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Molecular Biology Senior Exercise Guidelines

In the Senior year Molecular Biology majors will have the opportunity to demonstrate that they can think independently and creatively about the field and can use the research tools of the discipline. In addition, they will have the opportunity to discuss important information about their theses with other students and faculty.

Experimental Senior Thesis

The senior experimental thesis comprises two semesters of research in a Pomona College laboratory (MB194A,B, Fall and Spring semester of your senior year) which culminates in the writing of a comprehensive Research Report (written thesis) and an oral presentation at the molecular biology symposium.

When beginning your thesis work, you must first identify an interesting, unsolved problem in molecular biology and then design a research protocol to address it. In order to complete the requirements for the senior exercise, you must:

  1. Identify a problem, write an abstract not to exceed one page describing your research project with a list of 3 references and submit a Senior Exercise Contract before the end of your Junior year to Dr. Negritto (see deadlines section).
  2. Work in lab at least 8 hours per week in addition to spending time outside lab reading material relevant to your research project and working on your written report (Thesis).

  3. Participate in a total of 3 oral presentations, one in the Fall and two in the Spring (for guidelines see Molecular BIology 194), in addition to submitting written reports, assignments specified in the deadlines section, attending presentations  done by classmates and providing feedback.
  4. Submit a written Research Report (Thesis) and present your Thesis in the Senior Molecular Biology Symposium at the end of the Spring semester of your senior year.

Identification of the Problem for Your Senior Experimental Thesis

You may find that this is the most difficult part of your senior exercise. To help define the problem you will investigate the following suggestions may be helpful.

a) Identify from your classes those fields that were of interest to you and in which there were unanswered questions or considerable research remaining to be done.

b) Read current issues of journals as Science and Nature. Each issue contains a section called Research News, or News and Views, in which research in "hot" areas of research is reviewed and, often, unanswered problems defined. In addition, such journals as Trends in ...., Current Opinion in ...., Annual Review of ...., contain comprehensive reviews of broad fields, while others, such as Cell, contain shorter, more narrowly focused "minireviews".

c) Think about the laboratory exercises you have completed, particularly in the Molecular Biology Laboratory course, or during a summer research project, or in an upper division, laboratory course. By now, you should have an idea of how scientists work in the lab and what can be realistically accomplished, given time and the appropriate resources. How might you expand your lab experience into a specific project?

d) Review the material presented by Molecular Biology faculty in MOBI188 about the research currently conducted in their laboratories. In addition, you can attend talks given by senior Molecular Biology students. Faculty are more qualified than anyone else to supervise research in their fields of expertise and they will have the laboratory resources required for such research.

e) Talk to your professors and other scientists about projects of potential interest. We want to help you as best as we can, and we may be able to assist in identifying topics that are suitable, or too complex, or too trivial. However, be reasonably prepared before you begin these discussions. We will not provide a list of topics for your selection. Most importantly, give yourself plenty of time to undertake the readings and discussions necessary to identify the topic of your proposal. It is not an overstatement to say that the most important parameter limiting the ultimate quality of your Senior Exercise is the selection and definition of the question you pose. The choice of faculty thesis advisor and problem go hand-in-hand. Your potential thesis advisor will not sign your "contract" unless they are persuaded that your problem is well chosen, thought out and that it is a good match with their area of expertise. Approach your prospective advisers well before the deadline for submission of the "contract".

Because the Molecular Biology major puts great emphasis on hands on research, only under special circumstances students may fulfill the senior exercise by taking a senior library thesis-grant proposal, MOBI191, instead of an experimental thesis. The same type of general deadlines and guidelines apply to students enrolled in MOBI191, however registration to this course is restricted and should be discussed with the program coordinator.