Course Syllabus


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Semester & Location:

Fall 2023 - DIS Stockholm

Research Mentor:

Reba Howard

Type & Credits:

Elective Course - 6 Credits

Major Disciplines:

Biology, NeuroscienceBiotechnologyHealth Science


One year of chemistry and one year of either biology or physics at university level.

Academic Support:

Program Director:

Tina Mangieri

One year of chemistry and one year of biology or physics at the university level.

Research Assistant (RA):Biochemistry-Biophysics of Ion Channels

Research Assistantships (RAs) at DIS provide students the opportunity to gain hands-on project experience as a member of an external research group in a variety of science fields. Research assistantships are one semester and may involve various opportunities (laboratory, clinical, fieldwork, data-mining, etc.). Students apply to existing projects with DIS Research Mentors who offer technical, academic, and professional guidance throughout the project - developing relationships that benefit both DIS students and the local research institution.

In the Biochemistry-Biophysics of Ion Channels RA opportunity, students investigate the molecular basis for activation and modulation of ion channels, a superfamily of proteins critical to the function of the brain, heart, and other excitable organs. Under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca (Reba) J Howard, students develop independent projects within the context of ongoing work in the Molecular Biophysics Stockholm research environment, based at the Science for Life Laboratory in Solna, Sweden.

Learning Objectives

Through the RA program, DIS students learn technical skills in a particular scientific field while experiencing the dynamics of a European research institution. Student progress is documented in a research journal and the completion of writing assignments (e.g. bibliographies, drafts, presentation materials, research papers) under the expertise of the Research Mentor. Student expectations may also include participation in group meetings, seminars, journal clubs, or other opportunities associated with active membership in a research laboratory. At the end of the semester, RAs share their work with peers and professionals in the Research Symposium at the DIS End-of-Semester Showcase.

Course Structure

The 6-credit RA experience is designed for highly motivated students with a strong interest in developing their research skills. Students must be willing to commit significant time during the term to hands-on research at an external local university or institute. Given the unpredictable nature of original research, time commitments may vary week-to-week; in general, students should arrange their schedules to dedicate an average of 20 hours per week to RA work, in close association with DIS and the Research Mentor. Specific hours and expectations will be shared by the mentor to ensure active participation in the research group.

An RA project is part of a larger, ongoing effort at a local research institution. Individual projects are student-motivated with the mentor's guidance and supervision. The goal is to pursue RA work of interest to the student, to their mentor, and to the larger research team. A gradual transition toward independence is encouraged, as the student gains confidence and is able to self-direct the work.

The primary product of the RA's work is an independent research paper summarizing literature and data reviewed, collected, analyzed, and contextualized by the student in the course of the term. Although it is not expected that the final paper be suitable for professional publication, it should document a clear rationale for the RA's work, appropriately referenced foundational literature, details of the approach and methods, preliminary results, and quantitative analysis, in support of subsequent phases of research in the larger group. The structure of the report should correspond to disciplinary standards, as specified below and in the rubric(s) provided.

Assignments & Evaluation

RAs complete incremental writing assignments to support their engagement and learning throughout the project, culminating in a final presentation and research paper. Evaluated assignments, and their contribution to the overall RA grade, are summarized below.

10 %  Literature Review:  An initial essay about the subject or problem you are researching, summarizing key published background research. By reviewing relevant literature early in the semester, the RA develops content knowledge, gains examples of scientific writing and referencing standards, and lays foundations for the introduction to the final report.

10 %  Outline: A rough draft or structured framework for the final research paper, including paragraph topics and logical flow for the introduction, methods, results, and discussion, and a clearly supportive bibliography. By drafting a referenced outline around the semester midpoint, the RA concretizes objectives, context, approach, and prospective outcomes of the work, and enables the mentor to identify areas in need of additional support.

10 %  Presentation:  A live, short-form audio-visual summary of the semester's work, typically a poster or oral presentation, appropriate for an audience of DIS students, faculty, and other academics. By presenting the work shortly before completing the final report, the RA has a chance to finalize illustrations, plots, or other graphic support for their findings with the research mentor, and to discuss the project with a wide range of colleagues.

50 %  Research Paper:  Final written report of the student’s work throughout the semester, including project objectives, background context, approach/methods, data or other outcomes, analysis and significance to the field and the wider world. Although not produced with the intent of publishing, the final paper should be structured according to standards for primary literature in the field, and sufficiently detailed to support ongoing work in the research group.

20 %  Participation:  A portion of the final evaluation based on attendance, citizenship, or other qualitative aspects of engagement as an RA. At the local institution, students are expected to maintain a research log and participate in meetings, journal clubs, and other opportunities as much as possible. At DIS, RAs also participate in workshops to support interdisciplinary reflection on the research process.

Research Mentor


Dr Rebecca (Reba) J Howard received her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Pomona College and the University of California, San Francisco. Following an NIH-NIAAA postdoctoral fellowship at The University of Texas at Austin, she joined the faculty of Skidmore College as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, where she supervised a research group and designed and taught lecture and lab courses in general chemistry, biochemistry, senior and first-year seminars. In 2016, Howard moved to the Molecular Biophysics Stockholm research environment at the Science for Life Laboratory, a national center for molecular bioscience, where she manages a team using biochemistry, electrophysiology, and molecular dynamics to investigate the structure and function of ion channels.

Academic Regulations:

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 

Course Schedule

In addition to the key dates listed below and in the calendar, RAs are expected to communicate regularly with the Research Mentor. It is the student's responsibility to ask questions or seek additional support in a timely manner.

Before Arrival
RAs are connected with Research Mentors prior to the start of the term by email. Students may be provided preparatory reading material before the semester starts.

When in Stockholm, unless otherwise arranged, RAs are expected at SciLifeLab Tuesdays and Fridays from 11.00 until roughly 18.00, and to complete ~8 hours flexible research on- or off-site per week. Along with the research team, RAs have access to a message board to share and discuss progress.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due