Engaging in research is an excellent way to see first-hand how biological knowledge is acquired. Conducting research should be an integral part of any student’s plans if they are considering a career in the sciences. Fortunately, Penn provides an abundance of research opportunities for undergraduate students in the form of independent study, work study, general employment, and volunteering. More information about Biology independent study for credit can be found below as well as on the linked pages for BIOL 199 and BIOL 399/499. General information about lab opportunities across campus and how to get started in undergraduate research can be found on the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship’s (CURF) website.

BIOL 199

BIOL 199 (1 CU) may be counted as an elective within the General Biology Major, however there are restrictions on other electives that students may count alongside BIOL 199. In addition, students who complete BIOL 199 are not eligible to apply for honors within the major. This research course may be taken only once.  

  • Data is typically generated by others instead of directly by student.
  • Includes clinically focused projects that primarily involve analysis of aggregated data.
  • Requires student to work with and interpret data in some novel way; must involve more than simple statistical analyses of small datasets, cataloguing, and/or basic imaging.

BIOL 399/499

BIOL 399 (1 CU) and BIOL 499 (1 CU) mark the first and second semesters of an independent study project. BIOL 499 is typically a continuation of the work started for BIOL 399. While concentrations require that either one or both of these courses be completed, independent study is optional for students within the General Biology Major. Students are eligible to apply for honors after completing BIOL 399. BIOL 499 may be taken more than once but only two credits of independent study may be counted toward the major requirements.

  • Data is typically generated by student in conjunction with lab mentors and peers.
  • Includes research paradigms involving benchwork and wet lab techniques.
  • Research scope must be relevant to student’s concentration (when applicable).
  • In Fall 2020, students have the option to participate in a special BIOL 399 investigating genome annotation. Find details here.


Who should apply:

We encourage all students to get involved in research as early as possible. After gaining some experience in their labs and having completed a minimum of one or two intermediate level Biology courses, interested students should plan to undertake an independent study project during their junior and senior years. Non-majors with appropriate background in Biology are also welcome to apply. 

Freshman and sophomores who are are interested in research are encouraged to find volunteer,  employment, or work-study positions in one of the many research labs at Penn.  Such positions can often develop into an independent study project over time. There are several strategies for finding an independent study sponsor that may help you identify an appropriate research mentor for your project.