Expectations of Independent Study Students
Following is a copy of a memorandum that Emeritus Professor Richard Fluck gave to each of his independent study students. Although it is a personal document specific to Prof. Fluck's research and laboratory culture, the department feels that it accurately conveys our general philopsophy regarding the responsibilities of our independent study students.
To: Biology 490 Students
From: Richard A. Fluck
Re: Independent Study in my Laboratory
Students pursue independent study for various reasons. Some of you have done research before, have liked it, and want another chance to work on a research problem. Others of you have never done research and want to find out what it's like, whether you like it, and whether you can do it. Some of you look forward to the challenge of working independently and to the possibility of discovering something. Some of you find our standard courses too confining and would like the freedom you think Bio 490 will give you. Probably all of you know that Bio 490 will look good on your record.
I need to know why you want to pursue independent study, because to some extent I will tailor my advising to meet your wishes. What are your goals in pursuing Bio 490? What do you hope to find out about yourself? What do you hope to accomplish?
My philosophy and expectations:
If you work in my laboratory, I will treat you as an apprentice--not as a technician to do my own research. However, except in very unusual circumstances, you will work on a research problem closely related to the ongoing project in my laboratory. Biological research--probably any kind of research--is complex, and it is usually foolish to jump into a new problem without the necessary background. My students and I have been working on various aspects of medaka development since 1974, and in that time we have learned a lot about the medaka embryo and have developed a number of standard procedures that you can use to get started on your own project; these procedures will give you a good base onto which you can add your own protocols.
At any one time, we are usually pursuing several lines of investigation in the laboratory--some of them are old lines, while we have just opened others. I will do my best to describe for you the overall objectives of the study and to describe the alternative projects that you may choose to pursue yourself. I will have pursued each line enough to know that 1) it really is a problem worth pursuing, and 2) there are no major technical problems that will hinder you from pursuing the problem. You and I will then agree that one project is the best one for you to pursue, taking into account your background, interests, and time commitment (one or two semesters); and the likelihood of "success."
Once we have settled on a project, it becomes your project. I will advise you, but you must take responsibility for the project--the literature search, the research, and the writing. And just as I will not come into the laboratory to do your experiments for you, I will not write your thesis or progress reports for you. These are primarily your responsibility; I am here to advise you. I will do my best to give you feedback about your performance and progress along the way. If you are doing well, I'll tell you. If you seem to be slacking off, I'll tell you that. But I will not ride you to get you to work. Frankly, I have better things to do.
The Biology Department's "Department Guidelines for Independent Study" and "Criteria used in Evaluation of Independent Study Projects" contain useful information about independent study. You should read both documents carefully. I would like to state some additional expectations I have:
I expect you to work on your project at least fifteen hours per week. This includes weekly meetings with me and also time spent reading, working in the laboratory, and writing. In fact, most students have found they must work more than fifteen hours if they hope to make reasonable progress. Many of the experiments you will perform will require large blocks of time--up to 10 hours at a stretch; you should plan your schedule accordingly.
I expect all my students to share the routine work in the lab: feeding and otherwise caring for adult fish; collecting, cleaning, counting, and growing embryos; cleaning up after themselves, including washing and putting away their own glassware.
I expect you to meet with me at least one hour each week. The agenda for these meetings is up to you and can include reviewing data, discussing the primary literature, going over experimental protocols, working on drafts of paper, etc.
I usually ask my students to prepare a literature review(s) in the area of their project. Due fairly early in the first semester, these reviews get you into the literature, make you think carefully about your project, and get you started writing. These literature reviews have often formed the basis for the introduction of a thesis.
I expect you to submit drafts of all your documents and to submit them early enough that I have time to study them carefully. We will agree on a series of due dates early in your project and then try to adhere to them. You will write all your documents on a Macintosh computer.
Just a few words about honors. I believe that honors is something that is granted retrospectively. That is, a faculty committee looks at a thesis, the research it represents, and a thesis defense and then decides whether the work is worthy of Honors in Biology. I do not believe that honors should be a major goal of independent study. In fact, if an important reason for you pursuing independent study is that you may qualify for Honors in Biology, I'd rather not work with you. My experience is that this is not a good reason to do research. I love doing research, I have fun doing it. It's worthwhile in and of itself. If your work qualifies you for honors, fine. But honors should not be your major goal.
If you want to have your project considered for Honors in Biology, it is your responsibility to make it worthy of consideration--to make both the research and the writing worthy of honors. I will not repeatedly edit your writing to get it into shape for a suitable thesis. It seems to me that your ability to do this is part of what the committee evaluates.
In evaluating your project, the committee and I will look at two semesters of work--not one semester. Too often students slack off in the fall and then come on strong in the spring, hoping that a strong finish and good thesis will carry them into an honors defense. I will not permit you to do this; I expect you to put in two semesters of good work if you want me to support you application for honors.