On Final Year Projects

After a week of meeting with new project students, and answering many of the same questions several times, I’ve been scouting back through the archives looking for what I’ve said previously on the subject of surviving a final year project.

May 2011: On Third Year Projects

Final year research projects are very much what the students make of them, provided the academic is willing to allow sufficient leeway.  Even in a fairly prescriptive project it is very obvious when a student is participating in the decision making, reading around the topic and building up good, independent knowledge of the research field in question.  It is similarly obvious when a student has largely done what was asked of them, with little curiosity about the wider research topic.

and

Some of the most common errors with regard to projects, and probably with regard to any kind of investigative/research type activity hinge on insufficient verification of results.

 

November 2013: Project Survival Guide

Thirdly, you are conducting research which may be published. It is imperative that you conduct that research with the utmost honesty and integrity. If you forget to write down a mass or volume of reagent added, record that in your book. While your supervisor may frown at the unreproducible procedure because you didn’t make a note, it’s nothing compared to what they will feel if you make up the value and the procedure doesn’t work for the next student.

I see last November my obsession with reproducibility was firmly in place! It came to ahead in August 2013 with an unreproducible but ‘fascinating if true result in a dissertation.

August 2013: Frustrations of Reproducibility

A few weeks ago I finally found the wherewithal to head off into the lab to try and replicate a very interesting result one of last years crop of project students had obtained. They had been investigating a potentially new catalyst system and had obtained a rather intriguing and somewhat unexpected result by NMR.  The reaction conditions were tantalizingly simple and mild, the result rather nifty and well worth further investigation. And I had the left over catalyst and reagents necessary to conduct the simple test.

Nothing. After the required time stirring away (and at a warmer time of year for ‘room temperature’ than the student’s attempt was), no change in the NMR at all.

With all that I’ve said previously, I’m wondering what I have to add to these posts on the subject of 3rd year projects. As I sat thinking about writing a blog post on the topic, I was framing things quite negatively and quite fancied writing a ‘most common mistakes students make’ post. I think though, these linked posts probably cover what I had in mind in a slightly more positive way, but with a new crop of students, it’s always worth saying again!