Senior Thesis

Members of the Biology faculty pride themselves on being able to offer Villanova undergraduates the opportunity to be involved in meaningful biological research. We welcome all qualified students to consider including a research experience in their undergraduate curriculum.

Undergraduate research may be conducted over a single semester, or over more than a year. To get a taste of research, students may arrange with a faculty member to take Directed Research (Bio 6509), in which they complete a project lasting one semester. Any Biology major having a GPA of at least 3.0 can work toward a senior thesis (Bio 6609, 6610, 6709) that would involve at least two semesters of research for credit.

Completion of the full Senior Thesis sequence will fulfill the Castone Requirement in the Core Curriculum.

List of Recently Completed Senior Theses

Student         Mentor Thesis Title
Rayna Abraham   Dr. Troy Shirangi
Genes, Synapses, and Behavior: how the dissatisfaction gene regulates synaptic development and courtship behavior in Drosophila
Emily Burton   Dr. Robert Curry Extra-pair paternity in a rapidly moving hybrid zone: confounding factor for analysis of fitness consequences of interbreeding?
Ella Cappello   Dr. Elaine Youngman The role of endogenous siRNAs in RNA quality control pathways
Zachary Davis            Dr. Aaron Bauer Phylogeny, function and structural constraint: using computed tomography (CT) to digitally dissect the factors influencing the morphology of the gecko post-cranial skeleton
Matthew Dula   Dr. Robert Curry Variations in social network structure between irruption and non-irruption years in two species of chickadee
Andrew Freed   Dr. Samantha Chapman Fertilization of mangroves increases fungal endophyte species in offspring
Emily Harris
  Dr. Janice Knepper Effects of Mutating One or More Zinc Fingers on ZC3H8 Localization
Genevieve Hughes   Dr. Dennis Wykoff Identification of transcription factor binding sites in the THI pathway in budding yeast
Sarah Humrich   Dr. Anil Bamezai Lipid droplet like its red hot: Characterizing the function of lipid droplets present in the thymus
Emma Lang   Dr. Dennis Wykoff Differing mechanisms of transcriptional induction of thiamine starvation responsive promoters in C. glabrata and S. cerevisiae
Gabby Manilla   Dr. Elaine Youngman Investigating the Heritability of Learned Pathogen Avoidance and its Effects on Gene Expression in Caenorhabditis elegans
Katherine Monroe   Dr. Robert Curry Genetics and culture both influence male song behavior in a Black-Capped and Carolina chickadee hybrid zone
John Nahas   Dr. Dennis Wykoff The Importance of Regulatory Factor THI3 across Ascomycota Fungi Thiamine Biosynthesis


Mike Nolan- Tamariz
  Dr. Vik Iyengar Two’s company, three’s a crowd: social situations alter group dynamics in the maritime earwig (Anisolabis maritima)
Alessandro Padovani   Dr. Michael Russell Tube foot regeneration and function in the purple sea urchin strongylocentrotus purpuratus
Katie Selhorst   Dr. Dennis Wykoff Identification of necessary DNA promoter elements in the thiamine pathway of candida glabrata
Architha Sudhakar   Dr. James Wilson A new biofilm gene pair in salmonella: Investigating the role of uncharacterized S. Typhimurium genes in a stationary phase biofilm
Vaishnavi Warrior   Dr. James Wilson Investigating DNA damage repair regulation as a potential mechanism for the iprA gene

How much research you complete is up to you, in consultation with your advisor and supervising faculty member—but the effort is virtually never wasted: few things can better help you stand out from your competitors when it comes time to apply for graduate school, professional programs, or employment. Until you try your hand at research, you can’t make an informed decision about pursuing (or ruling out) many career options.

How do I get started in research at Villanova?

Learn about the research activities of our faculty as soon as you can. Visit the faculty pages on this web site to gain a sense of what different members of the faculty do. 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!

Work part-time as a laboratory or field assistant during the regular school year, or over the summer. Ample opportunities exist 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.

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 subdisciplines. 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.

Students completing the degree requirements for the Bachelor of Science, Honors Program (B.S.H.) are required to complete a Senior Thesis, but you do not have to be an Honors major to do research for a thesis; you just have to be an interested Biology major with a GPA over 3.0.

Research funding

Opportunities exist to obtain financial support for your research activity. In particular, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences now has a generous program for Undergraduate Research Grants for summer work or for research during the school year. Students conducting research under the direction of Biology faculty mentors have had great success in this program. Additional possibilities exist for support from faculty research grants or from external student award programs. Contact your advisor or research mentor for more information.