Dissertation Guide for Undergraduates in the School of Biological Sciences Watch

vinylate
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Dissertation Guide for Undergraduates in the School of Biological Sciences

What is a dissertation?
A dissertation, or thesis, is an essay or document submitted to demonstrate eligibility for the award of a qualification, and is also used to present the author's research and/or findings. Dissertations used to be most commonly associated with PhD or master's courses, however it has now become commonplace to write a dissertation as part of a final year for an undergraduate degree course. In this sense, it is often known as a "final year project". The length of a dissertation varies considerably between types of degree, but for a dissertation in the school of biological sciences, you will be typically expected to write between 5,000 to 25,000 words. The amount of time spent on a dissertation is on average 400 hours.

What are the steps involved in carrying out a dissertation?
Dissertations within the school of biological sciences are generally lab based, however a few review-type titles for dissertations are offered at some universities.

Picking a title
Picking a title for your dissertation can be tricky, as for many degree courses it makes up a third of your final year mark. When picking a title there are a number of things that you should consider;

Does the topic interest you?
If it doesn't interest you then could you really spend 400 hours on something you think is boring?


Is it intellectually challenging enough?
It may seem like a good idea to pick a dissertation that seems really easy, but if it isn't intellectually challenging enough, chances are you'll get quickly bored with it. If you're thinking about a master's course once finishing your degree, one of the questions they will ask is why you picked that particular dissertation title. "Because it looked easy" isn't a very good answer.

Do you have any experience in the lab work involved?
For most dissertations, they will be based on work you have done before, so you will have some experience which will later prove very useful. However, if you have no experience at all in the lab skills required for a dissertation title, a lot of time may be wasted trying to get the methodology right.

Do you like the supervisor?

This is actually more important than it sounds. Many dissertation supervisors are lecturers you will have met before. For many dissertations, students must be "signed off" by the supervisors before submitting their choices, to ensure that they are able to carry out the work required of them. Dissertation supervisors also spend quite a bit of time with you, and are there to mentor you and direct you. For many dissertations, a percentage of the mark is based on a report from your supervisor, so a good relationship is very important. Dissertation supervisors can also be contacted in future in order to provide a reference for you.


Literature Review
Many dissertation supervisors, and even universities, insist that a literature review is carried out before any practical work takes place. This is basically a review of all current published work on the subject of your dissertation, followed by a hypothesis. The literature review should contain current understanding of the topic of your dissertation, any significant methodological approaches (especially those you may be thinking of using yourself) and some sort of research proposal (in the form of a hypothesis). The literature review requires a table of contents, with clear formatting. It is also a requirement that the literature review is referenced correctly and fully, with a full reference list provided.

Risk assessment
Depending on the nature of the work involved for your dissertation, and whether it is lab based or not, you may be required to fill out and sign certain risk assessment forms. You should check with your dissertation supervisor whether this is a requirement of you before you carry out any lab work.

Lab work
For lab based dissertations, lab work is carried out either over the summer break, or within the first term. It is generally accepted that lab work will take no longer than 10 weeks, or 200 hours. This is to ensure that no student has any advantage over another, by collecting more data.

The type of lab work involved completely depends on the title of dissertation that you pick - but it will be more than likely that the practical side of the dissertation will be based upon or related to lab work you have previously carried out during your former years of study.

Lab book
It is highly important that if you are carrying out any lab work at all, that a lab book must be kept. Lab books are usually bound, as no pages must be ripped out or removed from the book. Lab books are the property of the dissertation supervisor and the lab, so at many universities a standard-issue lab book is given. You must keep your lab book so that if something were to happen to you, then your work could be continued in your absence.

It is likely that you will have kept a lab book before whilst carrying out practical work within the course, however you must remember to be thorough. Everything you do, must be written in the lab book. This includes methodologies for preparation of any chemicals, or media used, if you are using bacteria or cell lines, names, strains and where they came from is important to note. Any materials and methods used must be noted, along with results in the forms of diagrams, photographs, tables and graphs etc. Some dissertation supervisors will ask to see your lab book (some even daily, with sign-offs).

Statistical analysis
Once you have collected all of your data, some sort of statistical analysis is required. Your dissertation supervisor will help you in deciding what type of analysis is appropriate.

The write up
Once all of the above has been carried out, you are now ready to write up your dissertation. The number of hours expected for the write up usually matches that of the practical work. (Approx 200 hours)

Dissertation write up structure

Style guides
The style of your dissertation may be strictly outlined by your university. Such restrictions may include font size, typeface, line spacing and margins.

The syle requirements set out by The University of Reading are as follows;
  • The final project report must be in the form of a thesis.
  • It should be word processed and bound between soft boards, or in a plastic folder.
  • It should be presented on one side of A4 paper.
  • There is to be a 1.5inch margin to the left 1inch margins on all other sides.
  • A clear 12point typeface is preferred (such as Times New Roman, or Helvetica).
  • Pages should be numbered consecutively on the bottom edge of the page.


Sections to be included
The specific sections that you should include may be set out by your university, although many universities provide only a rough guide. The University of Reading states that the following sections should be included within the dissertation report;

Summary/Abstract page
This is a single page abstract which briefly describes the aims, findings and achievements of the report.

Contents page
Self explanatory, really. It should clearly indicate the sections and subsections used within the dissertation report, and on which page these can be found. This section is usually completed last, and will be merged with the contents page of your literature review.

Introduction
This is basically your literature review (completed before your lab work). It should contain a review of the literature published on the subject of your dissertation, and provides a background. This should be followed by a section which sets out the aims and objectives of the project, usually in the form of a hypothesis. All relevant work must be cited.

Materials and methods
This is the section usually written first, as it is the easiest to write. Methods should be quoted in more detail than in a published scientific paper, it should be detailed enough so that a scientist not in the specific field of the dissertation topic can ascertain what has been done.

Results
Often written after the materials section. It should include data in the form of diagrams, tables, figures and graphs. Any statistical analysis carried out is included in this section. Any original, raw data can be included in an appendix.

Discussion
This is by far the hardest section to write, as it takes a lot of thought. This should include any conclusions you can draw from your results, their relevance to other results, and indications of any further work that could be carried out to extend or confirm them. This section can be combined with the results section if desired.

References
Full references, including titles of papers, should be formatted consistently. (At the UoR, they ask that you copy a style of a journal of your choice, and choose a journal). You should remember that only references that you have read yourself should be used in the reference list. Use web-citations sparingly.

Acknowledgements
Optional, but it would be nice if you could thank everyone else in the lab for helping you out.

Appendices (if necessary)
Not everyone includes these, but if you feel like you're running out of words you can add extra info here. E.g now to make up luria broth. Appendices are also used to include raw data which you have not analysed.

Submission of the report
It is acceptable that you will ask your supervisior to read through drafts of your report before you submit it. However, you should not ask your supervisor to read through your final draft before submission.

At many universities, you are personally expected to incurr any printing and binding costs. Once you have your dissertation in the format required, you can submit your report. Your report may be required in multiple copies, and even an electronic copy may be asked for submission so that it can be scanned for plagarism.

Example project titles
The following are example titles for dissertations started by final year students in September 2009. At some universities, it is possible that you can make up your own title, however this usually requires acceptance of the title by a project supervisor who is willing to supervise you.

  • Environmental-bacterial interactions: influence of environmental factors on bacterial growth
  • and gene expression
  • Ecology and conservation of house sparrows (Passer domesticus)
  • Factors affecting “knowledge of nature”: should we be concerned?
  • Phenological studies using data from the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale
  • The regulation of Hormone Sensitive Lipase by Melanocortin Peptides
  • Resistance of Staphylococcus aureus to organic chloramine stress
  • The quadrant incidence of female breast cancer
  • Image analysis of cell migration
  • Bioinformatic analysis of cupin proteins
  • Building functional signalling networks using platelet proteomics data
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Pheonixx
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Interesting. But why post it?
Every uni has completely different rules for dissertations and every uni issues a similar guide to the one you posted.

Is it for alevel students to know more about uni life?
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vinylate
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(Original post by Pheonixx)
Interesting. But why post it?
Every uni has completely different rules for dissertations and every uni issues a similar guide to the one you posted.

Is it for alevel students to know more about uni life?
I posted it as a wiki article, and then was told to post it in this forum where it would "gain more exposure".
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Pheonixx
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(Original post by hannahradford)
I posted it as a wiki article, and then was told to post it in this forum where it would "gain more exposure".
ahhhhh
It was interesting to read, manchester doesn't really have a dissertation, its called a project but we have a seperate lit review in the first semester related to the project to hand in (12 pages, size 10 (about 6500 words)). The lab work is carried out in the second semester between end of january exams and easter.

Maybe we should create a wiki of the third year dissertations/projects from various unis. I would have replied with 'it might get more exposure, but unless it is a sticky; it will fall down the pages after a day and no one will see it.'
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vinylate
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(Original post by Pheonixx)
ahhhhh
It was interesting to read, manchester doesn't really have a dissertation, its called a project but we have a seperate lit review in the first semester related to the project to hand in (12 pages, size 10 (about 6500 words)). The lab work is carried out in the second semester between end of january exams and easter.

Maybe we should create a wiki of the third year dissertations/projects from various unis. I would have replied with 'it might get more exposure, but unless it is a sticky; it will fall down the pages after a day and no one will see it.'
Well I had posted it as a wiki, but for some reason it was deleted I had it restored so that I could copy it, and then one of the wiki helpers told me to post it here. But you're quite right, it will get lost unless it is made into a sticky. Perhaps in that case, it would be worth me reposting it as a wiki, and then you and others could add to it as you see fit?
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thegrassisgreenerontheotherside
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In Brighton Uni it would appear that for the Biomedical Sciences, because the course is accredited by the IBMS, they pretty much HAVE to write up a project that includes data and spend a lot of time in labs researching and gathering data. On the other hand, for Biological Sciences, if you choose to write a dissertation, you usually do it in the form of a grant proposal form which appears to be only 3500 words.. a far cry from the 10000+ words the Biomeds have to write up..
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LANG23
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(Original post by thegrassisgreenerontheotherside)
In Brighton Uni it would appear that for the Biomedical Sciences, because the course is accredited by the IBMS, they pretty much HAVE to write up a project that includes data and spend a lot of time in labs researching and gathering data. On the other hand, for Biological Sciences, if you choose to write a dissertation, you usually do it in the form of a grant proposal form which appears to be only 3500 words.. a far cry from the 10000+ words the Biomeds have to write up..
Hi!

I'm currently studying Biomed in Brighton and we've just had our options for third year research project. Did you study/are you studying there as well? If so it would be great if I could get some advice from you!

Thank you in advance!
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