Students

Proposal & thesis writing; common issues

    • Put a date on every draft.
    • Indicate in a cover note the changes that you have made since the last draft.
    • Spell out as clearly as possible the areas where you need help.
      • Word provides various tools (tracking, highlighting, comments) that make this easy.
    • If you are seeking feedback on only part of the document, make that clear.
    • The abstract needs to be quantitative and needs to include your (preliminary) results.
    • Figure captions need to be below the figures, table captions above the table.
    • There should be no frames around the entire figure (which Excel loves to do) and figures should not have any titles.
    • The results section can’t simply be a bunch of figures and tables, but you need to describe what is being shown. The description should be objective, use the discussion section for interpretation of your data.
    • If you don’t have any results yet (in your thesis proposal) write something about expected results. What trends do you expect you see? Consider a range of hypothetical results, what conclusions would you draw based on which finding?

Record keeping

  • Keep careful records of your work in a laboratory notebook.  Your notebook can also include notes on papers that you read and seminars that you attend.  Data should be thoroughly documented at the time that it is acquired.  Do not assume that you will have time to fill in the blanks later.  Be aware that your advisor may want your laboratory notebook for permanent records, ask if you can xerox a copy at the end of the project. Most of you will keep data in electronic files, such as MS Excel workbooks. It may be advisable to put one worksheet in, on which you note the steps you have taken in working on the workbook with a date attached. Then you will always know which is the final version of your worksheet and you can reconstruct later what you have done, step by step.
  • Provide your mentor with copies of final computer files that you generate.  Be sure to include what is called metadata: time, location, comments (for example about possible sources of error).  ALWAYS BACKUP YOUR FILES!!

Mentor – student relationship

  • Let your mentor know that you are delighted to be working with them.  Handle your relationship with them professionally.
  • Be sure that you know how to contact your mentor and that they know how to contact you both by phone and by email.  Find out their preferred method of contact. Be sure to check your phone messages and email every day, particularly on the day(s) before you are scheduled to work with your mentor(s).
  • Be proactive in setting up meetings and raising issues with your mentors and seminar advisors.  Come to meetings well prepared with a status report and list of questions.  Arrive on time! Don’t come with just one question at the time, unless you have only one! Take advantage of your meetings with them.
  • Pay attention to advice your mentor and advisor give you.  If you do not want to take their suggestions, present clear and cogent arguments as to why you propose to set them aside.
  • Remind mentors about upcoming deadlines  they don’t like last-minute calls for help.

Advisor – student relationship

  • Your advisor is there for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch and see him/her!
  • Be proactive, you are running the show!
  • Don’t be late for your meetings, be in touch if you need to cancel a meeting.
  • If you are a joint major (not Env Bio) doing a combined thesis you will also need to give copies of the outline, draft and final proposal to your advisor in the corresponding department for review.

How to get started gathering background information for your work

  • If the work that you are doing was funded from a proposal, ask your mentor for a copy of  the body of the proposal.  Read the proposal and look up the references that are cited.  This will give you a head start on literature research for your thesis project.

Beyond your thesis

  • Provide your mentor with copies of any papers that you write using the data collected in their lab.  Ask your mentor before using the data for projects other than your senior thesis.
  • The majority of thesis mentors plan to publish their work with you if the project works out well.  If you would like to be involved in the publication process, let them know.

Last Updated : 9/9/2015