The Senior Research requirement in Biology at Whitman College. In several departments at Whitman, seniors are required to complete a thesis project. In Biology, this is based on individual research projects, which can be conducted during the summer of their junior-senior year, or during the two semesters of their senior year. The process begins with a required Research Preparation course taken in the spring semester of the junior year, in which Biology majors learn library and statistical methodologies, learn about various summer internship opportunities (on- and off-campus), hear presentations by faculty and seniors on their research, and choose a faculty mentor (or sponsor) and a project. Students are encouraged to take charge of the project design and procedures as much as possible. Off-campus research, if appropriate, can be used for this requirement, with a Whitman faculty member serving as sponsor by helping with the final data analysis and write-up (and sometimes additional experiments on campus). If done on campus, the research is generally conducted during weekly one-on-one meetings with a Whitman faculty mentor. Funding is provided through College research funds and external grants.
Though time-consuming, the faculty views this endeavor as one of the best ways to learn what science is truly about--a way of thinking and a method of foraying into the unknown that cannot easily be learned in designed laboratories or lectures. Thus a learning experience, not publishable research, is the goal, though the latter sometimes occurs. Not all of our students go into graduate or professional work in their major, but a deep understanding of how research is done should be clearly useful to any citizen in a world in which major decisions are based on such activities.