Information for HHMI collaborators and instructors

An Introduction to Rice University’s Bioc 115: Freshman Seminar in Local Biology


Research universities have numerous scientific resources at their disposal but may lag behind small colleges in engaging and retaining potential undergraduate biology majors. Introductory classes at research universities are usually large and generally unrepresentative of the social environment in which scientific research is actually performed. It is therefore our goal to expose our freshmen to active research programs while maintaining our class enrollment at the size of a small lab. In this setting, students will feel comfortable expressing their confusion or curiosity with their instructor and with the members of the labs that they visit.

In this 7-week course we offer freshmen an opportunity to explore a publication by a lab at their institution. In the first three weeks of the course, they read, answer questions, and discuss an article from their featured local lab. In the fourth week they do the same for a related paper from a lab outside of their university. In the fifth week they join the members of the featured lab for a reception and tour. During the reception and tour, the students are encouraged to ask numerous questions, both scientific and sociological, of the members of the featured lab.


In addition to this fundamental course structure, we offer four enrichment activities: an instructor lab tour in which the students tour the labs in which their section instructors work, a tour of a Texas Medical Center science department to familiarize the students with the resources available to them at other local institutions, a departmental seminar or poster session of their choice in which they take notes using a guided worksheet, and a science-related movie screening in which students view and discuss a Hollywood movie or documentary featuring science or scientists.

We involve undergraduate upperclassmen as role models in all aspects of the course. Senior undergraduates serve as guest discussion leaders and talk to the sections about how to apply to work in undergraduate labs. Later, during the lab tours, undergraduates already in labs give demonstrations and show examples of their work.


We feel that the benefits of this course format are: early intervention to reach freshmen while they are still formulating their opinions about the biology major; intimate discussion groups to support a non-threatening environment in which we can address students’ questions and foster their curiosity; advanced research exposure to scientific literature, scientists, and technology; peer inspiration through the participation of upper-class-undergraduate researchers in all aspects of the course; an introduction to the scientific identity as students meet researchers and learn how they work and communicate with one another; pedagogical training for graduate students through a mentored yet independent section format; low impact on departmental resources as the responsibilities are limited to a 7-week period; and finally, a high yield of students entering labs as a result of the publicity for undergraduate research that this course offers.

Structural elements of the course:

  • Enrollment: 5-8 students per section
  • Classroom type: small seminar rooms
  • Course term: half semester (7 weeks), taught each semester in the 2nd half of the semester
  • Credit: 1 hour
  • Readings: 1 primary research article from a local lab, 1 related article from elsewhere in the world
  • Featured local labs: different for each section
  • Homework: 6 assignments
    • 3 written assignments on the readings
    • 1 pre-tour question preparation
    • 1 seminar notes or poster session form
    • 1 post-course survey

Instructor's manual

We have compiled an instructor's handbook containing training materials and homework templates. Please contact us to request a copy of this document.

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Bioc 115 is cross-listed as FSEM 115 and eligible for Natural Sciences D3 distribution credit.

Bioc 115 is a part of Reading to Research, a project designed to lead students from the scientific literature to participation in laboratory research. It was developed with support from an HHMI Professor grant awarded to Bonnie Bartel.