Dissertation in Biological Sci
Run by School of Natural Sciences
30 Credits or 15 ECTS Credits
Semester 1 & 2
Organiser: Dr Graeme Shannon
Overall aims and purpose
The final year dissertation offers students the opportunity to gain personal experience in the design, execution, analysis and presentation of a scientific study. Students will be offered a wide choice of topics, and will be encouraged to develop their own ideas so that they can explore areas of particular personal interest. They will be expected to demonstrate motivation and self-discipline, carry out the work in an organised and methodical manner, and the outcome will be a clear demonstration of their abilities to potential employers.
(a) Frame testable hypotheses, state them explicitly and express them precisely. They will be asked to anticipate all possible outcomes and consider interpretation of possible results.
(b) Independently analyse data or information retrieved from various sources.
(c) Find and critically evaluate the relevant literature.
(d) Reflect on the extent to which their hypotheses and assumptions were tested, the effect of their work on the subject paradigm, and any new and testable hypotheses that their research has exposed.
(e) Produce and maintain a portfolio (or learning log) to demonstrate development of ideas and skills over the course of the project, and for practical projects, this will include field or laboratory notes, and the collation and analysis of data.
(f) Be expected to reflect on their progress throughout their dissertation, and more formally at the mid-point and end of their project.
(g) Present their research as a manuscript in the style of a specified scientific publication, appropriate to the field, and also as an oral presentation to staff and peers.
Individual projects will vary, and may include literature-based research; analysis of existing data; bio-informatics or modelling projects; laboratory projects; development of educational or other resources; field studies. Projects may be carried out by individuals or students working in teams.
All dissertations will allow students to gain personal experience of the approach, practice, evaluation and presentation of scientific research. Students will design their own investigations with guidance from a supervisor, and then frame and test hypotheses and practise application of appropriate scientific techniques, though individual contexts, methods and outcomes will vary.
C- to C+
C: Dissertation is good in some areas but only satisfactory in others. The student was dependent on their supervisor throughout the dissertation. Conscientious and focussed on subject matter, the dissertation tends towards a descriptive, rather than a critical, analytical approach. Awareness of the limitations of the dissertation are demonstrated at a basic level. Methodology is basically sound, but underdeveloped in some areas, with limited breadth and/or depth. Some attempt at personal reflection, with limited ability to identify own requirements for development. Satisfactory presentation which is mostly clear, with some evidence of logical progression and some minor inaccuracies.
D: Dissertation is no more than satisfactory in most areas and weak in some. The student was heavily dependent on the supervisor, and showed little evidence of intellectual engagement. Narrow range of literature and/or data employed, with little awareness of the limitations of the study. Methodology is barely adequate and flawed in some areas. Little awareness of relevant issues. Cursory attempt at self-reflection, with little awareness of own development needs. Presentation is poor, and some errors/inaccuracies may be serious.
B: Dissertation is good in most areas and strong in some. Student often worked independently, with occasional input from their supervisor. Dissertation contains some good examples of critical analysis, but limited originality and creativity in use of ideas, concepts and theory. Some awareness of the limitations of research, but the understanding of the reasons for, and implications of this are variable. Some weaknesses in methodology, but good attempt at the research process. Evidence of insight and an understanding of the subject. Has addressed most or all aspects of the assignment. Reasonable attempt at personal reflection and identification of own development needs. Good presentation which is clear and mostly logical, with errors which are mostly minor, though some may be more substantive.
A*: Dissertation is exemplary in most areas, and demonstrates independence, originality and creativity in use of ideas, concepts and theory. Sophisticated methodology demonstrating exceptional skill and sensitivity of approach. Highly effective and sustained arguments demonstrating an impressive understanding of the topic and associated issues. Advanced ability to reflect on and influence own personal development. Presentation is clear, logical, imaginative, creative and original. Almost flawless.
A+: Dissertation is very strong in most areas, and exemplary in some. An independent student, showing a very high standard of critical analysis with originality and creativity. Ideas, concepts and theory employed to very good effect. Sound methodology demonstrating excellent level of skill and sensitivity of approach. Effective and sustained arguments demonstrating a high level of understanding of the topic and associated issues. Demonstrates strong ability to reflect on and influence own personal development. Presentation is of a very high standard: clear and logical with few errors.
A: Dissertation is very strong in most areas. Student worked independently, and showed a high standard of critical analysis with some originality and/or creativity. Ideas, concepts and theory used to good effect. Sound methodology demonstrating very high level of skill and sensitivity of approach. Coherent and articulate arguments demonstrating a clear understanding of the topic and associated issues. Demonstrates good ability to reflect on and influence own personal development. Presentation of a high standard: clear and logical with only a few minor errors.
A-: Dissertation is strong in most areas. The student was largely independent, demonstrating a very good standard of critical analysis with some originality and/or creativity. Ideas, concepts and theory used to good effect. Sound methodology demonstrating high level of skill and sensitivity of approach. Coherent and articulate arguments demonstrating a clear understanding of the topic and has addressed most of the associated issues. Shows ability to reflect upon and influence own personal development. Presentation of a high standard: clear and logical with only minor errors.
Formulate a hypothesis on a defined topic in the biosciences, plan and execute research or development work, evaluate the outcomes and draw valid conclusions.
Apply knowledge and understanding of the biosciences to address familiar and unfamiliar problems.
Analyse, synthesise and assimilate diverse information (from a variety of sources) in a critical manner, using numerical and IT skills where appropriate.
Demonstrate qualities such as time management, problem solving, independence and teamwork, and take responsibility for self-managed learning and personal development.
Clearly communicate the results of their study both confidently and effectively, orally and in writing by giving a conference-style talk to staff and peers, and producing a manuscript in the style of a scientific paper for publication in a specified journal (e.g. Bioscience Horizons, Plos One, OPEN BIOLOGY).
Construct reasoned arguments to support a position; demonstrate an appreciation of the validity of different points of view.
The dissertation is written up in the style of an academic paper in a journal - the key format used for the presentation of scientific results. This provides students with the valuable experience of writing a scientific paper based on their own research, including: background information on the study area and specific aims and objectives of the project (introduction), a detailed record of how the data were collected (methods), robust analysis of the data and presentation of key findings (results) and the interpretation of these in the context of the published literature (discussion).
The supervisor’s mark is used to assess the student's overall approach to the research project. It takes into account the following key questions:
• How much initiative and commitment did the student show? • How thoroughly did the student plan, conduct and document the experiments? • How did the student tackle problems which occurred during the project? • How well did the student use the opportunity to collect data (e.g. did they collect more or less data than expected/possible?).
The conference presentation (10 mins + 2mins for questions) provides students with the opportunity to explain their research project to an audience in an oral format. This is a medium that is commonly used by scientists to communicate the results of their research. It combines public speaking with the use of computer software to generate visuals that illustrate the key components of the project. The presentation is also a valuable forum for the student to review their progress and obtain feedback.
Teaching and Learning Strategy
Throughout the year: approx. 4 x 1 hour lectures (including information on module introduction, portfolio preparation, management & reflection; preparation for oral presentation; preparation of manuscript)
An independent or team research investigation of either existing resources or practical investigations in the field and/or laboratory etc. Individual titles will vary, and may include literature-based research; analysis of existing data; bio-informatics or modelling projects; laboratory projects; development of educational or other resources; field studies. Projects may be carried out by individuals or students working in teams but must be written up individually.
The dissertation will be written up individually and all components should be supported by private study and numerical or practical work where appropriate to the project. The investigation will either involve analysis of published research, with consideration of numerical, statistical or bioinformatical methods as appropriate for the research topic, or involve practical investigations in the laboratory and/or field. The work will be presented as a manuscript in the style of a specified scientific publication appropriate to the field, and also as an oral presentation to staff and peers. Students will be required to maintain a portfolio or learning log, in which they record their progress, and they will be expected to reflect on their development at the mid-point and end of their investigation. A supervisor’s mark will be awarded for motivation, self-discipline and overall performance during the dissertation.
At least 4 x 1 hour tutorial meetings with supervisor.
Full day (approx. 8 hours or more) attending presentations by peers and giving own presentation.
- 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.
- Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
- 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
- Mentoring - Able to support, help, guide, inspire and/or coach others
- Caring - Showing concern for others; caring for children, people with disabilities and/or the elderly
- 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
- Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in
Subject specific skills
- Develop and identify research question(s) and/or hypotheses as the basis for investigation.
- Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
- Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
- Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
- Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
- Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
- Awareness of the concepts of spatial and temporal scale in understanding processes and relationships.
- Appreciation of the reciprocal nature of human-environmental relationships.
- Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
- Employ appropriate social-survey methods.
- Preparation of effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.
- Engagement with current developments in the biosciences and their application.
- Appreciation of the complexity and diversity of life processes through the study of organisms.
- Engage in debate and/or discussion with specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language.
- Undertake field and/or laboratory studies of living systems.
- Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.
- Understand the provisional nature of information and appreciate competing and alternative explanations.
- Recognize the moral, ethical and social issues relating to the subject.
- Collect and record data generated by a diverse range of methods.
- Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation
Courses including this module
Compulsory in courses:
- C100: BSC Biology year 3 (BSC/B)
- C511: BSc Biology with Biotechnology year 3 (BSC/BIOT)
- C102: BSc Biology (with International Experience) year 3 (BSC/BITE)
- C300: BSC Zoology year 3 (BSC/Z)
- C305: BSc Zoology with Animal Behaviour (with International Exp) year 3 (BSC/ZABIE)
- C3L2: BSC Zoology with Conservation year 3 (BSC/ZC)
- C319: BSc Zoology with Climate Change Studies year 3 (BSC/ZCC)
- C3L3: BSc Zoology with Conservation with International Experience year 3 (BSC/ZCIE)
- C304: BSC Zoology with Herpetology year 3 (BSC/ZH)
- C324: BSc Zoology with International Experience year 3 (BSC/ZIE)
- C3C1: BSc Zoology with Marine Zoology (with International Exp) year 3 (BSC/ZMB)
- C350: BSC Zoology with Marine Zoology year 3 (BSC/ZMZ)
- C3D3: BSC Zoology with Animal Behaviour year 3 (BSC/ZWAB)
- C101: MBiol Master of Biology year 3 (MBIOL/BIO)
- C510: MBiol Biology with Biotechnology year 3 (MBIOL/BIOT)
- C302: MZool Zoology with Animal Behaviour year 3 (MZOOL/AB)
- CD34: MZool Zoology with Conservation year 3 (MZOOL/CONS)
- C303: MZool Zoology with Herpetology year 3 (MZOOL/HERP)
- C325: MZool Zoology with Animal Behaviour with International Exp year 3 (MZOOL/ZAIE)
- C321: MZool Zoology with Climate Change year 3 (MZOOL/ZCC)
- C326: MZool Zoology with Herpetology with International Experience year 3 (MZOOL/ZHIE)
- C353: MZool Zoology with Marine Zoology year 3 (MZOOL/ZMZ)
- C306: MZool Zoology (with International Experience) year 3 (MZOOL/ZOIE)
- C301: MZool Master of Zoology year 3 (MZOOL/ZOO)