Undergraduate Research and Senior Thesis

One key to research success is to get involved as early as possible during your undergraduate career. Beginning senior thesis research in the fall of your Senior year might be OK for someone doing only library research, but scientific research in the laboratory or field usually involves unpredictability and therefore frustration and delays. The amount of time needed to complete a project often varies by biological subdiscipline. In molecular biology, for example, it may make sense to wait until you have taken advanced coursework before attempting a laboratory project. (Still, there’s much to be gained from prior exposure to the activities of a lab as an hourly worker assisting with the research.) Also, lab-based biology can usually be done throughout the year, including winter, so you can work throughout Senior year. In contrast, research in field biology (e.g., ecology or behavior) may require more advance planning, especially if a phenomenon of interest (e.g., breeding or germination) only occurs during the summer. It’s not uncommon for students doing ecological studies to begin working with a faculty member during their Sophomore year, with their major "push" for data collection taking place during the summer between their Junior and Senior year. The earlier you have data in hand, the more time you will have to complete a satisfying and scientifically valuable senior thesis.

The commitment of time and effort required for completing a senior thesis is probably going to be greater than you might think. Your senior thesis will involve extensive planning, data collection, analysis, and preparation of the thesis document (usually a report comprising 20 or more pages, along with figures and tables reporting your original results). Thus, a thesis is not worth doing unless you are able to make this a high priority during your Senior year (and, perhaps, the year before that). And yes, it does involve a lot more work than that required for the biology degree. Still, completing a thesis is without doubt worth the effort if done well. You have an opportunity at Villanova to gain research experience through work on a thesis that students at many schools are not given. Further, it will give you an opportunity to make a scientific contribution that will be significant in your applications to graduate and professional school. The Department of Biology would be happy to see more of its majors succeed in meeting this challenge.

* Faculty Research Interest 2014.pdf
Faculty Research Interests 2014

How does one get involved in biological research at Villanova?

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Learn about the research activities of our faculty as soon as you can. In recent years, faculty members have made "guest appearances" in General Biology to introduce students to their areas of study. Follow this up by going to see any faculty member whose work interests you: make an appointment, or just drop by during office hours. It never hurts to ask about opportunities that might exist!

Get involved by working part-time as a laboratory or field assistant during the regular school year, or over the summer. Ample opportunities exist (at Villanova and elsewhere) for helping faculty and their graduate students in the tasks that are central to biological research, while earning hourly pay. Duties may include laboratory preparation, care of animals, preparation of specimens, computerized data entry, or collection of data or samples in the lab or field. Working in several different labs can expose you to a range of possibilities for independent study, while helping you get to know several different faculty with whom you might want to work. Some faculty members will suggest a project to get you started; others would prefer to see you develop a general interest in the work being done, from which ideas for a specific project can develop. Experience gained in this way at Villanova or elsewhere can develop into an independent research project.