Picking an Honours Project

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by WolffyLuna, Nov 12, 2019.

  1. WolffyLuna

    WolffyLuna Active Member

    So, next year I am going to be doing an Honours year. (For context: an Honours year is where you do a year of original research, but you still count as an undergraduate. It's like a Masters, but smaller and undergraduate.) And for my Honours year, I need to pick a supervisor and a project. I've talked to a few potential supervisors about potential projects, and scoped out whether I'd be able to work with them in close quarters for a year without driving each other batty. And I've got a shortlist of potential supervisors+projects!

    ...which is my problem. I've got a shortlist, but I'm having awful trouble narrowing it down to one choice.

    I was wondering if anyone had any advice or suggestions, either about which choice sounds best or how to make the choice (I am this close to just rolling a d3 and letting the dice decide my fate-- which seems unideal for a choice that will really affect the course of my 2020?)

    Here is a vague summary of my current shortlist (vague both to avoid being identifying, and also because going into the exact details may not be helpful for other people to understand the potential choices)
    1. The very very cool sounding project. ...okay, very very cool sounding to paleontologists (and a particular kind of paleontologist at that). But it's a "But how did certain kinds of life evolve, in detail," sort of project. Will involve a fair amount of wet lab work, and getting to use a mass spectrometer. Also let's me flex my mad "emailing other researchers" skills. I get along well with the person running this project, but he does seem to go to a fair amount of conferences, which may leave me without guidance at some points of the year. There is a plan for "What if everything goes wrong mid year, but I still need to turn in an Honours thesis?"
    2. The project on the under researched thing. It may not sound particularly cool, but it will make some climatologists very happy. Will involve using furnaces and dangerous chemicals, and probably IR spectroscopy (yay, IR! It is my favourite spectroscopy.) The project will, in effect, be my working out reaction kinetics, and may lead to a mid year "Why did I choose to study reaction kinetics?" Also, there is no "What if everything goes wrong?" plan now, but presumably one can be put in place.
    3. The project that proves I can do a job. It's not the most exciting sounding project-- but it is literally something that [relevant industry] likes to do, and likes to hire people to do for them. And it involves the microprobe, which is one of my favourite machines. There is a low risk of everything going wrong, and plans in place in case it happens. There is also a "What if everything is going right, you are very efficient, and you want to make your Honours thesis shinier?"
  2. bushwah

    bushwah a known rule consequentialist


    I can see why this is tricky

    uh, I'm inclined to suggest #2? you'll be doing real relevant work, getting to sink your teeth into a new project, and showing initiative. also you'll demonstrate you're capable of following safety procedures, which is a very valuable skill (...that I pretty much completely lack).
  3. WolffyLuna

    WolffyLuna Active Member

    Thank you for the suggestion!

    (Ahh, safety procedures, I love how they *clenches fist* can be so maddeningly vague at times. Seriously, in general I think I'm reasonably good at following safety procedures. But it is the bane of my life when the safety procedures are just 'do it, but carefully.'
  4. KingdomByTheSea

    KingdomByTheSea Well-Known Member

    For what it's worth I've had good luck with using random procedures to make an initial choice for things like this, and then if I have a gut reaction of "oh no!" then I know that whatever the die/coin/random number generator chose was the wrong choice.

    I lean towards 2, and lean away from 3 because if you're spending a whole year of your undergrad doing it, it should be exciting! (And I'm not familiar with your field, but in mine, any independent undergraduate research makes you an appealing job candidate, so marketability doesn't have to be the top concern)
  5. WolffyLuna

    WolffyLuna Active Member

    Thank you for the advice!

    I'll admit I may not have described 3 well? It may not be using ~thrilling techniques new to the field~, but I'd get to use one of my favourite machines and get to work on one of my favourite minerals.
    (those are things people have favourites of, right? :P)
  6. Verily

    Verily surprised Xue Yang peddler

    I like the sound of number 3, myself. You already know you like the thing, and that if you spend time doing this work that you like it has a very good chance of inspiring people to pay you to do it even more. And there's opportunities to take on more work if you're not being challenged enough? Sounds great. By the end of the project it sounds like you will not only have very useful experience in a marketable skill, you'll also have a really good idea of whether it feels like a viable career path. If you decide it isn't exactly what you want to do after all, you still have a nice solid resume, you just take it to slightly different people and have a good answer if anyone asks where you see yourself in five years.
    • Agree x 2
  7. WolffyLuna

    WolffyLuna Active Member

    Thank you for the advice!
    • Like x 1
  8. WolffyLuna

    WolffyLuna Active Member

    Aaaaaaaaaaah! I just got an email from a potential Honours supervisor. Not one of the three above, he was more or less number 4. The email is asking if I am still interested in doing a project, as he needs to pick which student to give a particular set of samples.

    And I know my answer will be "Sorry, I'm not interested, please give it to another student." But I don't know how to say it politely. And it feels weird closing off my options, even if my problem is too many options.

    My current plan is to see if I can get a looksie at #1's lab (He offered as much earlier on) and then try and make a decision. Possibly via dice.
  9. WolffyLuna

    WolffyLuna Active Member

    I have come to a decision. I've emailed the person doing #3 to see if he's still available to be a supervisor, and crossing my fingers that he is.

    Thank you all for the advice!
    • Winner x 5
  10. Verily

    Verily surprised Xue Yang peddler

    Woooo, congratulations on making a decision! Best of luck!
    • Agree x 2
  11. KingdomByTheSea

    KingdomByTheSea Well-Known Member

    Congrats! I hope the project goes well.
    • Agree x 2
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