Performing research as an undergraduate
Please read and ensure that you understand these guidelines before submitting your proposal. In developing your project and filling out all forms, be complete and descriptive to avoid delays. If you have any questions, contact the capstone coordinator:
Dr. Brian Antonsen
Note: you must have completed at least 16 hours, and preferably more, of BSC courses that count towards the major before registering for Capstone.
A complete list of the required forms and resources can be found by clicking here.
Start early enough to leave sufficient time to complete required paperwork before the registration deadline.
Research is the single most valuable activity you can do in preparations for most careers in biology. Research is the discovery and interpretation of new knowledge, and placing that knowledge into the context of existing theory. Its learning technical skills, how to develop hypotheses, and how to interpret science at a level that exceeds the experience in classrooms.
Start the process of identifying a research mentor early – it is best if you can begin the process at least a year before you want to perform your Capstone. As lab space is finite, it is not unusual for some labs to fill up months in advance. An early start can also allow you to begin before you wish to do your Capstone project, and gain more experience from your research.
In identifying your research mentor, try to find someone who works in a field that interests you or is part of your career goals, and who seems to be enthusiastic about mentoring you. Situations where either the mentor or mentee are less than enthused about the project are not likely to result in a worthwhile experience for either. If you start early, you may also want to discuss with your mentor the possibility of gaining some Independent Study credit in the semesters before you start your Capstone.
Research interests of faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences can be found on our Research Page. Most Research Capstone mentors will be faculty in this department, but under some circumstances we may approve mentors from another department or even from outside the university. If you wish to do your Capstone with a non-BSC mentor, discuss this with the capstone coordinator before beginning the application. Furthermore, if your mentor is not BSC faculty, be sure that your mentor sees and agrees to the conditions as outlined in the Research Mentor’s Agreement Form. Your mentor will sign this form before the project begins, but you should make them aware of the form and requirements early. The agreement form can be found on the forms and resources page. If your mentor is not Marshall faculty, be sure to get full contact information including mailing address, email, and phone number to include on the proposal form. For Marshall faculty, only the email is necessary.
Once you have identified a mentor, it is critical that both you and your mentor fully understand the guidelines and due dates for any project you wish to perform. The project must focus on an engaged, supervised research experience in a lab, field, museum, or other active research area. As you and your mentor develop the proposal, ensure that you set clear expectations. The project description you will submit should make it clear to the capstone administrator exactly what activities you will undertake. Fine details of the activities themselves are not necessary at this time. You must include a plan for project assessment, with some deliverable like a research paper, poster, or oral presentation as part of the requirements. You and your mentor will arrange detailed expectations for the final report or talk, together with a timeline for completing it. Fine details of the activities themselves (e.g. a list of methods) are not necessary at this time.
Research Capstone projects require a minimum of 90 hours of active research work, in addition to any outside reading you must do and the time spent preparing your final report.
Writing Your Proposal
We will look for four main things when reviewing your proposal:
1. Sufficient detail to be convincing that it is a worthwhile, and legitimate, research experience that will benefit you in your career development.
2. Enough detail to understand what you will do, and that you cannot gain this experience in a regularly scheduled course.
3. Demonstration that you understand the research and your role in it. Note: we do not look for a detailed justification of the research itself, rather we want to see that you understand what you will be doing, that you understand the motivations and importance of the work, and your role in it.
4. A clear assessment plan, with some deliverable in the form of a report, presentation, or some other tangible proof that the experience is worth two credit hours.
Hints: Your Capstone should be a valuable experience that allows you to apply knowledge gained in classes. In order to simplify the approval process, you should ensure that you describe the scientific merit of the project from your perspective, the value of the methods you will learn, and how these experiences will benefit you academically or professionally. Notice the focus on YOU here, we have to see what you will be doing and gaining from this project.
The project approval process works as follows:
1. After developing the details of your project with your mentor, you fill in the online project proposal form and submit it to the Department of Biological Sciences for approval.
2. After review, you will either receive notice that your proposal requires changes, in which case you follow the instructions to address any deficiencies, or you receive a preliminary approval notice. In the preliminary approval email, you will find a link to an approval form.
3. Once you have your preliminary approval notice, take your approval form to your mentor for signatures.
3a. If your mentor is not BSC faculty, he or she must also sign the Research Mentor’s Agreement Form. Deliver the Mentor’s Evaluation Form, to be filled out and returned at project completion. The mentor’s agreement and evaluation forms are not required for BSC faculty mentors.
4. You return the signed approval and agreement forms to the capstone coordinator BEFORE the start of classes. Submit all forms via email. At that time you will receive final approval, and receive permission to register.
Your grade will be based entirely on the deliverable items that you include in your project proposal. All projects must be submitted to the department before a grade will be awarded. If your project includes a poster or talk, contact the capstone coordinator to discuss details for submitting the midterm and final projects.
If your mentor is BSC faculty, your mentor will assess your project then send your grade to the Capstone Coordinator.
If your mentor is not BSC faculty, your project will be submitted to the Capstone Coordinator for assessment. Your research mentor must also, before the start of final exams, submit the Mentor’s Evaluation Form. This form is necessary for you to receive your grade, so be sure that your mentor receives a copy with sufficient time before the deadline. The evaluation form can be found on the forms and resources page.
All final reports and evaluations are due before the start of final exams. Following submission of all materials, we will award your final grade. If any of the required items are late it may jeopardize your grade and graduation, so work to ensure that everything arrives on time.
Online Project Proposal
Once you have read and understood the above information, and developed your project plan, click below to access the online form.