The Department of Chemistry at Colby College is firmly committed to providing significant independent research opportunities to our students. Independent research is often the first time that our majors will do real science. Independent research reinforces our classroom instruction, teaches new techniques, and requires students to develop time management skills, perseverance, resiliency, and ability to be productive both individually and as part of a group. Research is a wonderful intellectual experience and can be a lot of fun!

Expectations for Independent Study

Independent research requires a significant time commitment by both the students and the faculty mentors. It is also important that the expectations for student research be clearly articulated to every student at the start of the research project. All students conducting research must complete the laboratory safety program before the start of their research endeavor. Students are expected to be neat and respectful of laboratory spaces and instrumentation. Students may get paid for independent research (typically during the summers) or receive academic credit, but not both. For students receiving academic credit, a departmental committee will determine all independent research grades at the end of each semester (or academic year, in the case of Senior Honors Projects). The guidelines used in evaluating independent research are as follows:

Time invested

You are expected to work approximately 4 hours in the lab weekly per credit hour of graded research during the semester. Your lab time will be assessed by from your mentor and via your lab notebook at the end of each semester. We expect to see a minimum of 12 notebook entries per credit hour (an average of one per week per credit hour). It is likely that you may have clusters of entries as you work on an experiment and then some time in between entries. Make sure that you well document each experiment, not only so that you or someone else could follow your work, but also so that you receive credit for your work. Notebooks must never leave the building and must be submitted to your mentor at the end of each semester for review.

Quality of work

While we understand that experiments are often unsuccessful, we expect to see some sort of progress in your research. Keep in mind that even a negative result can benefit the project as a whole.

Observation of proper safety procedures

It is critical that you observe proper safety procedures, both for your own safety and that for everyone else. You must wear proper attire (closed-toed shoes, safety goggles, and, when appropriate, gloves). Keep in mind that gloved hands should not leave the lab because of possible contamination. Spilled chemicals, dirty dishes in the lab, and unlabeled solutions can also contribute to an unsafe working environment. If members of the department have to repeatedly warn you about unsafe working practices, then your grade will be reduced accordingly.

You will also be required to clean-up your bench, hood, or workstations at the end of each semester. Failure to be a good “laboratory citizen” may adversely affect your independent study grade.

College policies regarding crediting of independent study

Independent study (numbered 491, 291, and 492 in fall, January, and spring, respectively) are considered variable credit courses. Upon consultation with a faculty mentor, students may elect to register for 1-3 credits of independent study in a given term (JanPlan credits must be 3, however). After the initial registration, students may add credits through the Registrar’s office until the date that corresponds with the last day to drop courses, approximately half way into a term. Students may also elect to reduce the credit hour load for independent study up until the final day of classes in a term. It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of these deadlines.

Department statement regarding expectations for independent study

One’s laboratory skills and disciplinary knowledge naturally build over time invested as a research scientist in chemistry. As such, there are escalating expectations for students doing independent study projects that span over several semester. In other words, with respect to productivity, depth of knowledge, and quality of the research report, more will be expected of a senior completing her 6th semester of independent study than a first year student completing her first semester of independent study. Students are encouraged to discuss these expectations with their research mentors in the context of their specific projects.

Research report

In addition to your lab notebook at the end of the semester, you are required to submit a research report, describing your goals, your methods, and your results. The length of this report must be at least 5 pages/credit-hour, and it is due by noon on the Monday following the last day of classes. You must submit this report using the link at the bottom of this page. Note that the time spent writing the research report does not count towards the 4 lab-hours/credit-hour time commitment. General guidelines for preparing a research report are described below. Consult with your research advisor for specific requirements for your group.

Independent Study Acknowledgement Page

Preparing A Research Report

General Recommendations

An excellent resource is “Guidelines for Preparing a Research Report” published by the ACS Committee on Professional Training. In addition, we recommend the following articles for some guidelines on scientific writing styles:

  • For a more complete listing and examples of good scientific grammar and writing styles: Potera, Carol (1984) The basic elements of writing a scientific paper: The art of scientific style. J. Chem. Ed. 61, 246.
  • A great list of suggestions for a successful scientific writing process — including a section that emphasizes the importance of outlining before writing: Eisenberg, Anne (1982) Strategies five productive chemists use to handle the writing process. J. Chem. Ed. 59, 566.
  • For some good guides to scientific writing style and for a brief description of the common sections of a research paper: Spector, Thomas (1994) Writing a scientific manuscript. J Chem. Ed. 71, 47.
  • For great examples of common mistakes in scientific writing:  Bunting,Roger(1999) Precise writing for a precise science. J. Chem. Ed. 76, 1407.

Guidelines for Preparing a Research Report

Research experience is as close to a professional problem-solving activity as anything in the curriculum. It provides exposure to research methodology and an opportunity to work closely with a faculty advisor. It usually requires the use of advanced concepts, a variety of experimental techniques, and state-of-the-art instrumentation. Ideally, undergraduate research should focus on a well-defined project that stands a reasonable chance of completion in the time available. A literature survey alone is not a satisfactory research project. Neither is repetition of established procedures. Research is genuine exploration of the unknown that leads to new knowledge which often warrants publication. But whether or not the results of a research project are publishable, the project should be communicated in the form of a research report written by the student. It is important to realize that science depends on precise transmission of facts and ideas. Preparation of a comprehensive written research report is an essential part of a valid research experience, and the student should be aware of this requirement at the outset of the project. Interim reports may also be required, usually at the termination of the quarter or semester. Sufficient time should be allowed for satisfactory completion of reports, taking into account that initial drafts should be critiqued by the faculty advisor and corrected by the student at each stage. Guidelines on how to prepare a professional-style research report are not routinely available. For this reason, the following information on report writing and format is provided to be helpful to undergraduate researchers and to faculty advisors.

Organization of the Research Report

Most scientific research reports, irrespective of the field, parallel the method of scientific reasoning. That is: the problem is defined, a hypothesis is created, experiments are devised to test the hypothesis, experiments are conducted, and conclusions are drawn. This framework is consistent with the following organization of a research report:

  • Title
  • Abstract (you may omit this section for your research report if you wish)
  • Introduction
  • Experimental Details or Theoretical Analysis
  • Results
  • Discussion (you may combine ‘Results’ and ‘Discussion’ if you wish)
  • Conclusions and Future Directions
  • References

Title and Title Page

The title should reflect the content and emphasis of the project described in the report. It should be as short as possible and include essential key words. The author’s name (e.g., Mary B. Martinez) should follow the title on a separate line, followed by the author’s affiliation (e.g., Department of Chemistry, Colby College, Waterville, ME), the date, and possibly the origin of the report (e.g., In partial fulfillment of a Independent Study Project under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth F. Jones, May, 2018). All of the above should appear on a single cover page.

Abstract

The abstract should, in the briefest terms possible, describe the topic, the scope, the principal findings, and the conclusions. It should be written last to reflect accurately the content of the report. The length of abstracts varies but seldom exceeds 200 words. A primary objective of an abstract is to communicate to the reader the essence of the paper. The reader will then be the judge of whether to read the full report or not. Were the report to appear in the primary literature, the abstract would serve as a key source of indexing terms and key words to be used in information retrieval. Author abstracts are often published verbatim in Chemical Abstracts.

Introduction

“A good introduction is a clear statement of the problem or project and why you are studying it.” (The ACS Style Guide. American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 1986.) The nature of the problem and why it is of interest should be conveyed in the opening paragraphs. This section should describe clearly but briefly the background information on the problem, what has been done before (with proper literature citations), and the objectives of the current project. A clear relationship between the current project and the scope and limitations of earlier work should be made so that the reasons for the project and the approach used will be understood.

Experimental Details or Theoretical Analysis

This section should describe what was actually done. It is a succinct exposition of the laboratory notebook, describing procedures, techniques, instrumentation, special precautions, and so on. It should be sufficiently detailed that other experienced researchers would be able to repeat the work and obtain comparable results. In theoretical reports, this section would include sufficient theoretical or mathematical analysis to enable derivations and numerical results to be checked. Computer programs from the public domain should be cited. New computer programs should be described in outline form. If the experimental section is lengthy and detailed, as in synthetic work, it can be placed at the end of the report or as an appendix so that it does not interrupt the conceptual flow of the report. Its placement will depend on the nature of the project and the discretion of the writer.

Results

In this section, relevant data, observations, and findings are summarized. Tabulation of data, equations, charts, and figures can be used effectively to present results clearly and concisely. Schemes to show reaction sequences may be used here or elsewhere in the report.

Discussion

The crux of the report is the analysis and interpretation of the results. What do the results mean? How do they relate to the objectives of the project? To what extent have they resolved the problem? Because the “Results” and “Discussion” sections are interrelated, they can often be combined as one section.

Conclusions and Future Work

A separate section outlining the main conclusions of the project is appropriate if conclusions have not already been stated in the “Discussion” section. Directions for future work are also suitably expressed here. A lengthy report, or one in which the findings are complex, usually benefits from a paragraph summarizing the main features of the report – the objectives, the findings, and the conclusions. The last paragraph of text in manuscripts prepared for publication is customarily dedicated to acknowledgments. However, there is no rule about this, and research reports or senior theses frequently place acknowledgments following the title page.

References

Literature references should be collated at the end of the report and cited in one of the formats described in The ACS Style Guide or standard journals. Do not mix formats. All references should be checked against the original literature. It is also important that your research report extensively cites primary and secondary literature sources beyond that which has been published internally and externally from your research group.

Preparing and Submitting your Research Report

You should take great care to ensure that your writing is technically sound and properly formatted. Should you need assistance on writing style, please consult with your research mentor and/or the Farnham Writers’ Center. Preliminary drafts should be edited by your mentor before the report is submitted in its final form. Your report will be reviewed by a Chemistry Department faculty committee. You must submit your report using the link below by 12 PM on the Monday after the final day of classes for the semester using the link below.

Independent Study Research Report Submission