FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
About Senior Research
Q What Is the Research Requirement?
A research course in both the BA and BS degree programs in Geology and Environmental Science, consisting of taking one of the following: Geology 491, Geology 494, Geology 497, or Geology 499 for credits ranging from 3 to 6. Although the course is typically taken during the Senior year it can in fact be satisfied any time in your tenure at JMU. Some projects require that work be spread out over two semesters, or two semesters and summer if field work is involved. In these cases course credits are spread accordingly; for example, Geology 497 for 2 credits in the fall, and Geology 497 for 1 or 2 credits in the spring.
Q How Soon Do I Have to Start Working on the Research?
This decision is between you and your advisor. For non-honors projects you should begin thinking seriously about the research in your Junior year, identifying a professor to work with, a project to do, and a time table for doing it. This is especially true for projects involving field work.
Some projects may not be possible if you start too late; indeed may have to be set up in the Spring semester of your junior year. So if you have identified a professor with whom you would like to work, it is never too soon to talk with them, even if your research work is a year away.
For honors projects you should begin EARLY in the junior year. Depending on special conditions some may have to begin preparatory in the 2nd block, and most need to register for 499A in spring semester. Final proposals must be in to the Honors Office by April 1; see below for more details.
Once an advisor is chosen the time table can be firmed up between student and advisor.
Q Why Is There a Research Requirement?
Science is not just knowledge of the natural word, science is a process for exploring the natural world, and that process is research. Much of the training you get in your classes is to inform you of what science has discovered so far. But in the scientific work most of you will do after your graduate, you will be doing scientific research.
The research requirement is to give you first hand experience with some of the methods of doing scientific research, from discovering what is already known, to writing a research proposal, to designing how the experiment will be done, to gathering the data you need to run the experiment, to drawing conclusions, and then finally formally presenting the results of your research.
Graduates of this department have told us that because they entered the work world already knowing how to do research, and even more important, are able to write clear, concise reports, they have been able to advance quickly.
In addition, for those of you planning to attend graduate school, knowing something about doing research will give you a " heads up" on the research you will have to do for your thesis (Masters) or dissertation (PhD).
Q How Can I Satisfy the Requirement?
The research requirement is 3 to 6 hours of credits, and may be satisfied through one or more of four courses listed below.
Q What Kinds of Research Problems Are There to Work On?
Potential projects are limited only by the imagination. But, still, what problems are there to work on? Problems may involve library research, field work, laboratory experiments, or some combination of these.
There are a number of ways to explore for a research topic:
1. In each of your classes think about the things you are learning, whether they intrigue you, and if you would like to learn more about the subject. Doing research on something you really like is a real treat.
2. Talk with professors about problems they have available to work on, or problems they could suggest. This is especially true for profs teaching subjects you like. Sometimes you and the professor can devise a unique study that is both valuable and interesting. Or, go to Available Projects page.
3. Go to the abstracts of previous years' symposiums (1999 Student Research Symposium) to see the kinds of work already done. Knowing the kinds of problems others have done helps you see the range of research possible.
4. For library research, go to the syllabus for Geology 491 (a pdf file) to see a wide range of suggested topics.
5. Past Projects done under various professors are found at Research Projects By Former Students And Research Project Available For the Future.
6. Projects Available can be found at Research Projects By Former Students And Research Project Available For the Future.
7. Go to the library and peruse recent geology journals. See the kind of research currently being published and see if something sparks your interest. Or, more simply, go back to the home page (lower left) listing geology journals on line, and look at article titles, abstracts, and sometimes full text to glean ideas for research.
Q How Do I Find a Professor to Work With?
It can be difficult to find a professor to work with when you have not yet had a lot of geology courses; you have just not " met " many of the faculty. One way to alleviate this is to take as many different classes, with as many different professors, as early as you can.
Alternatively, if in one of your early classes you find a subject you like, plan to take ASAP an upper level course that explores the subject in more detail. It gets you deeper into the subject, and introduces you to the professor whose speciality it is. Or, just go talk to the professor teaching that class, express your interest in the subject, and explore the kinds of research that could be done and the kinds of preparation you should begin.
Bottom line is: if you do find a professor you feel you would like to work with, or a professor who is working in a subject you like, go talk to them about potential research. Or, just go interview some or all the profs to find out what they do, and the kinds of research projects they have available.
See also: What kinds of problems are there to work on?
Q What is Geology 499, Honors Research?
Although Honors research is listed as a geology course, it is in fact done jointly with the Honors Office, and requires separate application to the Honors Office by April 1 of the junior year.
There are three types of honors student, Honors Scholars (30 hours), Subject-Area Honors (24 hours), and Project Only students. Students in all categories are full members of the Honors Program; once a project/thesis proposal is accepted the Project Only students are full-fledged members of the Honors Program with full privileges and responsibilites. Project Only honors students, however, participate only in the seniors honor research project.
Honors research requires a GPA of 3.25, and application to the Honors Office. Upon completion your diploma will read " with distinction". Research projects here do not necessarily differ from those done under Geol 497, but are more formal, and require a bound thesis at the end (theses are bound by the library; all you supply is 3 copies of the finished manuscript.)
In addition, you will have to form a committee by the end of your Junior years consisting of your major advisor, and two readers from either inside or outside the department who will form your Project Advisory Committee, and guide and advise you on your research. Proposal deadlines are November 10 for fall semester and April 1 for spring semester. The project is completed in a three-semester sequence and will carry six hours of undergraduate credit.
As the Honors handbook states:
Honors scholars, subject-area honors students in good standing and other qualified students who want to complete a senior honors project should contact the Honors Program Office at the beginning of their junior year to secure an application, a copy of the Honors Program Project Handbook and information on scheduled orientation meetings (usually held in October and January). Application is made to the Honors Program through a student's major department, with the approval of the department head or school director and the dean of the college. Normally, students register in the fourth block of their junior year for the one-credit 499A (the first of a three-semester sequence of courses) in their major and submit their completed project proposals to the Honors Office no later than April 1.
For more details, see your research advisor, or get a handbook from the Honors Office (Room 107 Hillcrest), or peruse the online version of the handbook (pdf file).
Q Can I Satisfy The Research Requirement With An Internship?
There is also the possibility of satisfying the research requirement through an Internship, Geology 494. An Internship is work outside the university, often during the summer, typically for a government organization, although other internships are possible. Such work is often voluntary, although paid internships also exist.
The same requirements as for other research projects applies here, and you sign up for Geology 494 credits. Note that such projects require a JMU faculty advisor, as well as an advisor where the internship is occurring, and must be formally agreed on by all parties before the internship begins.
Note that although Geology 494 is for 1-3 credits, the research requirement is for 3-6 hours, so if you plan to use an Internship to satisfy the requirement make sure the work is equivalent to at least 3 hours.
Q How Do I Start The Research?
As with most things here, the actual timing and procedure for the research depends on your faculty advisor. Some may ask you to write a formal proposal (or see a rationalle for proposals), good practice since your work upon graduation may involve writing proposals.
One way or another, for your own sake, you should have written down, and have approved by your research advisor, a description of the research, the expectations of the research, any dates or deadlines for completing various parts of the research, the final due date for the project, and how it is expected you will present your results.
Advisors will vary widely in their expectations, depending on the nature of the research. Some projects may be fairly wide open, while others will require more planning, for example to gather data, get samples prepared, line up funding, etc. Note that Honors Project research has its own procedures and deadlines.
Q What is the Student Research Symposium, And How Do I Prepare For It?
The Research Symposium is a mini-scientific meeting organized and run like those held regionally, nationally, and internationally by all scientific societies. Each person presents the results of their research during a 15 minute time interval, followed by a question and answer period, . . . before the next talk begins. Talks follow one after the other until everyone is finished.
Note also that you will be required to turn in an Abstract of the results of your research several weeks before the symposium. Go see some past Abstracts.
There are good ways, and there are poor ways to make an oral presentation. This is an opportunity to learn how to do it right, and gain some experience, so the next time you do it, like for a job interview, or to present a proposal to your boss, you will be successful. Go to the page " Guide To Oral Presentations . . . " (a pdf file) to get information and guidance you need to prepare.
Also, one excellent way to prepare, is to attend the Symposiums in years prior to the year you will be giving yours. Watching and learning from others, and becoming familiar with the rituals of scientific meetings is excellent preparation.
Q Must I Participate In the Research Symposium?
Every person must present the results of their research at the Student Research Symposium held sometime in April. It does not matter what the nature of your research is, you must give a presentation (see how to prepare, above). No faculty member will assign a grade for the research credits until the presentation is complete. This may mean that you will carry an incomplete until the symposium is over.
There are complications some of you may encounter. For example, if you are planning to graduate in December what should you do? There are two choices. One is to have finished your research and presented the results during the Spring semester prior to your last semester in the next fall.
Two is to finish your research in the Fall semester, and then return to give your presentation the next Spring. In this case you will carry an Incomplete for the research credits until that time.
If you have questions, or some special situation, see your faculty advisor or the head of the department to plan the best course of action for making your presentation.
Q What Are the Requirements of the Research; What Do I Have to Produce at the End?
Final requirements vary with professor, and you should talk with a potential research advisor about exactly what they expect. Below are general descriptions of end produces.
HONORS THESIS - GEOLOGY 499
For Honors research it is simple; you must produce a formal thesis, written and formatted according to very specific guidelines provided by the Honors office, have it approved by (they sign the advisors' page) your major advisor, your two readers, and the Honors office, and submit it to be bound and placed in the library where it will be catalogued. In essence, by this process, you have a publication to your name - perhaps your first. See Honors Research above, or the Handbook for Honors Theses (a pdf file)
In addition, you must present the results of your research at the Spring Symposium.
DEPARTMENT RESEARCH - GEOLOGY 491 OR 494 OR 497
Short of an Honors thesis, the major requirement for most senior research projects is oral presentation of the results of your study in the Spring Research Symposium held each April in the department. You must submit an abstract before the presentation, which will be published on the department web page (see past examples). There are a few guidelines for the oral presentation, which can be found at Guide to Oral Presentation of Research Results.
In addition, your advisor may require a formally written report of your research and its results. This requirement will vary from professor to professor, so be sure to find out what your advisor would like. If a written report is part of the project then you can find a generalized outline used for scientific papers at Format for Writing Scientific Papers.
Ultimately, however, what you must produce depends on your research advisor, so if you are interviewing professors looking for an advisor, be sure to ask about their expectations.
Return to Research Home Page
Go to Available Projects page
Format for Writing Scientific Papers