An Insider’s Guide to Biology @ Allegheny College

29 Aug

About our Curriculum

One of my favorite aspects about the Biology program at Allegheny College is that it emphasizes independent student research and integrates hypothesis testing in the classroom. We have, in my opinion, one of the top research-oriented undergraduate biology curricula in the nation which is capped off with a required senior honors thesis.

Sophomore Seminar – FSBio 201

Our first laboratory requirement for our students comes during their Sophomore year in a course called Investigative Approaches in Biology. This course is co-taught by 3 faculty and is broken into three 4-week segments (= modules). The students are distributed among the faculty and spend 4 weeks with one faculty member before rotating to the next faculty member. Conceptually, the course is similar to graduate school rotations in that by the end of the semester, each student will have had experience working with various faculty (3 in this case). Each module is designed by each faculty member and generally relates to their research, with one of the purposes of the course being a recruitment tool for faculty. More importantly, the students learn general laboratory techniques along with some specialized techniques during each module. They learn experimental design, hypothesis testing, and laboratory techniques by developing and conducting research within a small group (4/students) setting. In addition, we are able to train students in the art of scientific communication through writing laboratory reports as well as the presentation of their results by participating in group PowerPoint presentations. All said, this course allows us to teach science by doing science.

Junior Seminar – Bio 580

In addition to developing our own FSBio modules, each faculty develops their own Junior Seminar course that is directly related to their research. I like to think of this course as a hybrid topics course as well as a laboratory course. During Junior Seminar, students get opportunities to work closely for an entire semester with a faculty member of their choosing on a topic at the intersection of the student and faculty members research interests. In an ideal situation, students who work with a faculty member in Sophomore Seminar go on to work with that same faculty member in Junior Seminar (and also comp with that faculty member their senior year).

Senior Seminar – Bio 600 & 610

By the time our students reach their senior year, they enroll in a research course during their Fall and Spring semesters in fulfillment of their Senior Research project. During the Fall semester of their senior year, students enroll in Bio 600 where they read primary scientific literature and develop their independent senior research project with their faculty mentor. Prior to starting their research project, students have to defend a written and oral proposal and then its off to the races! Students learn science by doing science… independently, but collaboratively, with their peers and faculty mentor. During Spring semester, they finish up their research projects, work on statistical analyses (with the help of the faculty mentor), complete a written thesis, an oral examination, and present their findings at the departmental biology symposium.

Summer Research

In addition to our research curriculum at Allegheny, students get many opportunities to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor doing the summer on an independent research project. Students can receive a summer stipend of $3000 in return for 30 hours/week of research and get money from Allegheny for research expenses and supplies.

In Summary…

These are a few of the many ways in which undergraduates in our department learn science by doing science. In addition to these opportunities, our faculty make it a point promote critical thinking and hypothesis driven inquiry during our lecture courses.

I look forward to keeping you all posted on my lab as I recruit students and develop my research program.



3 Responses to “An Insider’s Guide to Biology @ Allegheny College”


  1. Research In The Classroom | The Liberal Arts Ecologists | Small Universities. Big Ecology. - November 6, 2013

    […] blogged previously about one of my favorite courses at Allegheny — Investigative Approaches in Biology (FSBio […]

  2. 1st Semester as a VAP | The Liberal Arts Ecologists | Small Universities. Big Ecology. - December 18, 2013

    […] departmental colleague, I was able to recruit a junior global health/biology major who will do his senior comp project with me. I found that this mix of sophomores and juniors was important because there is a degree of […]

  3. Why You Need to Re-Submit Your NSF Pre-Proposal | The Liberal Arts Ecologists | Small Universities. Big Ecology. - January 16, 2015

    […] other things, I had a normal teaching load (at Allegheny, this is 2 courses and also advising Senior Comp Research students) and I was in the midst of putting together my file requesting that my position as a Visiting […]

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