will agree to supervise an independent research course
  2. Meet with the instructor to come to an agreement on course details before the semester begins
  3. Learn how independent research courses apply to biology majors or other intended program of study

To register, submit the Biological Science Independent Research: Registration Request Form by the drop/add deadline line for the current semester.

Just a reminder, all courses must follow the department’s course rules and regulations.

Final Report or Poster Requirement

All students enrolled in Biological Science Independent Research Courses, including 395 and 395W, must submit a final scientific paper at the end of the semester. Independent researchers taking BIO 395 courses without credit for upper-level writing have the option to submit a final report or a poster.

Final reports and posters should address the scientific question the undergraduate research attempts to answer and the means taken to answer it. The formatting, length, and grading of the report or poster are at the instructor's discretion.

Students who want to use an independent research courses to satisfy upper-level writing requirements for their major should consult their faculty advisors first, as applications vary. Additionally, most biological science majors require students to send their advisors a copy of their final report for approval before they can apply it to their program of study.

Those who elect the poster option may use presentation software to create the poster and upload a copy of the file into Blackboard. Please note that slides must fully explain the research findings. Slides with one-word bullet points are not acceptable.

Posters are a good options for students interested in presenting at scientific events such as the UPBM Poster Session in October as well as the Undergraduate Research Expo or other annual conferences organized by the Office of Undergraduate Research during the spring semester.

At the end of the semester, the Department of Biology Undergraduate Office requires students to upload a copy of the report or poster to Blackboard by the last day of final exams. Those who fail to submit a final report or poster may not register for another independent research course until they resolve the matter.

A report or poster must be submitted each semester a 395/395W course is taken. Each should reflect the individual research activities done in the semester taken.

Course Rules and Regulations

Non-Clinical (395/395W) versus Clinical (391) Research

Students who want to earn academic credit for research involving clinical trials and patient studies need to follow a different registration process. It’s also important to note that 391 clinical research courses do not apply to biological science tracks.

Please note that students are not required to use the independent study form to register for a 391. Additionally, approval from the biology undergraduate office is not required for 391 courses.

Independent Research with Upper-Level Writing Component (BIOL 395W)

Student can choose to satisfy one or both of their upper-level writing requirements selecting "395W" in the BIOL 395/395W registration form. Students may not select the poster option if the course is taken for upper-level writing credit (BIOL 395W).

Students in 395W must work with their instructors to produce a six-page, high-quality final report that is well written and effectively communicates the scientific justification and results of their research. Students should submit the paper to mentors at various stages of development for their suggestions for improvement so that students may fully benefit from the writing experience.

The final report must be emailed to the department three weeks before the semester ends so there is sufficient time for evaluation. Additionally, the department requires students to upload a final draft of their final report to Blackboard by the last of finals at the end of the semester.

Although the instructors for 395W courses will assign a final grade, the decision to permit the course to fulfill a writing requirement for the student's major is determined by the advisor of their intended or declared program of study.

If the experimentation does not yield enough data to write a report about or runs out of time, the student or faculty may email the department to request the removal of the writing component "W" changing the course registration to "BIOL 395".

Students taking two semesters of independent research with writing (BIOL 395W) can reference experiments done in previous semesters but should include at least six new pages of content for the second semester. When requesting advisor approval, students must email a copy of the paper from the first and second semesters.

Tips for Finding a Research Mentor

The key to finding a mentor is networking with faculty who work in your area of interest and will agree to mentor you. Research mentors are typically members of the University teaching faculty, and should have labs located either on River Campus or in the Medical Center.

See the research mentor page for more information.

Changing Course Registration

Students who want to change their course registration from a 395 to a 395W or vice versa may do so by emailing to the Department of Biology Undergraduate Office requesting a registration revision.

Contact Hours

Students can register for independent study courses in increments of half, one, two, three or four credits.

Time commitment is dependent on the number of credit hours the course will be taken for over a 15 week semester, or a different number of weeks as long as an equivalent amount of contact hours is devoted to the course. Students should plan to devote at least three hours for each credit the course is registered. See guidelines below:

  • Four credit hours: 180 hours, 12 hours per week for 15 weeks or equivalent
  • Three credit hours: 135 hours, 9 hours per week for 15 weeks or equivalent
  • Two credit hours: 90 hours, 6 hours per week for 15 weeks or equivalent
  • One credit hour: 45 hours, 3 hours per week for 15 weeks or equivalent
  • Half a credit hour: 23 hours, 2 hours per week for 15 weeks or equivalent

*Contact hours may include lab time, academic work, and activities spent outside the lab doing things like literature reviews, lab meetings, presentations, and final reports.

All forms must be submitted by the drop-add deadline of the semester they are taking the course. See the University’s credit hours policy and compliance for more information.

Credit Limitations

The number of independent study credits you can take are limited both by semester and by instructor:

  • Per semester: Students can only take one four-credit independent studies course per semester.
  • Per instructor: Students can take no more than eight credits of independent research with the same instructor unless approved.
Deadline to Request Registration

Students Biological Independent Research Registration Request Form needs to be submitted with approval of the instructor by the last day of the drop/add period of the current semester, even if the course has not started yet.

Instructor Eligibility

Members of the University "teaching faculty" or faculty who are authorized by their department chair may supervise independent studies. See our list of approved faculty.

Instructor Approval

Biological Independent Research Request for Registration Forms will automatically forward to the course instructors for their review and signature. Be sure to enter accurate email addresses as incorrect addresses could delay submission. The system will automatically send daily reminders to the instructors until it is signed. Notification will be sent to students once their PI approves the form.

All students, including those who have registered 395 in the past, need to consult their instructor each semester on the course details. Hence, there is a mutual understanding of expectations. Scroll to the bottom of the form and print out a copy to review with your faculty.

Monetary Compensation

Students cannot get paid for research for which they also earn academic credit. However, a student may hold a paying job within the same lab but must keep their work separate from their research project.


Students will not be allowed to register for another BIOL 395 course until any courses with incomplete grades from a previous semester are resolved.