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updated 2-18-10

     

     Research is a vital and essential part of the Human Biology major. It is not necessary to do laboratory research, but the formulation of questions and the investigation of those questions, either in the lab, library, or field, are important parts of the integration of biological problems with real world concerns. It isn't necessary to definitively answer any given research question (you may end up with more questions than what you started with), but it is necessary to learn how to ask questions and how to devise ways of attempting to answer them. Ultimately, this is what life is all about - trying to answer the questions that you will encounter every day. The interface between science and society presents particularly complex questions that will have equally complex answers. The road from question to answer will not be straight. But, what you learn on that road will give you the skills you need for a lifetime of answering the hard questions.

     Students will work closely with their mentors to develop questions that can in some way be answered in a one-year project. You will also design your investigative rubric with your mentor and determine the specific components that must be included in a thesis appropriate for the type of analysis being performed. You may do projects in the lab or projects dealing with policy, ethics, law, or the social sciences. You will need to rigorously review existing literature, determine how answers to your question will fit into existing knowledge, and propose where your answers will lead further investigations. Your research should be thorough, rigorous, and you should not become so attached to one idea that you cannot see its flaws and prepare for the inevitable challenge to your ideas. Academic research, regardless of the field, is an intellectual dialogue and your challenge is to find a way to speak to two audiences - one in science and one in the humanities.

     The written thesis and formal presentation of the thesis to the public will then serve as a forum for thought and further examination of the complex problems you have investigated in your research. You must clearly present the biology and the humanity of your project and synthesize the two halves into a cohesive presentation. The thesis is a substantial written project and will take a considerable amount of time to write well. Set milestones for yourself and start writing early. The presentation is no less important and to some extent far more challenging. You have a limited amount of time, and a limited number of slides, to tell your story. You must identify what is most important and necessary and present that, knowing that your audience will not have access to your thesis. Your presentation will also therefore take some thought.

     Because you are dedicating at least a year of your life to this project, you should above all else pick a topic that interests you. Don't pick a question because you think the faculty will like it; pick a question because you want to research it. If you choose something you don't personally have an interest in, you will find it very difficult to stay motivated. There are lots of questions out there waiting to be asked, so keep looking until you find what interests you.

     For examples of work presented for the Human Biology degree, see the students page of this website for the titles of recent students' theses.

Human w/DNA Shadow Image courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy Genomics:GTL Program http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis