Tag: capstone research
I have a friend who as a graduate student invested five years into a research project in immunology. She walked into a meeting with her dissertation committee one summer thinking it was the last briefing on her work before defending for her doctorate, and left the room with a non-thesis masters. Something in her project had gone terribly wrong in the eyes of the committee and five years of work and promise ended up worthless in the end for an unsuspecting graduate student. She was a determined student and started over in another program and in about four more years received her doctorate. What a horror story!
Our fifth guiding principle is “choose projects with a high probability of success“. We do not believe in placing students in situations where the outcome of their capstone work could leave them with nothing to show for the semester. There are two ways we do this. First, we do not allow students to enter into research where the results are a huge gamble – “win big or go home” is not our idea of sound research…at least not with a student’s first self-designed project conducted in their last year of college as a requirement for graduation. For this reason, we seldom allow students to start with a blank piece of paper for their design. Student-conceived project ideas tend to be too grandiose and risk-laden to be practical under our timeline. Remember our other guiding principles: ”Keep it simple, keep it short!”, and “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should!” So, we talk with the student and try to steer them into projects where the basic infrastructure and literature base and track record for results are clearly established on our campus. Then we talk about what is known in the literature and what is not known, allowing the student to carve out a short, simple project that is meaningful (has unknown outcomes and thus represents real research). So, you might say the project is student chosen from within departmental imposed parameters.
The second way we help students build a project with a high probability of success is through careful attention to experimental design. We pride ourselves on helping students design projects that maximize results while minimizing work and time. We want students to complete their planned experiments, conduct follow-up experiments, and produce their research paper or poster quickly. That can only happen in this way. So, we make sure that the first experiment (the initial planned work by the student) provides data that is unique and useful whatever the outcome. Experiments that either work or don’t work are not considered (the suggestion from that is either success or failure is the only result possible). Instead, experiments are designed with the follow-up experiment in mind – if it turns out this way, we’ll do this…but if it turns out that way, we’ll do that. By taking this approach, we teach students the importance of not just designing an experiment, but planning a project.
In the coming months, take a look at our webpage where the results of student capstone projects will be posted. It is called “The Lab Report”. (http://blogs.mcm.edu/thelabreport/)
My friend Buddy used to say that “if you ask my dad what time it is, he’ll tell you how to build a clock”. For some people the experience of storytelling involves relatively meaningless details and “fluff”, which drives those of us who just want the facts crazy. No nonsense means more productivity. That same philosophy is important when it comes to designing and conducting a research project. Our fourth guiding principle is “Keep it simple, keep it short“. We want our students to design, conduct, analyze, and report results from a research project in one or two semesters. No chasing bunnies allowed!
Ideally, our students would join us in research projects in their sophomore year and we would work together for three years delving deeper and deeper into solving a research problem. However, in practicality it very rarely works that way. A huge chunk of our students are athletes or work 20+ hours weekly in addition to their courses. Many go home for the summer to work, go on mission trips, etc. So it is a rare student who has the opportunity and motivation to participate in uninterrupted research for three years. For this reason, we find that our typical research student is a senior taking the capstone course. Faculty and students must work creatively to find projects that are manageable in a finite amount of available time and require little learning curve or prolonged experiments. For this reason, the projects often center on use of skills learned in courses already taken to address research problems with which students are somewhat familiar. It is a blending of student interests with instructor guidance and insight to create a project that is simple and short. We believe more is gained by short-term projects of student design than from short-term involvement of students in projects of faculty design. After all, we are trying to train the next generation of leaders and professionals rather than the next generation of workers and technicians! We have a choice to be average or exceptional, and we choose to make our students exceptional!
For the past decade, one of the most popular television franchises has been CSI, where the tools of forensic science are used to solve crime. The BIMS program was created to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to join their TV counterparts to help bring criminals to justice.
But forensic science is MUCH more than DNA fingerprinting and other biotech and immunological methods. Sometimes, the key evidence is provided by six-legged pests. This semester, upper level students in Dr. Tierney Brosius’ Entomology class and two capstone students are joining scientists from universities across the country in a project being directed by the University of Nebraska to study chemical attractants that draw flies to decaying flesh and to see what species are most commonly attracted by which chemical.
To do their work, students will create bait traps containing suspect chemicals and scatter them around campus. Then, over the course of many days the flies attracted will be counted and identified to search for patterns and answers. Results will be added to those from students from other schools to see whether there are regional differences in effective chemicals and in species attracted.
More than anything, such studies provide students with valuable experience participating in the industry of science. But another benefit is the realization that the glamour and simplicity of television science and technology come about through long, hard work done by dedicated researchers.