My Favorite Introductory Lab at Princeton

Three students stand around a tree in the woods and measure its diameter with a tape measure
Students measure the diameter of a tree much like one of the EEB 211 labs

I had lab from 7:30pm to 10:20pm and it was one of my favorite Princeton memories. I tend to get weird looks when I say that, but it’s true! I took EEB 211 fall of my freshman year, mostly because I thought the name “Life on Earth: Mechanisms of Change in Nature” sounded cool. The course itself is the introductory course to Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and it is similar to some of what I learned in AP Biology in high school but with much more of a focus on species-wide interactions. Format wise, it is a pretty classic lecture Biology class with only a midterm and final, and while the lectures were super interesting the real fun is the labs.

Unlike some other lab classes that I experienced like Chemistry or Molecular biology, we did a very wide range of experiments in EEB 211. One of our first labs was measuring trees, and since I had lab at night we got bussed to the institute woods. We figured out types of trees, measured their circumference and height, and used this data to make predictions about the amount of carbon the forest we walked in would store in the future. I thought that experiment was super interesting because we got to go on a field trip and generate data that could help predict the consequences of climate change on the very forest we were walking around in.

In another lab, we learned about hypothesis testing by experimenting with schools of fish. We could separate the fish with beakers and made up our own little experiments about what their behavior would be. Was there a minimum number to a school? Would a fish trapped in a beaker try to join a school of its friends outside the beaker? Could different species of fish school together? I find it is rare in labs to come up with your own experiment and be let loose with the materials needed to determine the answer. We also had labs on the anatomy of different animals, the endurance and speed of spiders, and many other experiments I had never thought of before. While the lab reports could be challenging, the TAs in the EEB department are phenomenal and very willing to help!

Yes, I am biased towards this lab because I am an EEB major, and just because the lab is fun does not mean the class is easy by any means. However, I when I think of the intro lab courses I have taken at Princeton, EEB 211 stands out as the most fun and most unlike much of the research I have done in the past. There is so much diversity in research between different methods, but the core component remains: thinking critically, asking questions, and trying to find answers that help explain the world. I think if you are looking for a research experience that is varied and maybe unlike your past exposure to research, this class is a wonderful place to start. Who knows, maybe you will be like me and become an EEB major because of it!

— Virginia Cobbs, Natural Sciences Correspondent