BIOL 331 - Ecology and Behaviour Field Course


Mont St Hilaire
Monday, August 20 – Friday, August 31, 2018

Independent Research Projects
Two to three days are dedicated to independent research projects. The object of these projects is to give experience in the planning, execution and reporting of field research. All three phases are critical to a successful research effort, and you should make every effort to carry out each phase carefully and completely. All staff members and the TA will be available to help in planning projects. The choice of a research project is largely your own, as is the decision of whether to work alone or with a small number of your colleagues. Potential projects can follow leads that develop during the modules in the first part of the course.

Alternatively, you can choose to follow up some area of your own interest unrelated to any of the modules. There are limits in time and equipment availability, so it takes some thought and discussion to arrive at a feasible and interesting project. Think about your possible project throughout the field weeks. Discuss your ideas and interests with the staff, demonstrators, and fellow students. You should have your project approved by a professor who will act as supervisor and will ultimately be responsible for grading your effort. The individual modules and discussions will make clear which staff member might be most suitable.

It is best not to leave your choice of a research topic (and research team) until the last moment, but neither should you feel rushed into an early choice. You will find that the days devoted to the independent project go by quickly; a little advance planning is useful, and is essential if your project requires equipment that must be brought out from McGill before the projects begin, or if staff members back in the department need to be consulted about methods or conceptual issues. Data analysis and report writing are to be completed during the first three weeks of term, so as to get the course requirements completed quickly. Students who carry out their field work as a team are free to analyze the data together as well. However, the write-up and final interpretations should be done independently. The teaching assistant will be available to give you advice concerning the analysis and presentation of your data. Go to them first with questions you may have, but feel free to consult the staff as well.

The format of your final report is important in giving you experience in report writing. Reports must be in the style of a scientific journal, carefully and succinctly written, with data, tables, simple statistical analyses and figures reported in standard journal format. Guidelines on writing up your report will be distributed during the course.

Your independent research project constitutes 50% of the final grade in this course. The other 50% is based on your participation in the modules. In grading, attention will be given to the planning, the execution of the fieldwork, analysis of the data, and the write-up of the report rather than the conclusiveness of the results. You need not be concerned about the possibility that weather or other uncontrolled variables might limit the amount of data you can gather, or the fact that a project carried out by a pair of students can be expected to have more data than a solo effort. All the staff who will be grading your reports are experienced researchers themselves, and recognize the near impossibility of getting good data in a few days only. Since this is a field course, the report is not expected to include a complete literature review of the selected topic. Nevertheless, it is expected that some relevant background information will be incorporated into the write-up. Projects yielding clear results and a large database might make somewhat less use of the literature, and those, which for reasons of weather or bad luck have little data, can always use background literature to compensate. It is a good idea to check with the staff member responsible for your project to confirm more precisely what is expected in your particular case. Rather than the project being a difficult hurdle you should see it as a chance to get experience in research and in writing reports.

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