Independent Learning Requirement

Simmons' Independent Learning Requirement forms the basis for the Biology senior project, the capstone experience where majors explore a topic of interest in their field of study.

There are several paths to fulfilling the independent learning requirement: on-site research, off-site research, and internships. In on-site research, students do laboratory research under the mentorship of a faculty member in the department. Off-site research enables the student to explore clinical, applied, or basic research at one of the many laboratories available in the Simmons neighborhood. Finally, the internship experience involves supervised learning, often an opportunity for career exploration within a context of critical thinking. In all paths, students work closely with a faculty member who supervises the independent learning, and the final paper.

In addition to writing a final paper, all students formally present their work at the Eastern New England Biological Conference and/or at the Simmons Biology Symposium.

You'll also find a list of senior projects in the accordion below, which shows the breadth of student work in research and internships. The Department also has a Biology Liaison, a student organization that promotes biology both within the Simmons community and in community service activities.

Sigma Xi Honor Society

Sigma Xi is a National Science Honor Society emphasizing excellence in Scientific Research, and Simmons is a member of the Delta Chapter. The Delta Chapter has been recognized as an 'Ourstanding' chapter due to its level of activity and number of awardees.

To be awarded membership in this Society, a Simmons student must demonstrate strong achievement in her academic record but more importantly, be nominated (by a Sigma Xi Faculty member directly supervising the nominee) for her excellence in original research (minimum of 2 semester commitment).

Simmons Students in Merck/AAAS Summer Research

Four Simmons students were funded by a Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program Grant to work in the research laboratories of faculty in the biology and chemistry departments at Simmons. Faculty members worked with these students for ten weeks in the summer of 2008 as they pursued projects in developmental biology, neurophysiology, molecular biology and biochemistry. Rachel Franchi worked in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Roecklein-Canfield on "The Epstein-Barr Virus-Human Interactome: Understanding viral-host relationships using virus-human protein-protein interactions", Wendy Leung worked with Dr. Mary Owen studying "Hox expression along the anterior-posterior axis and in the limb bud of the Dominant hemimelia mouse mutant," Susan Mazalan worked with Dr. Bruce Gray on "Roscovitine reverses the disruption in transmitter release caused by beta amyloid peptide in both ciliary ganglion cultures and intact terminals," and Laura Moody worked with Dr. Jane Lopilato on "Characterizing the effect of an altered SlyD on bgl silencing." Drs. Jennifer Roecklein-Canfield and Jane Lopilato are co-investigators on the grant.

These students have been presenting their work at national and regional scientific association meetings including the 15th Annual Boston Bacterial Meeting, Harvard University, June 2009 (Moody and Lopilato), 14th Annual Boston Bacterial Meeting (Moody and Lopilato, June 2008), Northeast Regional Meetings of the Society for Developmental Biology, Woods Hole, MA (Leung, Roecklein-Canfield and Owen, April 2009) and Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience (Mazalan and Gray, November 2008). These students also presented at either the Annual Eastern New England Biological Conference at UMass Lowell or the Simmons Biological Symposium, April 2009. This experience provides students with a wonderful opportunity for intensive, mentored research training that is important preparation for careers in basic science or biomedical research.

Tri-Beta Honor Society

The Beta Beta Beta (Tri-Beta) National Biological Honor Society is "dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biological study and extending boundaries of human knowledge through scientific research." You can read more about Tri-Beta at

The Simmons Chapter, named Nu Omicron, was established on February 29, 2008. Jane Lopilato, Ph.D. was installed as the Tri-Beta Adviser. Twenty-eight Simmons students were inducted into the Society, distinguishing each as one who as achieved high scholarship in Biology.

Members may publish in the Tri-Beta journal Bios, attend the annual Tri-Beta conference, and apply for undergraduate research funding. The lifetime membership fee for those selected is $45.00.

What are the Requirements for Induction?

Students who have:

  • Overall GPA of 3.0 or above (Calculate your GPA)
  • Junior or Senior Standing
  • Biology course GPA of 3.0 or above
  • Minimum of three semesters of biology
  • Demonstrated interest in the biological sciences

Questions? Contact Dr. Lopilato at [email protected] or 617-521-2661.

Frequently Asked Questions

I took AP Biology in High School. How can that be applied to my Biology courses at Simmons?

If you got a 4 or 5 on the AP exam, then you can exempt out of Biology 113, Introductory Biology. Note that Biology 113 will not appear on your College Transcript, so if you need an Intro Biology course as a requirement for graduate or medical school, you may still elect to take Biology 113.

AP scores of 4 or 5 also convey college credits toward graduation, as is written in the Simmons Undergraduate Catalog (page 30): Academic credit and/or advanced placement in courses taught at Simmons may be granted to students who have completed advanced placement (AP) courses in secondary school. Achievement in the AP tests of the Board is recognized as follows: eight credits will be given for a score of five; four credits will be given for a score of four.

Guidelines for Major/Minor Combinations within the Biology Department

Students may double major or have a combination of a major and a minor or two minors from among the different majors in the Biology Department, with restrictions. Please download the Double Major/Minor Guidelines Document for details.

How do I arrange for a senior independent study?

Each April, there is a meeting for rising seniors majoring in Biology to learn about the Independent Study program. At that time, a packet of information is given, and all steps explained.

In a nutshell, it is the students' responsibility to find and arrange for a project in a research lab or an internship. The Independent Study coordinator, Dr. Bruce Gray, keeps a database of contacts, and can help students with leads. Students should try to line up a Fall placement before leaving for the summer. Boston and the surrounding areas are rich with internship and research opportunities. They are also rich with other students competing for spots.

Students who are doing research or an internship outside of Simmons will choose a Simmons Biology faculty member as her liaison. The faculty liaison, along with the Independent Study coordinator, will approve the student's project, and will help to guide the student throughout the year.

Information about Transfer Credit

Many students take classes over the summer, and need to seek departmental approval so that the classes can substitute for those offered at Simmons. Here are some things to consider when seeking approval:

  • Timing: Be sure to complete the Simmons transfer credit form before you register for the class. You'll want to be sure that the department has approved the course so that you have time to look for an alternate course if you need to.
  • Required Courses in the Major: In order for a course to be substituted for a required Biology course, it must be comparable in scope and in meeting time. You should have the course description to submit to the Biology Department chair, along with a syllabus if possible, and a detailed schedule of meeting times. For summer courses, you'll need to know the start and end date of the course, and the number of hours it meets per week for both class and lab. If the submitted course seems comparable, then the Chair will sign the transfer credit form from the Registrar's Office and you are all set. Remember that you have to earn a "C" grade or better in order for you to receive transfer credit.
  • Electives in the Major: A Biology student selects a minimum of three elective courses as part of the requirement for the major. One of the electives can be at the 200-level and the other two must be at the 300-level. In order for an outside course to be approved as a Biology elective, you must show that it is comparable in rigor, depth and meeting time to Simmons' upper level Biology courses. You should have the course description to submit to the Biology Department chair, along with a syllabus if possible, and a detailed schedule of meeting times. For summer courses, you'll need to know the start and end date of the course, and the number of hours it meets per week for both class and lab. If it seems comparable, then the Chair will sign the transfer credit form and you are all set. Remember that you have to earn a "C" grade or better in order for you to receive transfer credit.