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Research Expectations

Research requires time and effort. It is often frustrating, discouraging and sometimes even tedious. It is also frequently exciting, enlightening, and very rewarding.

Effective researchers are curious, intensely interested in their research, knowledgeable in their field, aware of other research in their area, and effective communicators. Student researchers are expected to grow in their research abilities as they progress in a project. This means their interest in and knowledge about the project will deepen over time, they will increasingly take ownership of the project, they will develop the ability to work autonomously, and they will increase their understanding of the chemistry and improve their ability to communicate that understanding.

Students are encouraged to pursue a project over several semesters and/or summers, but even a one-semester experience will be beneficial.

Time Commitment

Time spent on projects includes laboratory work (bench or computational), library research, and any writing or preparatory work.  A majority of the total time spent on the project should be time spent in laboratory work.


  • 1/4 Credit – Students registered for CHEM 395 for 1/4 credit are expected to spend 4-6 hours per week working on their project.

  • 1/2 Credit – Students registered for CHEM 395 for 1/2 credit are expected to spend 6-8 hours per week working on their project.

  • 1.0 Credit – Students registered for CHEM 395 for 1 credit are expected to spend 12-14 hours per week working on their project.


Chem 395 students are expected to meet with their faculty advisor regularly (generally, at least weekly) to discuss their progress on the project and plan for the next steps.  Students must be prepared for this meeting.  That means not only carrying out the work, but also interpreting the results and being prepared to discuss them intelligently.

Additionally, students are required to give two presentations during the semester. One presentation is an approximately 10 minute update on their progress, generally about halfway through the semester. The second presentation is a 15 minute final report given at the end of the semester. Please check the seminar schedule for the dates of these presentations.

Oral Presentations

Oral presentations are the major form of dissemination of newly acquired scientific data. Research students must become comfortable with this type of presentation. As indicated above, students will give two oral presentations during the semester.

Scientific presentations should be in the form of transparencies or a computer presentation. The best presentations will consist mainly of diagrams or figures, and have only minimal words (for instance, an outline of the major points). You will be describing your research orally, so there is no need to clutter your slides with the exact words you will say (these should be in your notes). Diagrams and figures should be carefully prepared and professional in nature. The tools in ChemDraw can be used to create not only chemical structures but also a variety of other types of figures. For some kinds of figures, Photoshop may also be useful. Be certain that the font used in your presentation is at least 14 pt so that the audience can see it readily. PowerPoint display of extensive tables of tiny numbers is useless to your listeners. If you have a great deal of data to present, be creative in how you break it down and display it. In some cases, extensive numerical or complex data will be more useful in the form of handouts for your audience. Choose backgrounds carefully - many times the backgrounds provided in PowerPoint actually make it more difficult to see your data and figures. In general, don't get carried away with the fancy features of PowerPoint or similar programs. Fancy transitions are not a substitute for a well-thought-out presentation based upon solid work!

Each presentation should include a brief summary of essential background information, highlighting only the most relevant and pertinent facts. If you are new to a project, it is appropriate to spend a bit more time on the introduction. If you are reporting for the "nth" time on an ongoing project, the introductory material should be kept minimal (focus instead on your new results). After presenting the context and justification for your research (the background), you should turn to a description of the specific goals of your research. The bulk of your presentation should follow from this point, as you discuss your methods, results, and interpretation. Finally, one generally closes by giving the audience a sense of what's next in the project. Plan your presentation and practice it to ensure that you can carry it out in the alloted 10 or 15 minute time.

Be prepared to field questions from your audience both during and after your presentation. Faculty will ask you questions to test your comprehension of your research. Some of these questions will test your knowledge of basic facts relevant to your research, for example about background information or equipment you used. Other questions will probe your understanding of your research at a deeper level. These might, for instance, involve asking why you chose a particular method to investigate your experimental question, or you could be asked to consider alternate interpretations of your results. We generally allow about 5 minutes for questions.

Written Reports

All Chem 395 students are expected to prepare a written research report.  The exact nature of this report is up to the research supervisor, however, generally, the report should follow ACS guidelines (see your advisor and the ACS Style Guide for details).  The length of the report should be appropriate for the project and the credit awarded.  Well-written reports may serve as the basis for a thesis in a subsequent semester (writing a thesis is reserved for those students who complete a substantial amount of research).


Students will be evaluated on

  • Their depth of understanding of the project.  What are the goals of their specific project and how does it fit into the greater picture of research in the field?

  • Their knowledge of the relevant literature.

  • Their ability to independently solve problems that arise during the project, design experiments to answer the question at hand, and analyze data and reach conclusions.

  • Their understanding of the research methods used in the project and their ability to use those methods effectively.

  • Their ability to use quantitative, statistical or mathematical models to evaluate their data as appropriate for the project.

  • The quality of oral and written presentations including content, organization, clarity, style, and professionalism.

Evaluation will be based on the oral and written reports and observations by the faculty advisor during the semester.  Expectations will generally increase as students continue research over multiple semesters or summers.


Useful Tips

  • Take ownership of (responsibility for) your project.  The more emotional and intellectual investment you make in the project, the better the experience will be for you.

  • Use your faculty advisor.  Your faculty advisor is very interested not only in your research results, but also in your progress in becoming a good chemist or biochemist.  Ask questions and seek advice.

  • Read the scientific literature relevant to your project and reports by students who did prior work on the project and discuss it with your advisor.  The more you know about the chemistry being done by others, the deeper your understanding of your own project will be.

  • Be honest.  If you make a mistake, record it and move on.  Covering it up will just slow down the research process.

  • In most cases you will be part of an on-going research program involving other students – past, present, and future.  Be a good citizen.  Keep your lab area neat, and clean.  Be courteous in your dealings with other group members.  Take care of equipment.  Do a good job recording your work in your notebook and archiving your data so that future group members can build on your results.