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Independent Study (BIOL 490)

The Biology Program offers a wide variety of course selections for students to choose from, and students may also wish to pursue a special interest in the biological sciences through independent study.  Completing an independent study counts as advanced biology credit when a BIOL 490 is arranged in conjunction with the student's independent learning.  

In order to arrange a BIOL 490, students must first identify a biological science topic that interests them.  After identifying a topic, the student must then identify a faculty or staff member who will serve as their BIOL 490 instructor.  Instructors are typically faculty members in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology (EEOB) or the Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology (GDCB).  Students may wish to consult with their academic advisor or Biology Student Services staff for assistance in identifying a suitable BIOL 490 instructor.    


BIOL 490 credits are considered to be equivalent to "laboratory" credits.  The minimum time commitment is 30 to 45 hours (e.g., 2 to 3 hours per week for the 15 weeks of a semester) for the 1 credit course.  The BIOL 490 course is repeatable, but only 2 credits may be applied as advanced biology coursework*, and no more than 9 may be applied towards graduation.

* A maximum of 7 credits total from BIOL 480, BIOL 481, BIOL 490, BIOL 491, BIOL 494, and BIOL 499 can be applied towards advanced biology course requirements


Students learn about the topic of interest, under the supervision of the BIOL 490 instructor, by reading selected literature and producing a written review document or report.  This report should be at least 15 pages in length, and include at least 15 references.  References should consist mainly of research papers from the primary literature (i.e., scientific and professional journal articles).  It is strongly recommended that the BIOL 490 instructor review at least one draft version of the report before the student develops the final document.  A product of a similar scale may be agreed upon by the student and the BIOL 490 instructor instead of a report.    

Registration and Deadlines

Students should aim to register for the BIOL 490 at or before the beginning of the semester they are doing the independent study, though other options may be possible.  The student and instructor must agree on and complete a BIOL 490 contract before registering for the course.  As part of this contract, the student and instructor will decide whether the course will be graded or taken satisfactory/fail.  The format of the report, as well as deadlines for submissions of drafts and the final report, are set by the BIOL 490 instructor in consultation with the student.  Completed contracts should be taken to the Experiential Learning Coordinator, Norah Warchola in Bessey 135. 

BIOL 490 contract