Investigative Biology – a required immersion in scientific practice for Biology majors.

Bryan White bwhite@uwb.eduUniversity of Washington Bothell
Kristina Hillesland khillesland@uwb.eduUniversity of Washington Bothell
Doug Wackerdwacker@uwb.eduUniversity of Washington Bothell
Jeff Jensenjjensen@uwb.eduUniversity of Washington Bothell

Project Location

All students in our Biology BS program are required to complete a research experience. This requirement can be met by supervised student-faculty research, by an appropriate internship, or through an upper-division course titled “Investigative Biology.” The course gives students a one-quarter (10-week) research experience, usually in the lab or the field, by integrating teaching with individual

Student Audience

Advanced, Major

Scientific Domain

  • Biochemistry
  • Bioinformatics/Computational biology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental science
  • Evolution
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • Plant science

Nature of the Research

  • Wet lab/bench research
  • Field research
  • Informatics/computational research
  • Basic research
  • Database research

Core Concepts

  • Evolution: The diversity of life evolved over time by process of mutation, selection, and genetic change.
  • Structure and Function: Basic units of structure define the function of all living things.
  • Information Flow and Exchange: The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context.
  • Pathways and Transformation of Energy: Biological systems grow and change by processes based on chemical transformation pathways and are governed by the laws of thermodynamics.
  • Systems: Living systems are interconnected and interacting.

Core Competencies

  • Applying the process of science
  • Using quantitative reasoning
  • Tapping into the interdisciplinary nature of science
  • Communicating and collaborating

Guiding Questions

  • How do we address novel questions in the area of _____? What methods and forms of data analysis are appropriate to this area of investigation?
  • How do scientists carry out experiments? What are proper controls? How do keep track of what I have done, and my ideas for future research?
  • Once I have carried out experiments, what do the results mean? How would I change the experiments if I were to carry them out again?
  • What conclusions can I draw? What are the limitations or caveats?

Learning Objectives

  • Learn to plan, execute, and analyze the results of a research project (assessed by, for example, planning worksheet, individual meetings, oral presentation, and research paper).
  • Learn about experimental techniques used to conduct experiments in a specific area of research (assessed by quiz, research paper and presentation).
  • Learn to analyze experimental designs (assessed by paper summary and class discussion).
  • Learn to analyze your own data and determine how it impacts other research in this field of research (assessed by research paper and presentation).
  • Learn to read and analyze primary scientific literature (assessed by research paper, blog post, and class discussions).


Investigative Biology is a family of courses, covering different research areas and methods, but with the common goals of giving students the opportunity to carry out research, analyze the results, draw conclusions, and present their work to fellow students and to faculty.

Students are given background information and readings on the area of research, and then they either (a) design experiments, or are (b) assigned a hypothesis to test, related to the overall goals of the research program. This provides an authentic research experience for students, and also enables faculty members to integrate their research and teaching. Students benefit by delving deeply into an area in which the faculty member is expert; the faculty members bring their research into the classroom and teach specialized methods of data collection and analysis.

Certain goals are met in all iterations of the course. First, even if students are given a specific hypothesis, they must design specific experiments with proper controls, and carry out their experiments. Results are kept in lab notebooks, analyzed, and used to plan subsequent experiments, if possible. Students present their projects at a well-attended symposium at the end of the term that is open to other students and faculty.

Different instructors emphasize different skills. For example, one instructor places considerable emphasis on finding and reading original research papers, understanding figures presented in papers, and being able to explain figures and their conclusions. Another instructor places greater emphasis on maintaining a lab notebook and data analysis. Despite these variations in emphasis – which reflect the diversity in scientific practice within the research community - all iterations of the course rely heavily on hands-on student execution of experiments, and interpretation and presentation of data obtained. The beauty of this course is that it is flexible and taught frequently, so students can enroll in a section that addresses questions in which they are interested, and all students and faculty can benefit from institutionalizing this CURE.

Getting Started

Because different iterations of the course are based on different research areas, equipment and supplies depend heavily on the specific projects being conducted in any given quarter. Faculty members often have some, if not most, of the equipment that is required for research projects in their area. Some pieces of equipment may be sufficient for a research program, but insufficient for a class of 12 students; this requires purchases to allow the students access to necessary equipment or supplies. One feature of the course is that we expect students to conduct research outside of regular class hours, so it may be necessary to make equipment, and lab access, available to students during evenings and weekends.


Highly variable; depends of projects.
White , Bryan University of Washington Bothell
Hillesland , Kristina University of Washington Bothell
Wacker, Doug University of Washington Bothell
Jensen, Jeff University of Washington Bothell

Class time

4 hrs/week class time + student lab time