Graduate Program in Biological Sciences: Disease and Development

An example of graduate student research in the Department of Biological Sciences for a student in the Disease and Development Cluster doing a dissertation on biology education.

Research Topic: Assessing Student Difficulties with Experimental Design in Biology

How well do published assessments reveal students’ difficulties with biological experiments? How can we use current research as a context for a valid and reliable probe that is designed to show how students think about experimental research?

This biology education research project is focused on the role assessment plays in monitoring teaching practices that improve student learning about experimental design in classrooms. A key focus is to look into alignment and the tight connection between course learning outcomes, instructional strategies, and assessment of how students think about experimental design. 

Department and Program

Biological Sciences
How to apply

How to demonstrate discipline-specific competence

Although Biology Learning Researcher (BLR) is within the Ecology and Evolutionary biology cluster (EEB) students with knowledge in domains outside of evolution can focus their research on a biology education project.

The Development and Disease Cluster is focused on revealing the molecular bases of both normal and abnormal cell and tissue biology. Focus areas include cancer, microbial pathogenesis, neuroscience, development and stem cells, plant biology and bioenergetics. Experimental approaches in physiology, cell biology, molecular biology, genetics and advanced cell imaging are interleaved throughout these major focus areas. Many model systems inform our research endeavors: mice and other mammals, zebrafish, avian embryos, Drosophila, Aplysia, yeast, Arabodopsis, maize and a variety of bacterial and viral pathogens.

Just like other graduate students doing wet-lab research, students who do education research in this area pass a content-based qualifying exam in the first year. The qualifier is a week long exam with 7 written questions from 7 faculty. Throughout the preceding months, students prepare for the exam by reading select papers on the 7 topics to prepare for the exam.

How to demonstrate independent research competence

By the end of your second year summer as a grad student, a preliminary exam containing a written report and oral presentation (Preliminary/Original Proposal). It can be based on the work you are doing in your current research lab or might require an originally conceived research idea (depends on the preference of your major professor). 

Lab Rotations. Graduate students rotate through as many as four labs. Each rotation lasts about 6 weeks. During laboratory rotations, the students are exposed to methods, equipment, and experimental procedures currently inused in wet lab, theoretical, or education research laboratories.

Selection of Research Director. Graduate students submit their preference for a research director. The research director-graduate student relationship must be mutually acceptable.

Preliminary Examination and Research Conferences. After forming their Advisory Committee, graduate students take their preliminary examination.

Advisory Committee and Plan of Study. Graduate students select an Advisory Committee that consists of their research director, two additional members from within the Purdue Department of Biological Sciences and one member from a Purdue Department other than Biological Sciences (including faculty in the Chemistry Education or Science Ed programs). The Advisory Committee acts as the Examining Committee.

The exam is based on a proposed research project. The student must come up with a novel project idea in Biology Education Research and present it to the committee. The student outlines the objectives of the proposed research and explains how the objectives would be met. After passing the preliminary examination, the student meets at least annually with the Advisory Committee.

Thesis and Final Examination. After the student has written their thesis, they defend it to the Examining Committee. This examination consists of a public seminar, during which the candidate summarizes his or her thesis research, followed by an oral defense of the research that is attended only by the Examining Committee members.

A student can complete the MS degree with at least 21 course credits plus 9 research credits from lab rotations for a minimum of 30 credits.

The Advisory Committee may approve a maximum of twelve (12) credit hours earned in appropriate coursework from another university toward an advanced degree at Purdue.

Suggested Course Work

After forming their Advisory Committee, graduate students submit an Electronic Plan of Study. On average most Ph.D. students take 24 course credits. The student and all Advisory Committee members agree to and sign the Plan of Study. A typical Plan of Study could look like this:

9 credits of BIOL 699 ­ three 6-week Research Rotations

BIOL 662/663 - Professional Seminar I and II
EDCI 517 - Survey of Science Education
EDCI 518 - The Nature of Science and Teaching Science
BIOL 624 - Human Learning and Memory
BIOL 524 - Teaching Evolution
BIOL 595 - Advanced Cell Biology

Research Advisor

Dr. Nancy Pelaez

Graduate Funding Support and Opportunities

Experience as a teaching assistant can provide funding as well as help you provide professional development practice for aspiring future higher education faculty members. Classroom teaching can also inform your research goals focused on biology education practices. 

- Teaching Assistantship: Half-time (20 hours per week) for full support (up to 7 years of tuition support)
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (3 years of support; $30,000 per year, and a tuition stipend)
- Research Assistantship such as Diagnostic Questions Clusters Project evaluation or a position to provide support for a Faculty Learning Community