UW Bioengineering Senior Capstone Help Page for Faculty and Students

Bioengineering undergraduate students in lab performing a physiology experiment

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Capstone Options
    1. Option A
      1. Design Criteria for Option A
    2. Option B
      1. Engineering Research Criteria for Option B
  2. Capstone Course Syllabi and Grading Rubrics
  3. Advisor, Co-advisor and Student Responsibilities
    1. Advisor
    2. Co-advisor
    3. Student
  4. Project Approval
    1. Changes to capstone after BIOEN 401
  5. Policies Applying to 402 and 403 (the independent study courses)
    1. Petitioning to have a project supervisor who is not Bioengineering core or adjunct faculty
    2. Project Time Limits
    3. Project Report Due Dates
    4. Continuous Registration
  6. Grading
    1. N Grades
    2. Submitting Grades
    3. Submitting a Change of Grade
  7. Advice for Faculty
    1. Quarterly Communication with Student
  8. Advice for Students
    1. Communicating with Advisors
    2. Avoiding Problems
  9. Frequently asked questions
    1. “Can a student be paid for my/his/her capstone work?”
    2. “If my 402 project extends into summer, when will my degree be posted?”
    3. “Should I ask for/grant an extension?”
    4. “I granted (or I have been granted) an extension. How do I handle the grades?”
    5. “My 403 project is finished, but I’d like to stay in the lab.”
    6. “How many hours should I expect to spend in lab?”
    7. “When is my project paper due?”
    8. “Which option should I chose, A or B?”
    9. “Can I change tracks?”

1. Overview of Capstone Options

Option A – individual project that integrates research and design: BIOEN 401 plus 10 credits of BIOEN 402

Design criteria for Option A

The design project should produce something that fulfills a societal need, can be implemented by another person or organization, and involves biology or medicine in the problem or the solution.  Students may deliver a wide variety of products, including but not limited to software, electronic instrumentation, cell lines, sensors, surgical tools, prosthetics and implantable devices. The capstone project may also produce a novel or optimized process, procedure or protocol that can be applied in research, industry or clinical practice.

Although the sole product of the design project should not be knowledge, the capstone design project may be a well-defined component within a larger project for which the goal is knowledge.

While conducting the design project, it is expected that students will undertake enough research to determine the state of the art in their field, and perhaps to explore new physical principles that can be applied to their design.  It is also permissible that some time out of the year-long capstone course be devoted to pure research with direct or tangential relevance to the design project.  It is expected that no more than 40% of the student’s effort be devoted to such pure research goals.

Engineering standards:  Projects must incorporate relevant engineering design standards.  “Design standards” are documents that describe the best practices for designing a variety of devices, materials, and processes. Some are considered to be legally binding requirements (to be followed by any Professional Engineer), while others are considered to be guidance. Some are freely available to the public, while others are sold by the responsible organization.

Numerous regulatory agencies and standards organizations collaborate to establish the accepted standards for medical devices/products.  Standard-setting activities include the development of performance characteristics, characterization and testing methodologies, manufacturing practices, product standards, scientific protocols, compliance criteria, ingredient specifications, labeling, or other technical or policy criteria.

The regulatory agencies and standards organizations integral to establishing the standards and monitoring compliance with those standards include, but are not limited to, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JC), Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), and the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and ASTM International.

The type of device/product determines the agency (or agencies) to whose regulation it is subject.

In consultation with their advisors, students need to perform research to determine which standards are applicable to their projects.  Resources are provided below:

http://courses.washington.edu/bioen402/standards.htm  (Capstone BIOEN 402 webpage – Standards)

Standards Resources

Standards Handout for Students

UW Libraries Guide on Standards. – This guide answers the questions: what is a standard? why are they important? how do I find them?

Option B – individual engineering research project plus design/build course: 4 credits of BIOEN 403 plus BIOEN 404 and BIOEN 405

Engineering Research criteria for Option B

BIOEN 403 comprises a bioengineering research project, in which students must engage in activities that teach and assess certain engineering capabilities and an understanding of biology or medicine.  For a senior research project to qualify for engineering credit, the Department of Bioengineering considers it sufficient that the project allows the student to demonstrate all of the capabilities listed below.  The project proposal (prepared in BIOEN 401) should state how the research project (BIOEN 403) will provide the experience needed to develop these capabilities.

1.      An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data

2.      An ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems

3.      An ability to communicate effectively, in writing, conversation and graphic

4.      Recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in, life-long learning

5.      The ability to apply scientific principles and advanced mathematics (especially statistical analysis) to solve problems at the interface of engineering and biology

Students’ acquisition of these learning objectives should be assessed via their senior project articles and posters, and by direct observation by the faculty advisors, as appropriate.  The grading rubric for 403 should be used as a guide when assessing the learning objectives and assigning course grades.

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2. Capstone course syllabi and grading rubrics

BIOEN 401 syllabus
BIOEN 402 syllabus report grading rubric project rubric
BIOEN 403 syllabus rubric
BIOEN 404 and 405 syllabus rubric

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3. Advisor, co-advisor and student responsibilities


The capstone advisor should be the faculty member most closely associated with the goals of the project, and the one who will work most closely with the student. If the advisor is not core or adjunct faculty then a core faculty co-advisor is required and the student will be registered under the core faculty advisor. The core advisor accepts responsibility for assuming supervision of the student should the situation with the primary advisor fail.

The capstone advisor is responsible for helping the student develop a project (usually during Winter quarter), for reviewing and approving the written capstone proposal (Spring quarter), for directly supervising the student’s work or assigning an immediate supervisor (normally a post-doc or PhD student), for giving periodic feedback to the student about his or her progress, and for grading the capstone project (either 402 or 403) according to the associated grading rubric.

The capstone advisor is responsible for turning in a grade promptly so as not to jeopardize the student’s graduation or financial aid. (See N grades, submitting capstone grades, and submitting a change of grade)

Bioengineering Co-Advisor

The Bioengineering co-advisor is a member of the core Bioengineering faculty.

The Bioengineering co-advisor is responsible for:

  1. Reviewing and approving the written capstone proposal
  2. Providing guidance to the primary advisor, if necessary
  3. Reaching agreement with the primary advisor on the course grade
  4. Submitting grades in a timely way (because the student will be registered under the Bioengineering co-advisor) ;
  5. Representing the department to make sure the content and level of the project are appropriate.
  6. Assuming responsibility for the student should the situation with the primary advisor not work out.


The student is responsible for:

  1. Finding an appropriate capstone advisor and together developing a project
  2. Completing a project proposal in BIOEN 401 (Spring quarter, junior year)
  3. Obtaining the approval of the capstone advisor(s)
  4. Setting up a work schedule that fits the lab and allows steady progress
  5. Showing respect for the lab facilities and group members, by following all lab protocols, and showing up at agreed-upon times
  6. Communicating clearly and regularly with the Advisor(s) and  immediate supervisor,
  7. Asking questions as needed
  8. Attending BIOEN 402 / 403 class meetings
  9. Reporting unresolvable issues to the academic counselor or capstone instructor
  10. Completing the agreed-upon project on time, or negotiating project and timeline changes in advance with the Advisor, subject to departmental limits
  11. Delivering the appropriate reports and presentations on time for faculty review and grading

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4. Project Approval

The project proposal for either 402 or 403 is written during BIOEN 401, Spring Quarter of the junior year. The student and advisor (and co-advisor, if applicable) all sign off on the proposal. Proposals are reviewed by the Student Affairs Committee in the summer. BIOEN 402 proposals will be evaluated for design content. BIOEN 403 proposals will be evaluated for engineering outcomes. See the criteria for design and engineering research.

Changes to Capstone after BIOEN 401

Changes requested by the SAC

If the Student Affairs Committee has questions about a proposal, the student and PI will be asked to clarify and make any needed corrections prior to the start of Autumn Quarter.

Switching from 403 to 402 after SAC review

This is not allowed after the BIOEN 401 proposal has been submitted.

Switching from 402 to 403 after SAC review

This may be allowed. The student will write a revised proposal of 3 – 5 pages, stating the revised aims and describing how the project meets the BIOEN 403 engineering research criteria. The proposal, plus an email from the PI stating his/her approval, should be submitted to the academic counselors no later than the end of summer quarter (mid-August); the proposal must be reviewed and approved by the Vice Chair of Academic Affairs before the start of Autumn Quarter.

Changes to project aims within a 402 or 403 project after SAC review

Sometimes the content of the capstone project shifts because of changes in priorities, project logistics, or staffing in the student’s laboratory. In such situations, the SAC has three concerns:

  1. The revised project needs to meet all capstone criteria for that pathway (402 or 403); the BIOE faculty advisor is responsible for determining this. Students (and/or faculty advisors) are highly encouraged to consult with capstone facilitators Chris Neils and Alyssa Taylor to make sure that the new project plan meets the required capstone criteria. This is especially important because the SAC and BIOEN 401 reviews have already passed, and the revised project plan needs to be in compliance with the required criteria.
  2. The amount of work required from the student should not be increased. We advise the student to look long and hard at what is being newly proposed to make sure the re-defined project is equivalent in workload and expected duration to what was originally proposed. In calculating workload and duration, include any new background reading, initial experiments, and training in new methods that may be required by the change. Generally the new project should be closely related to the original project so that initial work is not lost. Alternatively, the scope of the new project could be more conservative.
  3. The consensus established between the capstone advisor(s) and student about what the revisions will be should be documented (email is fine); please copy the academic counselors for the student’s file, as well as the capstone facilitators, Chris Neils and Alyssa Taylor.

Students and faculty are encouraged to alert the academic counselors if they are uncomfortable or dissatisfied as a result of any proposed capstone changes (and especially in situation #4). The counselors (and the Vice Chair as needed) would like to help protect the integrity of the project, the smooth functioning of the lab, and the sanity of the student and PI.

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5. Policies applying to 402 and 403 (the independent study courses)

Petitioning to have a project supervisor who is not Bioengineering core or adjunct faculty

402 and 403 are normally supervised by Bioengineering core or adjunct faculty.

Affiliate faculty and other faculty with no Bioengineering appointment (and rarely, scientists with no faculty appointment) may be suitable project supervisors. In such a case the student needs to find a co-advisor from the Bioengineering core faculty and submit a petition to the Student Affairs Committee (via the academic counselor). The petition consists of:

  1. A one-page letter requesting the co-advising arrangement and explaining the project and detailing the design (402) or engineering (403) component. The student should also attest that he or she discussed the pertinent parts of the help file with the primary supervisor.
  2. Emails from both the primary supervisor and the Bioengineering co-advisor to the academic counselor agreeing to the advising arrangement.
    The petition should be approved prior to the start of BIOEN 401. Students should contact the academic counselor for Student Affairs Committee dates.

Project time limits

BIOEN 402 must take at least 2 quarters and should not take more than 4. Whether the student begins enrolling for BIOEN 402 in Summer or Autumn quarter, the project should be completed by the end of the following Spring quarter and a cumulative grade should be given then.

If the project isn’t completed, the PI has the following choices:

  1. Grade the student on the work completed and submitted, according to the rubric.
  2. Approve a one-quarter extension by giving the student an Incomplete; allow the student to complete the project during Summer quarter, and then grade according to the rubric and submit a change of grade. Note that the thesis must be submitted by the last day of instruction, Summer quarter. No further extensions are possible at that point and a grade must be given.

If the project extends into the summer, the student’s graduation must be deferred until August. The student must inform the academic counselor so that the graduation date can be moved.

BIOEN 403 is a two-quarter project. The project must be finished and the paper submitted and graded at the end of the second quarter.  If the paper isn’t submitted on time, the PI has two choices:

  1. Grade the student on the work completed and submitted, according to the rubric.
  2. Approve a one-quarter extension by giving the student an Incomplete and allowing the student to complete the paper during Spring quarter. At the end of Spring quarter, grade the paper according to the rubric, and then submit a change of grade from Incomplete to whatever the student has earned. The paper must be submitted no later than the last day of instruction, Spring quarter. At that point a grade must be given; there are no further extensions.

The primary investigator may invite a student to join the research group prior to BIOEN 403 or remain after BIOEN 403 has ended, on a volunteer basis, for pay or for BIOEN 499 credit. In other words, the student can continue to research; it is the proposed project and paper that need to wrap up within the stated limit.

Project report due dates

The BIOEN 402 report and BIOEN 403 paper are due the last day of class instruction of the final quarter of registration in the respective course.

Continuous registration

Once the independent study project is begun, students are expected to be continuously enrolled in 402 or 403 until the project is completed. Any exception would need to be approved in writing by the Advisor (PI) via email to the academic counselor.

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6. Grading

N grades

Both 402 and 403 are “hyphenated” courses. Faculty advisors do not give a decimal grade each quarter. Instead, they submit an “N” each quarter until the final paper is submitted.

Think of the “N” as meaning “not now!” Just remember: No paper, no grade!!!

Once the final paper is submitted, the student is graded by the appropriate grading rubric and a decimal grade is submitted. The decimal grade retroactively fills in the prior quarters.

Submitting grades

The faculty advisor submits an N grade for any student in 402 or 403, until the final paper is received. At that point the student’s work is graded according to the course grading rubric, and a decimal grade is submitted.

Co-advisors need to communicate well to avoid late grade submission, which can interfere with financial aid or delay the student’s graduation.

Grades are now submitted online. The online grading FAQ is at https://depts.washington.edu/sislearn/online-grading-faq/.

The deadline for online grade submission is 5 p.m. on the Tuesday following the last day of finals week.

Submitting a change of grade

From the registrar’s website:

Once the grading period for the quarter has ended, grades cannot be submitted online through Catalyst Web Tools. However, change of grade requests or late submissions can be submitted through the Office of the Registrar online Grade Change form. Due to the need for manual processing for submissions through this form, it will be 2-4 business days until the new grades appear on the student record.

For questions on change of grades or late grade submission contact ugradoff@u.washington.edu.

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7. Advice for faculty

Quarterly communication with student

Students are advised to meet with advisors at least quarterly to ask for an assessment of their progress. Advisors may find it helpful to use the BIOEN 402 grading rubric or BIOEN 403 grading rubric to guide the conversation.

If there are problems with student behavior or performance (for example, not showing up in lab, not putting enough effort in at the beginning of the project), advisors are encouraged to notify the academic counselor as soon as possible at knichols@u.washington.edu, (206)685-2022.

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8. Advice for students

Communicating with advisors

The student should send a summary email every week or every other week to his/her Advisor, immediate supervisor and any co-advisor, summarizing what he/she did that week, giving any results, outlining any obstacles, and saying what he/she is planning to do about those obstacles.

Once a quarter the student should request a conversation with his/her Advisor to review progress. The student might find the course grading rubric to be a helpful guide to this conversation. The student should take notes, and address any weaknesses.

Avoiding problems

The student can avoid the vast majority of capstone project problems by:

  1. Setting up clear expectations for attendance and communication with his/her Advisor, and then following through (e.g. showing up when promised)
  2. Sending regular (at least semi-weekly) email updates to his/her advisor, immediate supervisor and any co-advisor.
  3. Asking rather than assuming
  4. Allowing a lot of time for his/her project in the first quarter
  5. Contacting Kelli Jayn Nichols, Chris Neils, or Alyssa Taylor right away if problems arise

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Frequently asked questions

“Can I/my student be paid for my/his/her capstone work?”

A student may be paid for hours worked in excess of those earned for credit. For example, if the student is registered for 3 credits, the first 9 hours worked are for credit; any additional hours may be paid at the discretion of the faculty member. We do not expect students to be paid for their capstone work.

“If my 402 project extends into summer, when will my degree be posted?”

A student who extends his/her project into summer will graduate in August and his/her degree will be posted around the beginning of the second week of September.

“Should I ask for/grant an extension?”

A student should consider carefully whether a later graduation date will conflict with his/her post-graduation plans. Faculty should consider whether the request is reasonable. Faculty should also consider that they will be responsible for submitting a timely change of grade; failure to do so may cause delays in posting of the student’s degree.

“I granted (or I have been granted) an extension. How do I handle the grades?”

Once the final paper has been submitted and graded, the faculty member needs to submit a change of grade to change the N, X or I to the decimal grade. Changes of grade are submitted online; see the Office of the Registrar online Grade Change form.

The student should:

  1. Remind the faculty to change the grade
  2. Provide the exact course prefix, course #, quarter he/she was last registered in the course, and the exact grade he/she was originally given  (usually N, I, or X)
  3. Provide his/her legal name and student ID number

“My 403 project is finished, but I’d like to stay in the lab.”

A student may stay so long as his/her PI agrees. A 403 project needs to be finished in two quarters, but a student’s research experience in the lab does not necessarily need to end.

“How many hours should I expect to spend in lab?”

Most capstone students spend 15 hours a week in the lab, sometimes more, while enrolled in 402 or 403.

“When is my project paper due?”

The project paper (403) or thesis (402) is due the last day of instruction in the student’s final quarter of registration in that class. This is to give the PI time to read and grade the paper and turn grades in on time.

“Which option should I chose, A or B?”

In general, A is the right choice for Ph.D. or B.S./M.S. students. B is the right choice for industry-bound students. Pre-meds can choose either. This is a good subject for an advising appointment with the counselor or one of the capstone instructors.

“Can I change tracks?”

Switching from 403 to 402 is not permitted. Changing from 402 to 403 is allowed, within limits.

To change from 402 to 403, a student must:

  1. Find a new project and capstone supervisor;
  2. Write up a new project proposal and submit to the academic counselor by the end of Summer quarter;
  3. Have the new proposal approved by the Student Affairs Committee before the beginning of Autumn quarter (allow 2 weeks).

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