Introduction to W3700

Independent Clinical Research

This course will ask potential mentors and students to provide a proposal in which students will gain hands-on experience in a clinical setting, as part of a clinical research project that can be completed within the semester. There are two instructors for this course: Dr. Deborah Mowshowitz ([email protected]) and Ellie Siddens ([email protected]).

PLEASE NOTE: It can take a long time to get situated in a lab. For this reason, we highly recommend getting started in your lab before the start of this course (even months before). We also recommend spending more than one semester working in the lab, if you want to have time to fully complete a project.

A. Finding a research sponsor

The first step towards doing independent clinical research is finding a sponsor who will supervise your work and receive approval from the mentor for an independent clinical research proposal that will give the student a project which can be initiated and completed within the semester. You must take the initiative to find a sponsor by contacting faculty who do research you are interested in. You can find a spot in a lab/clinic as late as the first week of the semester, but you'll have the best chance at getting into a lab/clinic of your choice if you start looking during the previous semester. NOTE: Starting in fall 2017, research sponsors must be at Columbia University at the Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, or CUMC campus.

B. How to register  (4 steps)

You must complete the following steps to register for UN3700. Note that you have to register with the Registrar, as for any other class, AND you have to register with the Department, which requires completion of ALL FOUR STUDENT'S TASKS, listed below, in a timely manner. NOTE: Starting Fall 2017, students can only gain credit for a maximum 2 semesters of UN3700. You may continue working in your lab, but you cannot do it for course credit. 

1. University registration. Register for UN3700 with the Registrar. Students register for 1-3 credits. A general rule is a minimum of 4 hours lab time/week/credit, i.e. register for 1 credit for approximately 4 hours/week, 2 credits for approximately 8 hours/week, or 3 credits for approximately 12 or more hours of lab time/week.

2. Departmental registration. Fill out the on-line registration form. Due Date: As early as possible during the registration period, but definitely no later than one week from start of classes. (Tuesday, January 25 for Spring 2022). No late registration will be accepted without the approval from the instructor.

3. One Page Proposal. After consulting with your sponsor about the project that you will work on, you should write a one-page proposal in clear prose describing the planned work, and submit the proposal to the Biology office (600 Fairchild).  Do not copy your sponsor's grant application or research papers; we want the proposal to be in your own words. Your proposal is due in 600 Fairchild by Friday of the second week of classes (Friday, January 28 for Spring 2022). You should receive an email either approving your project, or requesting additional information, within a week to 10 days after submitting your proposal. No late proposals will be accepted.

4. Sponsor's Approval Letter. Make sure your sponsor has sent an approval letter by the deadline for departmental registration (Tuesday, January 25 for Spring 2022).

C. Sponsor's Approval Letter 

Ask your sponsor to write a letter by email, 1) confirming that s/he will supervise your work in their lab/clinic, 2) describing in a brief paragraph the work you will be doing, and 3) confirming they are taking on the responsibility of mentoring you, which includes reading and providing a grade for your final paper during finals period. (Sponsors should see the "Grading Guidelines for Mentors" section below). This letter should be sent to Ellie Siddens at [email protected]. The deadline is the same as for online registration (Tuesday, January 25 for Spring 2022). Note that the official sponsor must be a faculty member, not a postdoctoral fellow or research associate, though a more junior member of the team may be designated for day-to-day supervision during the semester.

D. Course Requirement: Progress Report.

About 6 weeks into the semester, you must turn in a one-page progress report, describing your work thus far. Most students will not have research results at this point, but the progress report must provide an indication that your project is proceeding in the context of your own understanding of the underlying issues and hypotheses being tested. This report should be submitted to 600 Fairchild by the following deadlines: Monday, February 28, 2021.

E. Final Paper

Near the end of the term, you are required to write a paper -- in the style of a scientific research article -- at a level understandable to a scientist who is working in a different area of biology or medicine. Do not copy or paraphrase your mentor's grants or papers. The final paper for BIOL3700 should be written in time for the lab director to read it and recommend a grade to the course director, in time for a final grade to be assigned inside the period for grade submissions in any given semester.  The paper should be in the student's own words.  It should not be a rehash of a grant proposal nor the draft of a research paper from the student's lab.  It should contain sections that cover the scientific problem being studied, the way in which a disprovable hypothesis is being tested, the student's role in the project, results as of the end of the semester, and any observations the student may have about the experience.  The length need not be greater than 10 double-spaced pages. The paper must be submitted to Ellie Siddens in the 600 Fairchild by the last day of the reading period, i.e., before the first day of finals - Spring 2022 semester deadline: Monday, May 2. A pdf of the paper should be sent to Ellie Siddens ([email protected]), Dr. Mowshowitz ([email protected]), and your mentor.

We also ask that you submit a one-page summary of what work you, the student, conducted in the lab. This should be written in plain English, rather than in the style of a scientific research paper. This should be submitted along with your final paper.

Here are some guidelines on writing your final paper.

F. Sponsor’s Grade:

After reading your paper, your sponsor should submit a grade to Ellie Siddens ([email protected]). The deadline for receiving this grade is the last day of finals (Friday, May 13).

The grade should be both based on both your clinical work and your research paper.

Dr. Mowshowitz will assign your final grade, based on your progress report, a review of your paper, and your sponsor's recommendation. Important: you must have submitted all the information required ON TIME in order to receive a full grade.

G. Grading Guidelines for Mentors:

The grades for this course are not curved.  Students are expected to do credible work, but not necessarily to have solved a major problem.  To maintain a rough parity of grade from lab to lab, we ask mentors to hold to the following guidelines:

 The student who gains both experience and acceptance as an articulate and productive member of a team, should receive a grade in the A range [A-, A, or RARELY, A+].  An A+ student should not be expected on average to appear more than once in a number of years in a given setting. A grade of A+ requires a detailed explanation to Dr. Mowshowitz as to the reasons for this extraordinary accomplishment.

 The student who has a routine, uneventful lab experience should receive a grade in the B range [B-, B or B+].

 The student who is episodically unreliable or lazy should receive a grade in the C range [C-, C, or C+].

 A student tracking worse than that, should be brought to the attention of Dr. Mowshowitz by the mentor early enough to avoid a disaster [a D or an F]. Note that not every student should expect to earn an A or A-, not to mention an A+.

Business Office

Department of Biological Sciences
500 Fairchild Center
Mail Code 2401
Columbia University
1212 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027

Academic Office

Department of Biological Sciences
600 Fairchild Center
Mail Code 2402
Columbia University
1212 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
[email protected]
212 854-4581