Special Projects in Biology

This is the home page for Special Projects in molecular biology research with Brian McCauley.

What is "special projects?"

Special Projects in Biology Research is a biology class that has no set curriculum or schedule. It offers biology students an opportunity to engage in a supervised research project. Various instructors may use Special Projects courses in different ways; this page is about Bio 6B-related Special Projects with Brian McCauley.

Special projects for Bio 6B

When I have students doing special projects, the work is generally related to improving Bio 6B. There’s always room to add a new experiment or to improve an existing one, but each new lab procedure needs to be designed, adapted, and tested in our lab, with our equipment. Much of this work is done by elite Special Projects teams. Special Projects (SP) students benefit from the experience of carrying out a research project, I (McCauley) benefit from having some development work done for the class, and future students benefit from improved labs.

The projects

Each quarter's project is different, and the goals are based on my goals for Bio 6B and students' ideas. I have a series of ongoing projects that can be broken into pieces that can potentially be completed in a quarter. Each project starts with a general idea, and the students involved will need to do some reading to figure out how to achieve the project's goals. Molecular biology lab projects almost always turn out to be harder than expected, so SP students spend much of their time troubleshooting and trying to figure out how to make a technique work. As the instructor, I can't tell you exactly what to do; if I knew that, there would be no need for a research project. Also, my free time is limited on lab days, so I usually meet with SP students briefly to offer some suggestions, and then leave them to work out the details.

Why should you participate in Special Projects?

Don't do it to pad your transcript or build your resume. The units won't count toward your major, and when "Special Projects in Biology" shows up on your transcript, it won't mean much because nobody will know what you did for the project. The best reason to participate in Special Projects is to gain more hands-on molecular biology lab experience and to develop problem-solving research skills. If that appeals to you, then this might be a good experience for you.

Who is eligible?

Special Projects students need to be good at getting complex technical projects done with minimal supervision. That generally means students who earned an A in my Bio 6B class. On the other hand, a  problem-solving attitude in lab may be more important than the grade itself; that's why I normally only sign up students who I already know from my 6B class. I find that it's generally best to have students work in a small team of 2-4 people, so I like to have a team organized before I sign anyone up.

Logistics & scheduling

Since the special projects my students do are usually related to Bio 6B, these projects only happen when I'm teaching 6B (normally Winter & Spring quarters).

Students can't work in the lab without a faculty member present. This means that you would have to work while I'm teaching in the 6B lab. Currently, I'm scheduled for Tuesdays & Thursdays, 9:30 through 4:30. A project would typically require students to work at least 3 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and often more on some days. The hours can be flexible, but they must fit into my lab time.

Special Projects students can work in the small room adjacent to the 6B teaching lab, so it's possible to work while 6B lab is in session. Once the project is underway, SP students can work fairly independently, but I will check in frequently. The best time to have a more detailed discussion with me is 12:30-1:30, my break between labs.


The basic course number is Biology 77. Bio 77 is only offered with an instructor's consent; you can't enroll in it without a specific form signed by the instructor and the division dean. After working out a plan with each student, I will fill out the form, sign it (digitally) and send it to the Bio Division dean, Anita Muthyala-Kandula. Once she gets it and signs it, you can pick it up from the Division office in the Kirsch Environmental Studies Building and take it to the registrar so you can enroll in the class. You'll have to pay, so most students usually want to sign up for one unit, regardless of how much time they are going to put in.

You can't be in the lab without being enrolled.

You can only enroll in Bio 77 once. For students who want to repeat it, we can use another course number.

More information

There is a Bio 6B Special Projects website, visible only to SP students. Once you're signed up for SP, I will give you a user name and password to log in to the site.


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