Junior Year (Fall and/or Spring Semesters) - Begin to canvass faculty members to educate yourself concerning various research areas and specific topics. Ideally you would have met a faculty member via a class (e.g. as someone who lectured in E262, or one of the other BSES core courses) or lecture/seminar; this would make the faculty members be visible as people with whom you can see yourself interacting. However, this may not be practical; a more typical scenario involves using the web to find information (you can start with the faculty listing on the BSES FACULTY web pages). You should study the web pages of those individuals who best match your interests and see what they are up to. This may involve going to the next site and the next site etc. as you follow the web highway. This stage is followed by direct communication with specific individuals regarding specific topics and projects. When you do contact a faculty member directly, you should compose a brief explanation of who you are and what you are interested in doing. One thing you need to be aware of is that it may not be realistic to expect that they will supervise a project that is entirely new and just what you want to do. For many reasons (logistical, expertise, other students etc.) you should consider a project that is part of the faculty members' ongoing research programs. You also need to show some direction and initiative (if this seems contradictory, it is, but it is very hard for a faculty member to react when you say you are interested in everything); this might mean tailoring your email to each individual in light of his or her research profile. Once you get beyond the sifting-out process, you can sit down and work out the details of the project.
Late Spring, Junior Year - You should be finalizing the details of the project that you will be pursuing with the faculty member. [Please note, once you make a commitment, please realize that the faculty member has also made a commitment to you. Be courteous and keep the faculty member well-informed about what you are doing and what your plans are.] Finalizing things in the late spring will allow sufficient time during the summer for last minute details (small details won’t ever be completely worked out until well into the research project, but it is nice to have this time to get things going smoothly). You might be able to do some background reading or even be involved in a field or laboratory experience that would tie directly into your own research.
Fall, Senior Year - Some aspect of the research should be initiated at this point. Depending on your course load and the nature of the research, this might be the start of the main body of research (with regular meetings with the faculty member or the faculty member's research group 2-3x per week), or it may be a preparatory phase that is less time-demanding. The latter might involve more background reading, initial training on specific procedures, or even enrollment in an advanced course that sets you up for what you will be doing for your research. Depending on when you start and the nature of your research, a majority of the project may be completed by the end of this semester. The remainder of the year would then be a time to let the project mature with final revisions and final touches completed with time for reflection. Depending on the nature of the research and the progress, a senior thesis defense may be appropriate some time toward the end of the fall semester. It might be better to wait until the spring to avoid last-minute rushes and to take advantage of greater flexibility in scheduling (not to mention giving yourself time to catch those silly errors on your own or with your advisor as you go over the project one last time). [Please note, as the BSES program grows, we hope to have an annual spring research symposium where senior research projects will be presented.]
Spring, Senior Year - Research should be in full swing, either because you had the fall to get going, or because you are finishing up with an intense fall semester of work. The most important point is that you cannot just be starting your research at this point in time. Too much time is needed to get things going, not the least of which is your mental ability to become comfortable with the idea that you are able to carry out the activities required to conduct the project. As mentioned, the main research should have adequate time allotted on a regular basis (2-3x per week). If the project is equally divided between fall and spring, then some reduction in time specifically allotted may be reasonable. The only danger to a diffuse, year-long effort is the possibility that you will never feel engaged in your project. This is often something that takes place when you spend those extra hours, late night or early morning, pushing hard to make a breakthrough (the breakthrough may be as mundane as just getting all 50 samples run through the analytical device after a protracted sample preparation time). By late February you need to be working on a draft of the senior thesis. This stage always takes longer that one plans and often exposes holes that need to be filled with more work (lab, literature etc.). Please keep in mind that the senior thesis is also intended to fill the intensive writing requirement, so that time must be allotted for revisions (faculty members get busy too and may not be able to return your draft overnight so you can keep on your schedule). You will also need to think about when and where you will be making your oral thesis defense (it is really just a public presentation, but the word defense is much more formal and in keeping with academic traditions!).