Research

Behavioral Biology students are encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities to participate in research projects carried out on the Homewood campus or at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Supervised research is initiated by an agreement between the student and the faculty member with whom the student wishes to work. That agreement specifies:

  • What the student will do in terms of research
  • How much time will be spent doing it
  • When the student is expected to be present
  • What the student will give the research supervisor (e.g., a certain amount of time, a paper, the results of an experiment)
  • What the student will receive (e.g., supervision, readings, guidance in pursuing the project)

To identify potential research supervisors, students should search departmental web pages for research being conducted on the Homewood campus and at the School of Medicine. The research interests of faculty members in each department are usually listed, along with selected bibliographies of published works. Students should read a selection of the articles to ensure that they can understand the nature of the research and intelligently discuss it.

Students should contact faculty via email to discuss possible research opportunities, introducing themselves as an undergraduate behavioral biology major and explaining their interest in working for credit in the faculty member’s laboratory. Students are urged to make these arrangements well before the end of the semester prior to which they wish to begin work. If the research supervisor is not a full-time member in the School of Arts and Sciences, students must find a sponsor among the full-time Arts and Sciences faculty. The sponsor—typically, but not necessarily, the academic adviser—must decide that the work is relevant to the major and must agree to serve as the student’s sponsor.

Research Requirement

Behavioral Biology majors will have to take one semester of either 290.5xx Research or 290.590 Behavioral Biology Internship along with one semester of 290.500 Connections in Behavioral Biology as part of their major requirement. Connections is a concurrent requirement the first time students sign up for research or an internship. After that, students may take research or an internship or Connections without them being concurrent.

290.500 Connections in Behavioral Biology

A small group of students will meet two times in the semester to share experiences and information on research, internship, and volunteer activities in behavioral biology. This course is designed to:

  1. Help behavioral biology majors obtain real world experiences that can lead to opportunities after graduation
  2. Provide an informal setting to develop oral and written communication skills
  3. Build community among students in the major

Students will make oral presentations to the group about activities they wish to pursue or have already completed. Students will also write a short paper/news piece or prepare a web page on an internship, research, or volunteer experience.

Research Credit

The number of credits earned for supervised research ranges from 1 to 3. Each 40 hours of work per semester is worth 1 credit. Because a semester is about 13 weeks long, each credit requires about three hours per week on average. If the student works regularly during the semester, then three hours a week will yield 1 credit, six hours will yield 2 credits, and nine hours will yield 3 credits. Students may, of course, work more some days and weeks than others.

In all cases, students should keep a record of the number of hours they put in during the semester. Because the number of credits is determined at the end of the semester, students should not indicate any particular number of credits when registering for research. The School of Arts and Sciences stipulates that students may earn no more than 3 credits of research, independent study, or internship per semester, and no more than 6 credits per academic year.

Research Paper

All students who enroll for Supervised Research or Independent Study must write a paper that describes the substance of the research that was carried out during the semester. This paper should be approved and signed by the research supervisor. This document must be submitted to the faculty sponsor at the end of the semester.

At the end of the semester, the following two items must be handed into the sponsor by 4 p.m. on the last day of the reading period to enable the sponsor to submit a grade to the registrar in a timely manner. Unless an alternative arrangement has been made with the sponsor beforehand, late reports will not be accepted and may result in a grade of unsatisfactory. All independent research is graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory scale.

Paper Sections

Title: The title should be a concise description of the project.

Abstract: This is a brief summary of the project that you are working on—an overview.

Introduction: This section includes the questions that the project(s) addresses—the hypothesis. It should also include a background, with references, that informs the reader about why the hypothetical questions are being asked. Everyone should be able to write this section. You need to ask questions and get papers the lab has previously published. You should understand the project that you are working on, even if your job is only one aspect of the project. This section should be well referenced.

Methods: What techniques are being used to answer the questions? Why are these techniques being used? What protocols are being used? What experimental subjects and groups? Again, you need to understand this component even if you are not actually using the techniques. You can also reference other papers that have used these methods so you do not need to write out the methods.

Results: What data have you collected? If none, what are the results you might see?

Discussion: What do the results, either obtained or speculated, mean to the questions that you set out to answer? How will this advance the field?

Reference List: List your references that you have used.

Supervisor’s Evaluation of Work: If the student is working under the supervision of a faculty member other than the sponsor, the supervisor should certify that the work described in the report was complete and provide an evaluation of the quality of the work. This information can be written directly on the student’s report or in the form of a confidential letter to the sponsor.

Additional Tips

Think of your paper as a work in progress. Talk to people in your lab about the project. When you are just starting out in a lab, the most you may be able to complete is the introduction. You should, however, be able to speculate on what the expected results are and then write how these results, if obtained, would address the questions the project addresses. Each semester that you work on the project, you should be able to add to the paper you are writing.