Research in the Biological Sciences: Summer Program Information

Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS) is a four-week intensive training program designed to expose students to a broad range of molecular, microbiological, and cell biological techniques currently used in research laboratories. Students are immersed in the research experience, giving them a taste of "life at the bench". 
Using a project-based approach, the course progresses from a survey of basic lab techniques to the application of current techniques in cell and molecular biology.  Most of a typical RIBS day is spent in lab.  We do not have a formal lecture schedule.  Instead, lectures will be presented when needed to provide background and to introduce new concepts.  Since communication skills are important in science, students will keep lab notebooks and they will make several group presentations.  Notebooks are graded weekly to give the students feedback throughout the course.   During the first two weeks of the course, students will learn basic lab techniques applicable in many research labs.  For example, students will learn how to clone genes, PCR amplify their own DNA, and analyze DNA sequences.  In addition, students will learn the basic operation of several types of microscopes, and will learn cell culture and fluorescence staining techniques.  Lectures during this period will focus mostly on basic molecular biology - what is the structure of a gene, how are genes regulated, how can you study genes in the lab.  We will also read original research articles, learning not just the science but also how scientists present results in written and oral formats.  By the end of the second week, students will begin work on "independent" projects.  During this phase of the course, students perform experiments mostly of their own design.  Students generally base their projects on a suggested lists of experiments but the students are given considerable latitude and, after doing a little research the, often come up with exciting project ideas.  The course ends with a research forum in which the students present the results of their projects. Successful completion of the course will give participants the experience and confidence to work in a research laboratory.  On a space available basis, several students will be invited back the following year to work in the lab of a University of Chicago research scientist.   Please see the Summer Session website for deadlines. This program typically has many more applicants than spaces available. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply?  
Applications are available at the University of Chicago summer session website.  While you're there, feel free to view their RIBS website as well!

Who are the instructors?

Dr. Christopher Schonbaum is a senior lecturer in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago, where he lectures and teaches labs in cell biology, genetics, and developmental biology. He has research experience in the development and molecular genetics of Drosophila (fruit fly) and C. elegans (nematode).  Dr. Rosemary Zaragoza teaches Pharmacology Perspectives, which covers molecular, cellular and organ basics in biology and incorporate how drugs work at the molecular, cellular and organ levels in treatment of disease.  She is the laboratory director for the Bios 20170's non-majors pre-med sequence. What are some examples of things we might do?

Basic lab skills and communication skills are taught during the summer, throughout a variety of lab exercises.  Labs that have been taught in the past include Cell Culture, Cell Biology, Taste Variation, and RNA Interference.

Is there a sample syllabus available to view?

You may view a sample syllabus here.

We hope you'll consider this unique experience!  Dr. Schonbaum likes teaching RIBS (as Research in the Biological Sciences is known) “because it provides an opportunity to work with a group of talented students who can focus on biology for a month without having to worry about exams, or other distractions (except perhaps the late night soccer games).” RIBS students spend seven to eight hours a day in lab for four weeks.  If one word can summarize the RIBS experience, it would be intensive.  This intensity, however, is what makes RIBS so uniquely rewarding. Dr. Schonbaum explains: “Unlike most lab courses that students perform in high school or even in college, where labs are offered in two-to-three hour parcels once a week, RIBS immerses the student in four uninterrupted weeks of science. The students carry out more complicated experiments not feasible in the typical short lab period. The continuity gives students a chance to see how ideas are tested by a series of experiments rather than by the performance of a single, isolated exercise. RIBS also gives the students an opportunity to design experiments and to follow up on the results of their experiments.”

RIBS students are challenged to both work and learn, are trusted with expensive equipment, and are expected to work closely with others.  RIBS is not for everyone. You need to love (or at least like!) science and be willing to spend a summer month in a lab. For people who want to learn biology hands-on, rather than from a textbook, however, RIBS is a dream come true.  All day we think about biology and do laboratory work. We do this with a lab full of others who share our interest in biology; we get to know each other as well as we get to know the science.  And the students get to know themselves better too: "Do they love biological research like they thought they would? Do they successfully work in a group as is done in laboratory science? Can they rise to the challenge of presenting their work?” 

If you have a question not answered in this FAQ, feel free to email Dr. Schonbaum or Dr. Zaragoza with your concerns!