Reed College Library Research Guide


Junior Qualifying Information

Guidebook | Qual Dates | Sample Questions

The following information was gathered from a number of sources, including the Biology Department FAQ.

What’s the deal with the Jr. Qual?
The Qual is an open-book, -notes, -internet, -library exam given three times each year ( at the beginnings of each term and just after Spring Break). Successful completion of the exam makes you eligible to enroll for the thesis. Most people doing Fall/Spring theses take the the qual after spring break. Look for the sign-up sheet on the bulletin board in the Biology Department Office alcove, B115.

What’s the Qual format?
There are two sections. One consists of ~10 quantitative questions from which you select 4. The other is a list of ~10 essay questions from which you select 2. These essay questions are based on material related to 300-level coursework. You have a long weekend to complete the exam.

Can I study for the Qual?
Basically no. The best preparation is to assemble your class notes, term papers, and lab reports. It probably also makes sense to get your texts together (including your Intro book). These will all be potentially useful resources. In fact, any resources (other than fellow students) may be consulted in completing the qual.


first Thursday of fall semester (for seniors beginning thesis that semester)

first Thursday of spring semester (for seniors beginning thesis that semester)

first Thursday after spring break (for juniors beginning thesis the following fall)

A sign up sheet will be posted 2 weeks prior to each Qual date on the bulletin board in the Biology Department Office alcove, B115

NOTE: Students taking the Biology Junior Qualifying Exam must have filed a Declaration of Major with Registrar's Office prior to exam and attained Junior status.

Sample Questions

  1. Animal Behavior is often cited as an integrative discipline and, indeed, it is classified as such by the National Science Foundation. Niko Tinbergen, who shared the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his work on animal behavior, argued that there are four fundamental questions to be addressed in the study of behavior. In your essay, outline Tinbergen's four questions, make an argument for which one you believe is the most integrative across various sub-disciplines of Biology, and provide examples of two studies from the primary literature that substantiate your view. In discussing these examples, give particular emphasis to the framework and methods used by the researchers.

  2. The ecological niche of a species or population is not a static feature, but rather it is subject to a variety of sources of variation. What factors would cause the ecological niche of a species to vary over time?

  3. Sea-run cut-throat trout stop drinking when they re-enter fresh water to spawn, but start drinking again upon their return to the ocean. Why?

  4. In the fly embryo, transplantation of cytoplasm containing bicoid mRNA or protein to a recipient embryo results in formation of head and thoracic structures at the receiving site. This is the same sort of result obtained when the Spemann organizer is transplanted, that is, a second head forms. What is the essential difference in mechanism of action between the transplanted bicoid and the transplanted organizer?

  5. Pathogenic Gram negative bacteria possess type III secretion systems enabling them to inject effector proteins directly into the cytoplasm of host cells, disrupting cellular functions. The signal for proteins to be secreted by the type III system is not well understood. It has been hypothesized that the signal may lie in the N-terminal amino acid sequence of the protein or alternately in the leader region of the mRNA coding for the protein. Using the primary literature, present the evidence for both hypotheses. Are these hypotheses mutually exclusive, or is it possible that the type III system recognizes both types of signals for secreting effector proteins into the host cell cytoplasm?

  6. Human diseases caused by single-gene defects can be classified into two groups: those for which the biochemical basis of the disorder is known before the gene was isolated (e.g. altered beta-globin in sickle cell anemia) and those for which relatively little is known about the biology of the problem, other than that its inheritance can clearly be followed (cystic fibrosis and Huntington disease fall into this category). How do the experimental approaches used to identify and molecularly clone genes for inherited diseases in these two groups differ? Describe one kind of approach in detail.

  7. Water permeability of plant membranes is largely dependent on aquaporins. Use the primary literature to develop a discussion of aquaporins in plants which encompasses the evidence for their presence and function in plants. Also discuss their fundamental molecular features. Present a detailed experimental design that would allow you to determine if aquaporins are present in a previously uncharacterized plant species.

Contact: Linda Maddux, Science Librarian & Bob Kaplan, Biology Professor