First Year Students

C500 Introduction to Research


The completion of a thesis based on original research is crucial to the completion of an advanced degree in chemistry. The first year course, "Introduction to Research" (C500), provides an early opportunity for students to gain experience in this kind of work. At the end of the second semester of C500 the student submits a written report on his or her work (whether or not the research project has been completed). Based on this report and their own observations, the research adviser and the Graduate Standards Committee will assign a grade. To the student's question, "Will I be able to go on for a PhD?" this grade provides a concise answer: A, yes; B, maybe; C, unlikely.

Participation in C500 implies no permanent commitment on the part of either the student or the supervising faculty member beyond the first year. Students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this flexibility when they feel that it would be better to change research groups at the end of C500. While there may be a reluctance to "throw away" the research efforts of the first year, it should be recognized: (1) that a major benefit derived from C500 by most students is on learning how to do research, and that this experience will move to any new research area; (2) that first-year results usually play a very minor role in most completed PhD theses; and (3) that moving to a research area in which the student is developing a stronger interest could significantly enhance the quality and quantity of their research efforts.


New students entering the graduate program in chemistry normally enroll in C500 for three credit hours in their first and second semesters, submitting their final report at the end of their second semester of graduate study. Exceptions can be made on an individual basis.

Choosing an Advisor

Students should review the descriptions of the research projects offered by the various faculty members who can act as C500 research advisers.

Beginning in the second week of classes of the fall semester, a faculty seminar series is held on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings in C033 from 5:45 pm - 6:45 pm (refreshments are provided by the department). All incoming graduate students are required to attend these presentations (you can only miss two evenings throughout the series). Each faculty member presents a 20-minute seminar (including questions) on their research.   The seminar series lasts about three weeks. In the following month students should meet with faculty members whose research they are most interested in to discuss potential C500 projects (students should not meet with faculty to discuss research projects until after the end of the seminar series). Since choosing a C500 advisor is an important decision, it is strongly recommended that students meet with at least four faculty members.   Faculty interview sheets need to be submitted to the Graduate Office with the students' order of preference for a C500 advisor at the end of the third week in October (faculty signatures are not required). Students are then assigned to a group to begin their C500 projects. 

Students entering in the summer are not obligated to, but may decide to, continue doing research in the same group. However, he or she must still attend the faculty seminar series and submit preferences to the Graduate Office before being formally assigned to a C500 advisor.

Assignment of Students to Advisers

The chair or the graduate standards committee can limit the number of students assigned to each faculty member. The range of interests represented in each incoming class is usually quite a good match to the range of interests within the faculty. It happens, therefore, that students are almost always assigned to their first choice of research adviser. Problems arise only when a given adviser is selected by more students than can be reasonably accommodated. When this occurs, no final decision is reached without conferring with all the students involved. Experience has shown that satisfactory arrangements can usually be found. The C500 assignments are subject to the final approval of the department chair.

Biochemistry Rotation System

In the area of biochemistry, a second option exists. Most students elect to participate in a rotation system that involves working with up to three different professors for short periods of time. The details of the rotation option will be outlined by the biochemistry faculty member on the Graduate Standards Committee during pre-semester counseling. Biochemistry students can participate in the standard, one-professor system, however. The choice is up to the student.

First Semester Activities

Immediately after assignment, each student is provided with a place in the laboratories of his or her adviser. Through the duration of the course, students should expect to devote a minimum of 12 productive hours per week to their research projects.

Final Report

Activities during the second semester are devoted entirely to research work and the preparation of a final report. The final report should be a term paper worthy of six semester hours of credit. It must reflect sustained effort, care, and thoroughness both in the preparation of the report itself and in the related studies and research. It should include:

  1. An introduction clearly stating the objective of the work.
  2. A discussion of important background information. This should not be an extensive review, but it should explain the "starting point" for the work. Facts that the reader will need to know in order to follow and understand the research report should be anticipated and presented here. Any points which involve discussion of results obtained in the course of the project should be avoided in this section.
  3. A description of experimental techniques and procedures (this section can be placed at the end of the report). Presentation of results (other than routine characterization of synthetic products) should be avoided in this section.
  4. Results and Discussion sections. Each project will have unique features that call for specific modes of organization. The presentation of all results before any discussion is the way scientific papers are frequently   organized
  5. Conclusions section summarizing the main findings.

If there are fewer results than originally hoped for, the student should explain why. Students are encouraged to discuss questions regarding the preparation of their reports with their research advisers. The deadline for the completed report is 1 month prior to the end of the second semester. Two copies, 1 pdf sent electronic, 1 bound hard copy should be turned in to the Graduate Office and one copy to the C500 research adviser 3 weeks prior to the 1 month deadline. The graduate standards committee and the research advisor then assign a grade. Incompletes are not permitted in the second semester.

The C500 Campaign Award

At the Chemistry Honors Banquet each April, an award of $1,500 is presented to the graduate student who has submitted the most outstanding C500 report in the preceding academic year. Criteria for selection of the outstanding report include the quality and quantity of the research, the originality of approach, and the quality of the final report. The name of each recipient of the award is engraved on a special plaque, which is displayed in the Chemistry Department.