Module BSM-4000:
Masters Research Project

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

100 Credits or 50 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Dr Katherine Jones

Overall aims and purpose

Students successfully completing the master research project should be able to plan, cost, execute and analyse original research. They should have developed a conceptual understanding of the challenges and ethical implications of research, and they should have reached a technical competency in the laboratory and/or field, which enables them to embark on a PhD research project.

Course content

The research project MBiol/Zoology will allow students to develop their experimental skills to a high level and it will enable students to plan, execute and analyse hypothesis-bases research in the field or laboratory. During the first month of the course, students have to plan the research project in collaboration with the supervisor. The written research plan is expected to be submitted in the first month and cover (i) underlying rationale, (ii) specific objectives of the project, (iii) methodology and approach, (iv) management of the project and resources, (v) programme of research and (vi) justification of resources. Towards the end of the first semester, students are expected to make an oral presentation of the project's progress to explain background and rationale, overall methodology and hypotheses and anticipated outcomes of the project. For the dissertation, data collection in the field or in the laboratory or by in silico methods would generally be done between October and March. The experimental work is generally followed by two months of data analysis and writing up. The final results is presented in a written dissertation, which should follow the format of a research publication, and the final research conference presentation (in the form of a poster).

Assessment Criteria

threshold

A threshold student should have a basic knowledge of the essential facts and key concepts in the chosen research area. The research proposal, the oral presentation, conference poster and response to comments letter should demonstrate an ability to analyse the literature, to plan, conduct and analyse the research to present it into a coherent argument

good

A good student should have a thorough factual knowledge of all aspects across of the project and how it relates to the chosen research area. The oral presentation, poster and response to comments letter should demonstrate an ability to think critically about the subject and to relate the research undertaken to the wider subject area.

excellent

An excellent student should have a detailed and conceptual knowledge of the subject and the ability to design and write-up research highly original to the area of chosen study. The oral presentation, poster and response to comments letter should demonstrate an ability to not only think critically about the subject but also a thorough understanding of the novelty of the research undertaken. The whole dissertation or its parts should be at the level of publishable original scientific manuscripts ready to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal after some modifications.

Learning outcomes

  1. To plan a research project that explores the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms, their molecular, cellular and physiological processes, their genetics and evolution, and the interrelationships between them and their environment.

  2. To carry out the planned research.

  3. To analyse the obtained data in the context of the relevant literature.

  4. To communicate orally and in writing the aims, results and conclusions of the research project.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
CLASS PARTICIPATION Supervisor mark

During the course of your project, you will be expected to keep records in two formats: the raw data you collect and a research log. These items will need to be made available to the supervisor, to contribute towards the final supervisor mark for effort. The supervisor mark may also take account of your attendance at meetings, your contribution to journal club/lab group discussions, your tidiness and consideration to others in the lab and the help you provide other team members.

10
COURSEWORK Research Proposal

The research proposal is designed to enable students to acquire the specific scientific knowledge, practical skills and scientific writing abilities to prepare for a substantial (usually hypotheses-based) research project and final thesis production. The research proposal is prepared in collaboration with the project supervisor and covers underlying rationale, objectives of the project, methods and approach, programme of research and justification of resources.

To do well on the research proposal you should aim to be as detailed as possible in your methodologies and also ensure you explain the reasoning behind the study. A common mistake is to present more of a “literature review” and be rather minimal with the actual specifics about how the project will be carried out and what specific hypothesis will be tested. It can often be useful to spend some time in the lab/field, perhaps even collecting some “pilot data” before finalising the methods in your plan. “Playing” with your study system and learning practical methodologies can be as (or even more) important as spending time reading papers.

The research proposal is prepared according with the Research Proposal Form downloadable from Blackboard (tab: Assessment and Feedback). The Research Proposal is marked by the project supervisor (with all marks moderated by the module organiser).

10
INDIVIDUAL PRESENTATION Oral Project Progress Report

Approximately mid-way through the academic year, students will present their work in the style of a lab-group presentation. This will be one oral presentation of 10 minutes maximum duration including time for questions. You are unlikely to have many results at this stage, so the presentation will be based on (i) underlying rationale and relevant background knowledge; (ii) Specific objectives; (iii) Methods; (iv) Results/progress so far; (v) Discussion (vi) References. Keeping to time is considered in marking (if you were at a conference you might get your microphone cut-off if you went over!), so plan a sensible number of slides and allow a couple of minutes for questions. If you are unable to attend the project conference, you have the option of getting someone to film your presentation and send it to us in an appropriate file format. The presentation is marked by two members of staff, one of whom is normally your project supervisor.

10
DISSERTATION Dissertation

The final dissertation should be written in the form of a scientific paper. Students should choose a relevant peer-reviewed journal and stick to the format giving in the “Instructions to the Authors”. You should state which format you are following on the title page. Try to pick a journal that is highly relevant and realistic for your research. Your supervisor can help guide you on this.

Note that the format of the dissertation should be in the kind of format used to submit to a journal (i.e. double-spaced, line numbers etc.), as outlined in the “Instructions to Authors”. You aren’t aiming to replicate what a finished published paper looks like (i.e. with columns etc.). Do, however, ensure that you EMBED figures on the relevant pages (rather than include them at the end), as this makes it much easier for staff to quickly mark without having to flick back and forth.

The size limit is 50,000 characters (including spaces, but excluding references and figure legends). You may use an Appendix (Supplementary Materials Section) to place some essential raw data in addition to the main text. However, the main text must contain references to all supplementary items (tables, figures, etc), just like in a published paper.

Figures and legends, line drawings, graphs, charts, and chemical formulae should be professionally prepared and labelled. Tables should be presented concisely and logically.

50
COURSEWORK Conference poster

Most scientific conferences are organised around oral presentations and more informal “poster sessions”, which are often used as an opportunity for networking. To enable staff and students to network more (and also to develop another presentational skill), we now do posters rather than talks at the end of the year.

The poster should be A1 in size and needs to be submitted by the appropriate deadline for printing at the universities printing and binding unit (no cost is incurred for students). Examples of research posters are dotted around the campus, but at a minimum your poster should have an easy-to-follow structure that conveys the following information i) Study aims/hypothesis ii) Brief rationale iii) Methods iv) Results v) Brief interpretation of results. Marks will be awarded for clarity and presentation, so it is important to consider whether the poster quickly delivers it’s intended message to the observer. You will be expected to stand next to your poster and answer questions (as in a real conference).

10
COURSEWORK Reply to comments letter

You are expected to hand in a full draft of your thesis about 3 weeks before the final version is due, so that you can get the maximum opportunity to revise and improve it. The process will be the similar to that used in the peer review of scientific papers submitted to a journal (with a bit of additional self-reflection). This will provide you with excellent experience if you choose a career in research and is also relevant for many workplaces, such as consultancy, where you might receive feedback from a colleague before sending off a report to a client. It will also enhance your chances of getting a thesis that can easily be converted into a published paper. Your supervisor will return the draft with comments added to the text and a brief letter giving an overview of the main points that need attention. This will be returned to you so that you can respond to them. You should prepare a letter (guideline word count, maximum 1000 words) explaining how you responded to the comments of your supervisor, with an (honest) evaluation of your final dissertation write-up and what you think you’ve learnt from your fourth year of studying.

Your letter should contain the following; (i) Response to your supervisors comments; (ii) A summary of why your research is original and what it contributes to the field; (iii) Why your research should be published in the journal you have selected as the format for your dissertation.

10
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT Dissertation draft

You are expected to hand in a full draft of your dissertation about 3 weeks before the final version is due, so that you can get the maximum opportunity to revise and improve it. The process will be the similar to that used in the peer review of scientific papers submitted to a journal (with a bit of additional self-reflection). This will provide you with excellent experience if you choose a career in research and is also relevant for many workplaces, such as consultancy, where you might receive feedback from a colleague before sending off a report to a client. It will also enhance your chances of getting a thesis that can easily be converted into a published paper. Your supervisor will return the draft with comments added to the text and a brief letter giving an overview of the main points that need attention. This will be returned to you so that you can respond to them. You will then amend your dissertation for final submission.

Your draft should be prepared to the best of your ability and be as complete as possible, to get the most constructive feedback from your supervisor, following the guidance for the dissertation assessment.

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Teaching and Learning Strategy

Hours
 

In this course, students undertake individually supervised research projects. This involves one-to-one contact with the supervisor on project planning, execution and analysis.

 
 

Each student will plan his/her research project in collaboration with the supervisor BEFORE the experimental work commences.

 
 

Laboratory-based students have to be supervised by an experiences researcher.

 
 

Students who undertake fieldwork have to plan and discuss the project with the supervisor before the work starts.

 
 

All students will take part in regular group meetings and seminars.

 
 

The dissertation should be submitted as a well worked out draft to the supervisor before submission.

 
 

All students will present their work in a mini-symposium at the end of the course.

 

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Management - Able to utilise, coordinate and control resources (human, physical and/or financial)
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Courses including this module