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Junior and Senior Research

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Junior Independent Work
The program for Junior Independent Work begins with a six-week mandatory Tuesday evening tutorial. These meetings include presentations by the faculty outlining research opportunities in their labs which helps students in choosing advisers for the spring. Basics of biostatistics, library research, and scientific writing are also taught in the tutorial.

During the last six weeks of the fall term, students participate in small faculty-led seminars that focus on close and critical reading of papers relating to one of the major issues in current biology. In general there are three of these seminars, in Evolution and Genetics, another in Ecology and Conservation, and one in Behavior and Physiology or one in Disease. Students write a short fall-term junior paper on a topic growing out of the seminar.

Juniors choose a faculty adviser for the spring. The most common pattern is for a student to write a Junior Paper that serves as a proposal for the Senior Thesis, with the background to the problem to be studied and the techniques to be employed.

Senior Independent Work
Many of our students do their thesis research in the summer between junior and senior year; the remainder generally work on the data-gathering phase in the fall. About half of the theses in EEB involve field work. As is clear from the descriptions of faculty research interests, there are opportunities in Kenya, Panama, and Bermuda, to name just three exotic locations. Some students develop projects in collaboration with ongoing graduate or postdoctoral research, or with faculty at other universities. Others utilize our Stony Ford Field Station, a 95-acre site located about four miles from campus. Most faculty also maintain on-campus research or analysis facilities.

Each year a few students conduct thesis work in another department at Princeton—usually molecular biology, psychology, or geology. Others find faculty mentors at other universities. Students interested in interdisciplinary theses or research with faculty from other schools must first find an adviser in EEB who will agree to be a thesis reader before undertaking the work.

The best guide to the diversity of thesis possibilities can be gleaned from this sample list of past thesis topics:

  • Can Coral and Substrate Diversity Predict Coral Reef Fish Community Structure?
  • The Ebola Virus: Likely Hosts and Causes and an Analysis of Outbreaks
  • The Evolution of Homosexual Behavior in Humans and Other Animals
  • Bogs in Southeast Alaska: A Natural History and Literature Review
  • Competing Land Use Pressures in Kenya
  • The Evolution of RNA Editing in Slime Molds
  • Long Canyon, Idaho: Protection of a Wilderness Area
  • Gene Chip Technology
  • MHC and Female Mate Choice in a Captive Population of Guinea Baboons
  • A New Dimension for Coral Reef Communities: Fractals
  • Troop Movement and Position as it Relates to Male Dominance in Kenyan Baboons (Papio papio)
  • The Pill: How Oral Contraceptives Have Changed the Lives of Women

About a third of our majors are awarded honors. Honors are based on grades in departmental courses and grades in independent work (in roughly equal proportions). To be eligible for honors, a student must present a summary of his or her work to faculty and peers by preparing a poster. The posters are part of the Cannon Memorial Senior Presentation held in May. There are awards for the best posters in areas such as laboratory, field, behavior, theory, physiology. In general, an A on the senior thesis means that the work has sufficient merit to be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal; many of the theses in EEB meet this exacting criterion.

Student receiving award during Class Day celebration.