Senior Exercise Contract

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 (Senior Thesis) and an oral presentation at the molecular biology symposium.

The Research Project will enable you to demonstrate that you have mastered several important scientific skills. These include becoming familiar with a particular field, understanding clearly what is known and what is not known, being able to distinguish between an important question and a trivial one, to justify your choice of question to others and convince them that it is exciting and important. You will also identify and use the tools used in a particular field, learn about their advantages and their limitations and how they permit you to test your hypotheses in the laboratory.

Of critical importance is the selection of a project that can be done, given the constraints of time and available resources. Accordingly, projects that were begun as part of the Molecular Biology Laboratory, or during a summer research project, or in an upper division laboratory course, or as part of an independent research project in a professor's laboratory may be continued as a MOBI 194 Research Project.

The final Research Report should be written in the general format of a paper submitted to a professional, scientific journal for publication with the modifications described below, so that it is acceptable as a comprehensive thesis.

Oral Presentations

During the fall and spring semester you will participate in a series of seminar presentations.
The first talk, to take place in the fall semester, will consist of introducing the topic of your experimental thesis, your hypothesis and what you want to accomplish. You should present the nature and significance of the problem you are addressing and give extensive background information on what is already known in this area of research (here is where you make use of your bibliographic search), and go over the most important methods used.

The second talk will take place in the Spring semester and consists of reporting your progress in accomplishing your goals, what you have accomplished in the lab and what needs to be done next. All students are expected to contribute to each seminar discussion and also provide written critiques of each talk. A summary of these critiques will then be provided to each speaker so that he or she will become aware of his/her strong points and also know what they need to improve on.

The third talk consists of your final thesis presentation that will take place at the end of the semester in the Senior Molecular Biology Symposium, practice talks are scheduled before hand for each student.

The Research Project Report (written Senior Thesis)

The written report should include:

  • Title - A concise statement clearly defining your project.
  • Abstract - A paragraph outlining the problem you are going to study and summarizing the research activity you have undertaken.
  • Introduction - A comprehensive introduction in which you clearly state why the problem you have chosen is scientifically interesting and worthy of study. You should summarize the research performed in the field, citing specific experimental studies, and define unanswered questions. Finally, you should clearly and succinctly define the Specific Aims of your research. Be sure that you clearly describe the question you are investigating and place it in context of previous research that has been done in the field, which you describe. The introduction may be limited to 4-5 pages and not be an all inclusive introduction to the entire field in which you are working.
  • Materials and Methods - A description of the techniques and procedures that you carried out. This should be in sufficient detail so that another scientist, wishing to do so, could repeat your experiments.
  • Results - This section will be different from the Results section of a published paper. In a thesis you want to describe the process of how you went about your investigations. Describe experiments that did not give the predicted results, as well as those that did. Describe how each step of your work lead to the next. Your thesis should be a resource for someone wishing to continue your work, so that he/she is aware of what "worked" and what did not. Be sure to describe the results of all of your experiments, including the controls that you have conducted to accomplish your Specific Aims. Data should be clearly and concisely presented in an appropriate form (tables, graphs, photographs of gels or blots, etc.) and the results explicitly stated in words. Note that you should not undertake a detailed discussion of the significance of your data in this section.
  • Discussion - An analysis of the significance of your results. Did you support or refute your original hypothesis, and, if so, describe how and why. Describe problems you may have encountered in your study and what you did, or would do in the future, to overcome them. Discuss how your results fit in with previously published work in the field. If your results are at odds with those of another laboratory, how would you reconcile this discrepancy. Finally, based on your results, suggest novel hypotheses and future lines of experimentation that should be undertaken.
  • Literature Cited - A list of all papers cited in the research proposal. In general, these should be primary, original research reports and not review articles or book chapters. You should only cite those papers that you have critically read yourself, and not papers that are cited in other papers, unless they are acknowledged as such.

You will submit a written copy of the Research Report four weeks before the final version is due. This first version is meant to be a finished and complete report of the work completed to date and not a "rough draft." You should plan to have completed virtually all of your laboratory work in time for submission of the first version of the Research Report. A graded copy with the comments and suggestions of your advisers will be returned to you no later than ten days after submission. You are highly encouraged to incorporate the suggestions of your advisers into the final version submitted. The final, revised Research Report, which will include any additional experimentation you have completed, will be due at the end of the next to last week of classes. The grade received on the first version will be taken into consideration when determining your final grade.

Generally, the total length of the Research Report, exclusive of figures, bibliography and title page, should not be less than 20 pages. There is no maximum page limit, although clarity and conciseness will be taken into consideration when evaluating the thesis.

General Guidelines

If you have any questions, or are confused about any aspect of your Senior Exercise, please feel free, and do not hesitate, to consult with your advisers. We are here to be used as a resource as much as you desire. Although periodic meetings with your advisers are not required, they are very much encouraged and can help with all aspects of your Senior Exercise, from selection of your topic, to your oral presentations and design of your research proposal or project. Copies of previous Molecular Biology Senior Theses are available in the office of Tina Negritto and may be checked out.