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Questions Regarding my Supervising of an Undergrad Senior Project in Physics

sams

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I’m currently supervising an undergraduate senior project in the Department of Physics. I’m responsible for supervising a last year physics student who will be graduating by the end of June. As a new lecturer and supervisor, I was wondering about several aspects and I would like to gain a deeper understanding of how supervision is normally carried out. Please note that I neither have previous experience in supervising students, officially speaking, nor I did a senior project during my Bachelor degree. For that reason, I would really appreciate if you can share your valuable experience and kindly advise me to the following questions I have on my mind:
  1. Since I didn’t do a senior project during my undergraduate studies, I would like to know what a senior project is and what should the student work on during his last semester? To be more specific, what is the difference between a master degree thesis and a senior project?
  2. Should the project include research work or just reading about a certain subject (literature review only)? What if the student worked on a research topic and did not obtain any result, what should be done in this case?
  3. Since the project spans over a semester, may the student work on a research topic? Do you advise publishing a research paper on the Bachelor degree level?
  4. If it is not a research-based project, what kind of topics the student would be able to work on? Should he choose his own topic?
  5. I understand that the grading criteria differ from one university to another, but in general, what are the main points the student will be assessed on?
  6. Besides, on the day of the presentation, what type of questions should be asked by me to the senior students of different fields?
Any advice, ideas, suggestions, and other aspects I should be aware of or consider. Sharing your experience is much appreciated.
 

WWGD

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It seems , from my limited experience, similar to a Capstone project. Not certain, but hope will get the discussion going.
 

berkeman

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Since I didn’t do a senior project during my undergraduate studies, I would like to know what a senior project is and what should the student work on during his last semester?
Do you have access to other Senior Projects done in the past? That would seem to be a good place to start reading. Also, do you have collegues there who have been such Supervisors in the past? They would seem to be a good source of information...
 

Andy Resnick

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I’m currently supervising an undergraduate senior project in the Department of Physics. I’m responsible for supervising a last year physics student who will be graduating by the end of June. As a new lecturer and supervisor, I was wondering about several aspects and I would like to gain a deeper understanding of how supervision is normally carried out.
I didn't see you mention if you have spoken with your department colleagues (and other relevant people) about what the usual norms and expectations are for this kind of activity.
 

jtbell

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The formal requirements and informal expectations for senior projects surely depend on your country or university system. In a decentralized system such as in the US, they depend on the individual university or college.

If you can see fit to tell us where you are, someone here might know something about the situation at your university, or at least in your country in general. Otherwise you had best ask your local colleagues.
 

gleem

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I am surprised the department doesn't have a written policy about senior projects with suggested guidelines to follow. If they don't you should write one.
 

Dr. Courtney

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I would start with the course description in the catalog along with any other materials in the department office that may have been submitted to an accrediting agency - example projects and syllabi from the past, for example.

My second step would be to discuss the above questions with other faculty who have taught the course in the past.

Advice (including mine) from PF should be viewed and interpreted in light of the above considerations, which bear more weight.

I strongly prefer STEM majors to conduct their own original research in senior projects courses. Literature reviews offer much less potential to prepare for either grad school or employment opportunities. They also provide less opportunity for you to develop and assess the things you need to know if you are to write a meaningful recommendation letter when they ask.

I have a mild preference for students choosing their own research topic, but I realize this expectation is too high for many undergrads. I keep a list of ideas for student research and in brainstorming sessions with students, I'll steer them toward a few ideas in areas in which they might have an interest.

I have a preference for student work yielding publishable papers, but having supervised dozens of projects over the years, I think the rate of publishable projects is 35-40%. I really cannot recommend publishing mediocre work, and a lot of work (80-90%) is good enough to pass the course, but nowhere near publishable.

My assessment rubrics were always based around deliverables with due dates for the milestones. Project plan draft, project plan final, data collection complete, preliminary analysis, final analysis, draft project paper, final project paper. Just having a deadline for the final paper or presentation is a recipe for disaster given the work and procrastination habits of most undergrads these days. Usually, it's a bad sign if you're not hearing from a student for a few weeks. Most students who end up with A work on projects from me are getting lots of feedback and working hard continuously.
 

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