7.18 | Fall 2005 | Undergraduate

Topics in Experimental Biology


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session

Course Outline

7.18 is for students who carry out independent research as part of MIT’s UROP program to fulfill the Biology Department Project Lab requirement. UROP is MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Although research is carried out in different labs, the regular meetings in class will provide the same educational opportunities and training as those offered by the Project Labs. The goals of this course are to learn the following:

  • how to present research, both orally and in writing
  • the mechanics of writing papers and abstracts
  • how to read and critique papers
  • how to analyze and critique research

These sessions will provide an opportunity to

  1. communicate your findings to your peers,
  2. receive help and constructive criticism of your work, and
  3. critique others’ work.

A significant component of 7.18 will be the writing tutorial, which will provide both general and specific training in writing a scientific report.

Prerequisites and Requirements

7.18 has the same prerequisites (7.02 - Experimental Biology and Communication, 7.03 - Genetics, 7.05 -Biochemistry) and the same number of units (24) as the three project labs (7.13, 7.16, 7.17) offered by the Biology Department. The written assignments for 7.18 will be the same as for other project labs and will include a 15-page research report.

Students should only enroll in 7.18 if they plan to complete a paper on their research by the last day of class in the semester they are enrolled. A student who is planning to work in a lab for several semesters before writing a paper should plan to enroll in 7.URG. A minimum of a one semester enrollment in 7.URG (or full time work over the summer) in the proposed laboratory is required before a student is eligible to enroll in 7.18. While enrolled in 7.18, students should plan that the number of hours they are working in the lab are sufficient for progress of their project to completion. It is recommended that students are in lab 16-20 hours a week.

Oral Presentations and Journal Paper Discussions

At the beginning of the semester, every student will give a 5-min/3-slide presentation of his/her research project, using lay language and focusing on overall objectives (big picture).

During the second class period, every student will submit four primary scientific papers directly relevant to his/her research project. Some of the papers will be chosen for in-class discussion. The student whose paper is chosen will lead the paper discussion. He or she will meet with the instructors in advance to go over the paper. The rest of the students, i.e., those who do not lead the paper discussion, will need to write a one-page summary of the paper.

The summary (2 copies) will be collected and evaluated for scientific content and writing. The papers that are discussed in class will provide materials for writing tutorial.

For the remainder of the semester, the class will meet to discuss specific research projects and their progress. Students will present their research projects, results, and problems. The class as a whole will critique the project and troubleshoot problems. Every student is expected to give two presentations on his or her research project. The presentation will form the basis for the final 15-page research report due at the end of the semester.

Two hard copies of all assignments must be submitted to the instructors.

Final Paper and Supporting Documents

One goal of the course is that you write a research article, following standard IMRAD format (Introduction, Material and Methods, Results, and Discussion). Each section will first be submitted separately. (Figures will be submitted with the Results section.) You will receive comments for revision from your instructors and a peer reviewer. The complete draft is a revision and joining together of the individual sections. The final paper is a second draft.

Some of you may not have enough results to write up a paper. In this case, you may, instead, work on a grant proposal. Please speak to the instructors.

You will be asked to assemble a cumulative file of documents as an underpinning for your research article. Some of the documents you need to collect; others you will write.

  • Instructions to authors
    • Choose a likely journal to which you might submit your final paper (e.g., Cell). Photocopy or print out Instructions to Authors and highlight anything of interest to you.
  • Summaries
    • We will read and discuss several “model” articles in class. For each, unless you are the person presenting the article, please submit a one-page summary as described.
  • Annotated bibliography
    • Write two or three sentences describing each of about ten articles that will be included in your final bibliography. Consider how the article applies to your own work.
  • Figure critique
    • Analyze the figures from one of the model papers. Interpret and evaluate the figures.
  • Glossary
    • List alphabetically, and define, about ten terms you are using in your paper with which your readers may be unfamiliar.
  • Nonscientific abstract
    • Write a one-page abstract of your paper addressed to a general audience.

Supporting documents will include an “Instructions to Authors” sheet from a selected journal, your journal article summaries, an annotated bibliography, a figure critique, glossary, and a nonscientific abstract.


Class Participation 20% Three presentations and participation in the class discussion.
Writing Assignments 10% All writing assignments, including paper summaries.
Research Report 70% 35% of the grade will be based on the faculty mentor’s evaluation of lab performance, research progress, and quality of the written report; 35% will be based on the course instructor’s evaluation of the final 15-page research report. The research report is due by the end of the semester.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments
Presentation Assignments