Independent Study

An Independent Study project provides an excellent opportunity to gain a more intimate understanding of how biological knowledge is actually discovered. For those of you who are considering a career in science, this is the best way to discover what it is like to be involved in research. Fortunately, Penn provides an abundance of independent study opportunities for our undergraduate Biology majors. An Independent Study is a semester-long study course that is equivalent to 1 CU and may carry one of several possible course designations:

BIOL 199

A study course for students doing research that does not involve any biological experimentation.  Projects might include clinical data analysis or analysis of data collected by other researchers.  These projects typically analyze data generated by medical professionals and do not involve the experimental or observational work normally expected of an independent study experience in biology.


BIOL 399 and 499

A study course for students pursuing basic biological research in a laboratory or field setting.  Projects typically include the design, implementation, and analysis of experiments investigating a particular research question.  Projects are usually 'self-contained' studies that fit into the larger investigative framework of the research sponsor's laboratory.

A study course for students who wish to continue the research they performed in BIOL399.  This advanced independent study requires that students build on their previous work and, ideally, have a greater contribution to the experimental design.  Students must complete BIOL399 before they can enroll in BIOL499. 

Who should apply:

Many students are excited to get involved in research beginning in the freshman year.  We strongly encourage students to undertake an independent study project in their junior or senior years, after they have developed a sufficiently strong background in biology.  Freshman and sophomores who are are interested in research are encouraged to find volunteer or part-time work-study positions in one of the many research laboratories at the University of Pennsylvania.  Such positions can often develop into an independent study project.  There are several Strategies for Finding an Independent Study Sponsor that may help you identify an appropriate research sponsor.