Identifying a Topic
• The proposed project has a clearly stated hypothesis or clearly articulated research question.
• The proposed project has a clear statement of objectives. The statement of objectives is important because once they have been achieved, the research for the project is finished.
• Resources should be available to assist in conducting the project. These include time, library resources, laboratory or field access, and most importantly, one or more faculty members knowledgeable in the topic and willing to work with you.
Traditional Approach to Identifying a Project
• Develop a plan of study to address the hypothesis/question
• Follow the research plan to generate data or information
• Analyze the data or information to test the hypothesis or answer the question
• Write and defend the project/thesis/dissertation
Inverse Approach to Identifying a Project
• Using the data, develop a research hypothesis/question that can be answered by the data.
• Develop a plan of study to address the hypothesis/question.
• Analyze the data. Generate more data/information if needed.
• Write and defend the project/thesis/dissertation..
Bad Research Statements
Bad Research Proposal Statements
Better Research Proposal Statements
The Research Proposal
• Develop a research plan that will accomplish these objectives and present it in sufficient detail that the graduate committee has confidence in the project’s success.
• It is suggested that references be cited as Last Name (date). For example (Smith, 1995; Jones and Allen, 2002; Sanchez et al., 2005). Remember, you’re citing the paper not the individuals. List the references in alphabetical order at the end of the paper.
• This section will almost certainly form the basis of the second chapter of the project/thesis/dissertation, and therefore should have the same organization as expected in the final document.
• Describe how the research will be conducted. Identify methods of collecting data. Provide diagrams of experimental equipment to be built. Identify analytical methods to be use (give references). Provide maps showing locations of field sampling stations. Develop the theory of modeling studies. Identify sources of information.
• Provide a research schedule with specific tasks and specific milestones that can be used to track the progress of the project.
Expected Results and Methods of Analyses
• Describe the data or information expected to be generated by the research. Identify its form (statistical data from questionnaires, tables of data from instruments, papers from library & internet searches, computer model results, etc.).
• Describe how the data will be processed, summarized, or analyzed. Identify statistical methods to process the data. Describe how literature, interviews, or other non-quantitative information will be assimilated and interpreted.
Throughout this document emphasis has been placed on the need for close collaboration between the student and their advisor. It is important to remember that the student’s graduate committee is also an integral part of the process and should be utilized as a resource to assist in all phases of the research project. Most university faculty members choose this career because of a desire to help students learn. Assisting with a productive and successful research project is one of the more rewarding parts of the job because not only do you have the opportunity to play a role in the professional development of a bright young person, but there is the additional satisfaction associated with the intellectual rewards of contributing new knowledge to one’s profession. Conversely, one of the most difficult situations a faculty member can be in is to be added to a student’s graduate committee after most of the work has been completed, only to find the project is weak. In such cases, the committee member’s role is limited to that of gate keeper – a person who is forced to make the very difficult decision as to whether a weak piece of work is nevertheless good enough to allow the student to graduate.
Choosing the Committee
Generally, students pick a committee based on faculty they know and/or people they work with. The characteristics of an ideal committee member are: 1) they are knowledgeable in the field of interest, 2) they are available and willing to serve on the committee, and most importantly, 3) the student has confidence that they will provide constructive assistance during the course of the project. Part-time students who have selected a topic related to work are encouraged to select a supervisor or other senior member of the organization for their committee. Senior staff from work are beneficial because they have frequent contact with the student, usually have good knowledge of the subject, understand the constraints the student faces, and can provide immediate suggestions when questions arise. Furthermore, because the student’s project is work-related, a supervisor can sometimes make resources available to assist in completing the project.
Working with the Committee
It is suggested that during the research project the student arrange two formal meetings of their full committee. The occasion of these meetings and their objectives are:
• 30% Completion Meeting – Obtain Committee Buy-In. This meeting should be held when the student has completed roughly one third of the proposed research. The objective of this meeting is to obtain the committee’s agreement that the research project is well framed, the methods are appropriate, and the project has a high chance of success. The student will formally present their research proposal to the committee, describe the project objectives, the scope of work and the research methods.
• 70% Completion Meeting – Identify Fatal Flaws. This meeting occurs after the student has collected most of the information needed for the project. The objective is for the committee to consider this information and the student’s preliminary conclusions and determine whether the work has been done with sufficient care and the results have been interpreted by proper methods to support these conclusions. It is important to have this meeting while the research is still in progress so that if new data is needed, or new experiments must be conducted, it can be accomplished with minimal additional work.
In addition to these formal committee meetings, it is important to continue regular meetings with the student’s advisor. It is suggested that biweekly progress reports is an appropriate frequency if there is not regular personal contact. Similarly, monthly reports to the rest of the committee are helpful. These reports need not be overly detailed and in many cases can be one page bulleted lists of Accomplishments and Planned Activities. The purpose is to maintain regular contact and avoid surprises.
Prepare a Schedule and Regularly Revisit It
Keep a Project Noteboook
The project/thesis/dissertation is a formal academic document and should be written as such. It is generally written in the third person impersonal tense and should be clear and succinct. Adjectives should be used sparingly and superlatives are almost never used. In my experience the style editor in MS Word has apoplexy when analyzing most well written projects/theses/dissertations.
Most academic documents including papers/projects/theses/dissertations as well as technical reports should be written in the past tense to the extent reasonable because the document describes work that has been done. While it sometimes makes sense to write in the present tense, six months, a year or a decade later it won’t make any sense at all (unless you’re still working on the darn project).
The Project/Thesis/Dissertation should follow the formatting and organization criteria set by the UNM Office of Graduate Studies (www.unm.edu/~grad). The report should be double-spaced, with 1” (1.50” left-hand) margins, and generally contain the following:
A title page including student name, month and year of graduation, and the citation that this document is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Water Resources, Water Resources Program, University of New Mexico. A sample title page can be downloaded from the WRP web site.
For issues of style, references, and formatting there are numerous books on writing academic papers. I have used A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations by K. Turebian, 6th ed., University of Chicago Press. There are many others.
Web Sites With Good Information
The Oral Exam/Professional Project Defense
Students must inform the WRP office by December 1 (Spring graduation), May 1 (Summer graduation), July 15 (Fall graduation) of their intention to graduate in the following semester. No form is required.
The oral exam is open to the public and OGS must be notified two weeks before it occurs by submitting and Announcement of Examination form. The student and the committee should decide on a time and date for the examination. After the student and their committee have agreed on a date and time, the WRP Administrator must be notified who will help fill out the proper forms. The student should also reserve a room and audio-visual equipment for the defense (usually an LCD projector and a laptop computer).
During the exam, the student makes a formal presentation lasting 30 minutes or less. The presentation should follow the same organization as the written report and should emphasize work done by the student and especially his/her analysis, interpretation and conclusions. Following the presentation the graduate committee and the audience will be encouraged to ask questions about the project.
After the presentation and public questioning, the committee may close the meeting to the public and continue the examination. At the conclusion of the examination the committee and student will discuss the results.
On the final exam, the student can receive a grade of “Pass”, “Fail”, “Pass with Distinction”, or “Conditional Pass”. Almost always the committee will identify some changes needed to the written report. Depending on the nature of the changes, the final report may need to be re-reviewed by the entire committee or simply by the advisor. Obtaining the committee members’ signatures on the second page of the final report is their indication that the student has submitted a report satisfying the requirements of the MWR program.
Final Copies of the Professional Project Report
All Professional Projects must include a CD containing a PDF of the completed project in a CD envelope pasted to the inside front cover of the bound copies of the final report. This CD may also contain supporting data, spreadsheets or computer results, photographs, PDFs of important references or other information the student believes is relevant to the project. The electronic copy of the report will be placed on the WRP web site. The CD should have a computer generated label that contains the title of the project, the student’s name, and date.
The title page (see the end of this document or the WRP web site) is the first page of the report and the signed signature page follows that page. The student may use the title page as the cover or can design his/her own cover, perhaps with a picture or drawing. At a minimum, the cover should display the title, degree name and option, and student’s name, with the following at the bottom:
A Professional Project Report Submitted in Partial Fulfillment
The month and year will be that month (May, August, or December) and year in which the student will graduate, not the month in which the student defended. As a matter of courtesy, the student should provide each committee member with a copy of the PP (either paper or electronic depending on the member’s preference). A final grade in WR 598 will not be issued until the WRP Office receives the final report signed by all committee members.
Some Common Pitfalls
If a student experiences problems, he/she should promptly discuss them with their advisor and then their graduate committee. An informed advisor and committee is the student’s best ally in completing their degree.
Publishing Your Professional Project
“This work is based upon the Professional Project of (your name), submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Water Resources at the University of New Mexico.”