Independent Study BIOL492 Syllabus

PLEASE NOTE: To register for this class you must request an override using the form below. Overrides will not be released until after May 1st for Summer and Fall registration and Dec 1st for Spring semester studies. Mentor confirmation must have been received for the overrides to be issued.

Instructor of Record: Dr. Sarah Golding                  

Enrollment: By override after approval by the Department of Biology. Please direct all questions to Dr. Golding.

PLEASE NOTE: To register for this class you must request an override using the form below. Overrides will not be released until after May 1st for summer and fall registration and Dec 1st for spring semester studies. Mentor confirmation must have been received for the overrides to be issued.

If you are a senior and would like to use this course to fulfill your senior capstone requirement, you will need to be co-registered for BIOL 477. Registration for BIOL 477 requires that you first receive an override from the biology department and then register for the course via e-services using the provided CRN. Please select this option on the registration request form. You will receive an e-mail notification once you are able to add BIOL 477 to your schedule. You must register for BIOL 477 prior to the end of add/drop to receive capstone credit. Credit cannot be awarded after the fact.

BIOL 492. Independent Study. 1-4 Hours.

Semester course; 1-4 independent study hours. 1-4 credits. Prerequisites: BIOZ 151 and BIOZ 152, each with a minimum grade of C; and permission of the chair of the Department of Biology. May be repeated for credit. A maximum total of six credits for all research and internship courses (BIOL 395BIOL 451BIOL 453BIOL 492BIOL 493BIOL 495 and/or BIOZ 395) may be applied to the 40 credits of biology required for the major. Additional credits from these courses may be applied to upper-level and open elective credits toward the degree. A minimum of two credits is required for the course to count as a laboratory experience. Projects should include data collection and analysis, learning field and/or laboratory techniques, and/or mastering experimental procedures, all under the direct supervision of a faculty member. A minimum of three hours of supervised activity per week per credit hour is required. A final report must be submitted at the completion of the project.

VCU REAL (Relevant Experiential and Applied Learning).

This course has been approved by the REAL Council as a: REAL Research Experience Level 3

To learn more about the requirements for REAL course designations please see the REAL website:

This course offers:
Hands-on learning in a research laboratory that engages the student in applying or exploring disciplinary knowledge in real-world or simulated contexts

Mentored experiences wherein the research faculty member responds regularly to student work, supports student reflection and integration of learning throughout the activity, and encourages goal-setting for future learning

Guided reflection activities or assignment as an intentional metacognitive practice where students articulate personal, civic, social, or academic learning; identify values and attitudes developed through the activity; and/or explore and clarify career goals

Course Expectations for Students: Independent study in the Biological sciences requires the investigation of a biological problem through literature search and laboratory and/or field experimentation under the supervision of a Faculty mentor.

Students must be in good academic standing. Students are required to find their own research mentors and secure a position in their research group to conduct their study prior to requesting registration. It is suggested that this relationship is fostered in the semester preceding registration as it often takes a week or so for the student and mentor to agree and the Dept. of Biology to issue the overrides.

Once a mentor is secured students must complete the online Independent Study Registration Form. In addition, mentors must provide their approval by email to Dr. Golding

Applications for Independent study approval will be given priority before May 1st for summer and fall registration and Dec 1st for spring semester studies but may be approved through Add/Drop

Course Goals: Students will leave this course having acquired knowledge and comprehension of the research process including but not limited to reviewing the scientific literature, application of technical procedures, data collection, and data analyses. Students will have seen how to apply their knowledge to a scientific problem and draw logical conclusions.

Course Expectations for Student and Mentors:

The Department Chairman generally will not authorize the direction of more than nine credits of independent study by a faculty member during any one semester. These nine credits also include directed study and/or research and thesis credits. Please contact Dr. Golding if you have concerns.

It is expected that mentors ensure that students achieve the following learning outcomes:

To enable the student to demonstrate an ability to;

  • Search the literature relevant to the topic
  • Differentiate between primary, secondary and tertiary sources of information
  • Produce a critical review of the literature relevant to the topic to be studied
  • Carry out the investigations
  • Collect, collate and analyze data from their investigations
  • Draw valid conclusions from the analysis of the data
  • Discuss the relevance of the conclusions in the context of the literature relating to that topic
  • Report the findings of the investigation in writing
  • Display professional behavior at all times
  • Communicate clearly with mentors and larger lab group
  • Work well in a team
  • Display independence
  • Frequently reflect on their work, recognize mistakes, and take corrective action (trouble-shooting)
  • Respond well to critique

Mentors are required to edit and proofread all assignments before submission to Dr. Golding. Dr. Golding will issue the final grades to e-services after receiving feedback from mentors. If mentors have any worries regarding the quality and quantity of work their mentees are producing they should contact Dr. Golding

To receive a passing grade in this course students must dedicate 3-4 hrs per credit hour per week to hands-on data gathering and experimentation.  This time will be monitored by the research mentor. Students must also work with their mentors to complete all required assignments and learning outcomes outlined in the syllabus. Students must ensure that mentors have read and approved the final product before submission to Dr. Golding.

At the end of each semester, mentor feedback will be solicited using a grading feedback form. Dr. Golding will review the grade in comparison to other submissions. Any grade disagreements will be resolved in a Biology faculty meeting. At any time should a mentor feel that a student’s contribution is insufficient they must contact Dr. Golding as soon as possible.

A grade of “incomplete” should only be given on the students request and after consultation with the student/mentor and Dr. Golding. All incomplete work must be completed within 30 days of the next semester.

Responsible Conduct of Research Requirement:

All students registering for this class must complete the responsible conduct of research training (RCR). BIOL392 completes this requirement. Students who have not completed BIOL392 must take an online course hosted by the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) and can be found at At this site, select “Create an Account”, enter your organization (VCU), create an account, and then select ‘general RCR training’. Training is free but requires a account.  Students must take a screenshot to confirm they have completed this requirement and upload to the Blackboard page for this class. If you have previously completed the CITI RCR training for another class you do not need to repeat it but you must provide proof. The CITI Human Subjects training cannot be substituted.


Assignments Details:

ALL assignments must be proofread, edited and approved by the supervising faculty member prior to submission to Dr. Golding via Blackboard.

Research plan/proposal:
Due dates: Feb 5th for Spring semester, June 5th for Summer semester, and September 5th for Fall semester.

This deadline is enforced by your mentor. Dr. Golding will offer an automatic 10 day grace period. Any student who has not submitted a research plan to Blackboard by Feb 15th, June 15th or Sept 15th can be administratively removed from the course.

The research plan will include:

– A title

– An overview of the background behind your research topic

– A hypothesis or research question

– A brief timeline of the proposed study

– at least 3 in-text citations

It is is expected that mentor and mentee will work on this report collaboratively and each draft will receive reflection, feedback and editing from the mentor and the mentee.


Final research report:
Due dates:  May 1st for spring semester, July 20th for Summer semester, and December 1st for fall semester.

This deadline is enforced by your mentor. Dr. Golding offers an automatic 10 day grace period. Any student who has not submitted a final paper to Blackboard by May 10th, Aug 1st, or Dec 10th  will receive a grade of “F”. Mentors will be responsible for filing the paperwork to remove the “F” grade. A grade of “Incomplete, I” can only be issued on the students request with approval from the mentor and Dr. Golding.

Written in the style of a journal article from the research field of study the research report must include:

  • A title, authors, affiliations
  • Abstract
  • Background
  • Hypothesis
  • Methods
  • Results (using appropriate graphs and statistics for that field of study)
  • Conclusions/Discussion/Future Directions
  • In-text citations (at least 8).

It is expected that the mentor and mentee will work on this report collaboratively and each draft will receive reflection, feedback, and editing from the mentor and the mentee.

Writing guidelines/expectations: Please follow the writing guidelines posted to blackboard under course documents. Primary literature and full citations in the style of a journal of the field will be expected for all assignments.

Research-Report Guidelines. If you cannot find information on citation style from your mentor follow these guidelines. Citation guidelines (hyperlink)

PLEASE NOTE: We are aware that much of the work will be preliminary in nature. But we still require that students share their findings in the format of a research paper. If the student has encountered significant technical difficulties and the data generated is weak or questionable, the student is advised to focus on the cause of the technical difficulties in the results section and suggest strategies to overcome these issues in the discussion section of the paper.


Final Reflection:  In 1500 words or less take a moment to reflect on your REAL experience this semester with respect to the following;

1) Perseverance: What challenges did you face during your experience and how did you overcome them?  Upon reviewing the experience can you identify and describe an example of a different approach (e.g., decision or action) you could have taken. Envisage the impact of such a change.

2) Professional Skills: In addition to scientific knowledge what life skills did you acquire this semester? How will you incorporate those into your future learning/career?

3) The Big Picture: What societal issue was your research focused on addressing? How will your work help to improve the human condition?

Assignment Submission: To reduce the chance of plagiarism all assignments for BIOL492 must be submitted via the safe assign database in Bb. Please see the BIOL492 Bb page for instructions on how to submit.


Please note seniors: If during the duration of your biology degree you have registered for more than 6 credits of Directed Study, Independent Study, Biology of Cancer, or Research and Thesis degree works may not slot your credits correctly. Please bring this up with your biology advisor.


VCU Academic rules and regulations:

Students should visit and review all syllabus statement information. The full university syllabus statement includes information on safety, registration, the VCU Honor Code, student conduct, withdrawal and more.

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