Experimental Molecular Biology Assignments and Grading
BIOC 413 is a CAPSTONE laboratory course.
We assess your abilities to apply knowledge you've gained in
other laboratory and lecture courses to the presentation and
communication of a real research project.
Several of you have worked or are working in Dr. Braam's lab.
Although this experience may give you an advantage in
performing the experiments and/or understanding the results,
you are still expected to meet our standards (see our Laboratory
Learning Objectives) for keeping a laboratory
notebook and preparing a scientific poster. Do not make the
mistake of assuming this lab will be "easy" just
because you've worked with Arabidopsis before. Remember,
the challenge with molecular biology is figuring out what the
results really mean, especially when those results are unexpected!
undergraduate program is a series of steps. Keep in mind that
a level of performance that would result in a B/B+ or sometimes
even an A at the introductory level, does not (and should not)
translate into a high grade at the advanced level. We
forgive a lot of mistakes early on but you must recall the
lessons learned from these mistakes when you conduct similar
work at an advanced level.
Additionally, the criteria we use to evaluate your performance in an advanced laboratory course are different from those we use in an introductory course.
"Fairness" in this course means everyone is evaluated on the same criteria.
Since everyone does not have the same ability, everyone does not get the same grade; this outcome is not "unfair" but rather is simply reality.
- Please read my Honor Code Policy.
- Due dates are subject to change. Do not ask
for an individual extension to a due date because you
have a paper due, or three exams, or you lost your disk; due
dates are set so that you have plenty of time to complete your
work. Don't wait until the night before to start - there
is no penalty for starting early. Notebook pages are
due at the END of each lab session. The final notebook
pages and poster must be turned in by the specified date/time. Please
read the policy
concerning late assignments.
Contributions of individual assignments are as follows:
|Class Participation & Laboratory Performance (Individual)
|Lab Notebook (Team)
|Poster Q/A Session (Individual)
|Reflections and Evaluations (Individual)
- The scientific poster is 35% of your final grade.
Remember, this poster is a TEAM project, and each member will receive the SAME grade.
Therefore, EACH of you is responsible for the ENTIRE poster, not just the part(s) you worked on.
Furthermore, you are expected to understand
the rationale behind all of the experimental procedures
and the meaning of the results.
We will use the Poster Evaluation Form [pdf in OWL-Space Resources] to grade your poster.
Poster CONTENT accounts for 75% of your grade; poster APPEARANCE
accounts for 25%.
- The lab notebook is 25% of your final grade.
You learned how to keep a research quality notebook in BIOS 211
and were expected to maintain a research quality notebook in
BIOS 311. The SAME is expected of you in
BIOS 413; it is YOUR responsibility to review our guidelines
for keeping a proper notebook. If you have any questions,
We will use the BIOC 413
Notebook Checklist to
grade your lab notebook.
We intend to use the overall quality of the laboratory notebook and your specific notebook entries to evaluate your individual effort.
A single team member must not, for example, act as a recordkeeper by writing in the notebook while the others carry out the work.
You will be graded on an absolute scale by percentage,
as in the table. This means that you will not be graded relative
to the performance of others in your class.
Grades posted on Esther are FINAL and cannot be changed.
Assessing Laboratory Citizenship and Performance
Created by David R. Caprette, Ph.D., Rice University
Modified by Beth Beason-Abmayr, Ph.D., Rice University
It is highly unlikely that in a real job you will be given
responsibilities that are so well defined that all you have
to do is follow instructions. It is equally unlikely that
you will be solely responsible for an outcome. Undergraduate
laboratory courses, laboratory components to lecture courses,
independent study, engineering design courses, and the like
constitute the experiential part of the curriculum. They
give you the opportunity to apply your cumulative knowledge
and experience to specific problems. In particular, experiential
courses enable you to polish up and apply teamwork skills
and to exercise critical thinking.
A completely satisfactory lab performance would be equivalent
to an A. A completely satisfactory performance requires
that the group's performance be satisfactory as well. For
example, if an "unknown individual" throws sharp
glass or nondisposable items in a wastebasket and nobody
catches it, everyone loses points. An exceptional performance
will be rewarded with an increase in score and may include
bonus points. Punctuality, safe conduct in the laboratory,
and efficient completion of lab responsibilities will enter
into the evaluation of overall performance.
Participation during the class discussions will be crucial
to your learning. Passive students who do not contribute
to discussions or problem solving are less likely to do well
on performance and poster evaluation. This advanced
lab course is somewhat open-ended and a significant portion
of the time in class will be devoted to experimental design.
Expectations and Performance Criteria
You are expected to come on time, fully prepared and alert.
You should be engaged in the work itself and be aware of
your surroundings. You are expected to work efficiently,
safely, and responsibly. Most of the specific criteria listed
here characterize an effective member of a team.
All classes meet in ABL B03 at 1:00 PM, and labs will
start on time. Showing up on time is a sign that you are
fully engaged in a project, are responsible, and that you
respect your supervisor and coworkers. When you are late
your arrival is likely to be disruptive. For example, you
will interrupt the pre-lab talk for at least some people
if you come in after it starts. As you settle in you will
distract both the instructor and students in the vicinity.
You may miss key instructions and even become a liability,
affecting the efficiency with which your team works, and
possibly compromising safety.
Just showing up on time is a sign of courtesy. So is cleaning
up your lab station and keeping common areas such as sinks,
balances, bench tops, hoods, and side benches clean and neat.
Be aware that there are others working around you, and think
before you blurt out a question, possibly interrupting a
conversation between instructor and student. Think before
you drop a backpack in the middle of an aisle, take the last
latex glove out of the box, or pour something into a sink
ignoring the fact that the drain is clogged.
An exceptional performance might involve cleaning up a common
area such as sink or side bench, or pointing out a major
During pre-lab talks listen carefully for changes to a protocol,
for the locations of supplies and equipment, for pointers
as to use of equipment, and similar details. Conversing during
a pre-lab talk, fiddling with equipment, working on an assignment,
or sleeping are not recommended behavior. Above all, be awake
and alert. Occasionally a student shows up in lab nearly
catatonic. It is impossible to learn when you are fighting
to stay awake. Get a good night's sleep.
Know the objectives of the day's work and how you will achieve
them. Knowing how you will achieve them involves
reviewing the course web site as well as reading articles
uploaded in OWL-Space. Meet
with your team to discuss the lab and divide up tasks. Watch
for opportunities to apply a skill that you have learned
in a previous laboratory session. When the pre-lab work calls
for calculations, have them ready to go when you arrive to
lab. If you do have trouble with pre-lab planning or calculations,
give yourself time to work it out before you get to lab.
Students are considered to be exceptionally well prepared,
for example, when they respond to questions with informative
answers, ask especially relevant questions, or are readily
able to adjust to changes to a lab protocol or troubleshoot
Responsibility and Teamwork
Responsible students work safely and are careful about discarding
materials such as broken glass. Responsible people double
check to make sure that they conduct procedures correctly
and watch for signs that something is wrong. They report
when stocks are getting low instead of simply taking the
last of something. They keep common areas clean, sinks and
fume hoods clear of debris, advise others of unsafe or wasteful
practices or report such practices. On the other hand, irresponsible
people might waste supplies or damage equipment, allow their
lab partner to make the same mistake they just made, throw
away the samples that they need the following week, forget
to enter data for the team, or enter data incorrectly.
Exceptionally responsible students focus on the overall goals
of the teaching laboratory and not just their own work. People
who can organize a group and keep the team on track are especially
Students who finish earlier than most while successfully
completing their lab work are usually noted as being exceptionally
efficient. Students who take an exceptionally long time usually
do so because of some omission in a procedure, unfamiliarity
with the protocol, inattention to a pre-lab talk, or in some
cases simply being too meticulous. In any case we
will take the effectiveness of a team into account.
One important way to be efficient is to divide responsibilities
so that one team member is working on one part of a study
while the others focus on other parts. Efficiency requires
that you take notes as you go along. Once you complete your
lab work, you should not take more than five minutes to make
the last entry and write a brief summary.
It is especially inefficient to "trade" notes when
your team has finished the lab work--and in fact, it's an
honor code violation. Such practice suggests that you've
missed the whole point of timely recordkeeping. You are all
equally responsible for a complete laboratory record. If
you simply copy your teammates' notes you miss the opportunity
to ensure that the notes are complete and accurate. Communicating
with each other during the lab session allows you to catch
each other's mistakes and helps you keep up with the recordkeeping
as you go along.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS ABOUT LABORATORY PERFORMANCE: We
expect students to follow explicit instructions and to recall
and apply previous training to each experimental procedure.
- You will be assessed each week in the following areas:
- Preparation (e.g., pre-lab calculations)
and familiarity with procedures (you're not expected
to know how to do the procedures already, but you
are expected to have read over the procedures and be
familiar with the "big
picture" for the day)
- Lab Citizenship (showing up on time, cleaning up
your area as well as common areas, adhering to safety
instructions, using and storing equipment properly,
handling lab reagents and solutions sensibly, helping
- Proper lab notebook (i.e., updating Table of Contents
BEFORE coming to lab each week, recording notes DURING
experiments, NOT writing on scrap paper and copying
or catching up at the end of lab or exchanging notes
with your team members at the end of lab)
- Teamwork (collaboration, division of labor, troubleshooting, and time management)
- Ability to function independently (troubleshooting and time management)
- Experimental technique (did you obtain reasonable results?)
- You are expected to function both as a member of a TEAM and as an INDEPENDENT investigator.
Follow the experimental procedures, record the results, and analyze/interpret your findings.
Accomplishment of the laboratory goals requires contributions from EACH team member.
If a team member does not carry his/her weight, focuses only
on his/her own work, or is not competent in the lab please bring
this matter to our attention; be honest and objective (your
comments will remain confidential). A conscientious evaluation
of your peers will be appreciated and will be considered when
determining the laboratory performance grade.
- You do not necessarily earn a high grade in
lab performance by obtaining the expected results (i.e.,
performing the experiment properly); likewise, you do not
if you don't obtain the expected results. You are evaluated
on HOW you get the results, not the results themselves.
And, there are many factors besides experimental technique
(see the list above) that contribute to the evaluation
of your lab performance. In
other words, even if your PCR results are not what
you desired or expected, you can still earn an "A" in
You will likely make mistakes, especially with a procedure that is brand new and strange--that's ok when that happens. I will help you troubleshoot so you can decide what steps to take next. Many times when I've made mistakes or something just didn't work the way it was supposed to I actually learned more and understood the procedure better than when/if it worked as expected.
Sometimes experiments fail, or the results don't make sense, or your findings are at odds with published studies. Because of time constraints and limited materials you may not be able to repeat the procedure in a lab course; however, you should recognize that in a research setting you would perform the experiment again.
and Intended Use
Created by B. Beason (firstname.lastname@example.org), Rice University, 16 June 2006
Updated 7 March 2015