Criteria Used in Evaluation of Independent Study Reports
These comments attempt to clarify the goals of Bio. 390 and 490 as we perceive them, and to alert you to what we will be thinking about as we read your reports. We intend here to clarify the aspects of your research and written reports that we value most highly. We hope these comments are useful to you as you think about your research, and later as you prepare your progress report and final report.
- Degree of difficulty of the project.--Some projects are "safer," more narrow in design, or tread more familiar ground than others. Where your project fits in this continuum is not something you should worry about--in large part it is your adviser's responsibility to help you find a project that is not impossible to do in the time available, and to ensure that it is challenging, asks interesting questions, and has clear focus. Evaluators recognize that some projects are higher risk ventures than others, and make allowance for this in their evaluation.
- Actual importance or novelty of findings.--Although some projects may lead to publication and be blessed with beautiful, definitive results, this is a very minor criterion of a successful Bio. 390 or 490 project. You may actually learn more from a project in which the findings are very modest and inconclusive, and your evaluators may be more impressed by the way you wrestle with such results than by less thoughtful treatment of "beautiful" results. Bio. 390 and 490 are supposed to help you become a scientist in your approach, analysis and thought processes, and your project will be judged on the evidence that you have progressed in that direction. Importance or novelty of findings, in and of itself, is no real criterion of that progress.
- Adequate analysis and understanding of your data and their significance.
- Larger perspective on the questions being asked.--These criteria are much more important in evaluation of your project than the first two. Do not forget this in your rush to amass data! Evaluators will be looking for evidence that you have thought about your findings, about how they bear on your original questions, and about the larger picture into which your project fits.
- Adequacy of literature search.--It is expected that you do a conscientious job here, and to the extent possible make connections between the work of others and your own. The relevant literature will be much more extensive in the case of some projects than others; do not worry about the number of entries in your "literature cited" list, so long as you have made a real effort to find literature and use it. Your evaluators will be rather discerning in this regard.
- Clarity of presentation, grammatical writing, and careful organization.
- Care in preparation of tables, figures, and typescript.
- Careful adherence to prescribed guidelines.--These last three criteria are relatively easy to apply to any written report, and you will be badly hurt if you do not pay adequate attention to these aspects. It is easy for evaluators to recognize a sloppy job, and it is easy for you to avoid a sloppy job, simply by saving enough time at the end of your project to do a careful final preparation. Clear writing and organization will come more easily to some of you than others, but whether you consider yourself a good writer or a poor one, do not expect one draft to be all you will need!
Your final report--and your progress report--are too important to simply be thrown together. Care in writing, attention to details, adequate analysis of your results and careful thought about their meaning--these, together with evidence of careful planning and procedures, are the criteria that are really important in the ultimate evaluation of your project. Except for your adviser, those evaluating your work will be basing their judgment almost entirely on your write-up (together with your oral defense, if you are an honors candidate). If you think far in advance about what is expected in your write-up, you will undoubtedly turn out a stronger product.