Honours in Molecular & Cell Biology
Molecular & Cell Biology incorporates the Comparative Genomics Centre and is one of the most research-active Departments at James Cook University. Both basic fundamental and applied biotechnology research are conducted within the department and its research activities are supported by grants from national and international funding agencies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, the March of Dimes Foundation, Sugar Research and Development Corporation, Welcome Foundation, Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundation as well as industry. These grants permit the Department to engage in research that is at the cutting edge of the field and to provide a vibrant and well-resourced environment for the development of research skills.
An active seminar program that brings distinguished scientists from Australia and overseas to JCU is another unique feature of Molecular & Cell Biology, and the Honours and graduate students benefit immensely from this activity.
Molecular & Cell Biology has a very strong commitment to research and the students who have completed Honours have had no difficulty in finding employment or Ph.D. positions at JCU or other campuses.
What is Honours?
The aim of an Honours degree is to develop and assess the ability of a student to undertake independent research. Above all, the Honours degree program provides training in research skills. Attendance at the CGC and AITHM seminars, laboratory based mentorship, regular meetings with the Honours coordinator, assignments relevant to research goals and professional development, and the advice of academic and research staff, support this training. Honours students are traditionally required to complete a thesis, which functions as an essential test of the candidate’s capacity to be trained as a scholar and a researcher.
There are many different reasons why students take the Honours year: You may be contemplating an academic career, you may wish to improve your employment prospects, you may wish to complete a particular piece of research, or you may do Honours because it is considered the 'right' thing to do. It is important that you identify your reasons for participating in this most demanding academic program. In terms of a career, an Honours degree is a more prestigious degree than a pass degree and in many cases it qualifies people to start employment on a higher pay scale. A first class Honours degree is a compulsory prerequisite for winning most competitive scholarships to do a higher degree.
Honours qualifies a person for normal membership of professional bodies such as Australian Society for Medical Research, Australasian Society for Immunology and The Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Honours is also the principal prerequisite for entry to higher degrees such as the Masters and PhD. It must be stressed that Honours is not simply a precursor to a PhD. It is also an interesting and highly rewarding year of study prized by employers who seek to employ people with a demonstrated capacity for independent thought and research. It is a qualification that improves one’s earning potential and opportunities for promotion. Therefore, every student should contemplate doing Honours.
Planing an Honours project
The Honours year forms a transition period between the didactic style of undergraduate study and the self-motivated, mentor-guided study of the postgraduate. Honours projects therefore are in part determined by the interests of the individual students and you are requested to speak with potential supervisors regarding potential projects. It is particularly useful for prospective students to talk to as many staff members as possible so that an informed decision can be made regarding the choice of project(s). Please note that positions will be allocated on the basis of merit and discussions that you hold with the prospective supervisor.
Applying for an Honours Project
Candidature for honours in Molecular & Cell Biology requires successful completion of a full major in Molecular & Cell Biology with grades of at least a credit average. Under exceptional circumstances students not reaching these criteria may be able to negotiate a position. They should confirm the support of a potential supervisor before contacting the Honours Coordinator Margaret Jordan or Sandip Kamath.
After discussions with prospective supervisors, students intending to complete Honours in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology should submit a copy of the application form below either by email or in hard copy to Margaret Jordan or Sandip Kamath
The roll of the Supervisor
Good supervision is usually essential to a successful Honours degree, although there is no set formula for how this supervision should be done. The variation derives primarily from the nature of the student, his or her willingness to engage in independent research combined with the sense of need to report on progress and/or seek guidance. The structure of supervision follows a general pattern:
* Initial discussion of potential thesis topics and general advice on the study skills associated with independent research.
* Determination of the topic and suggestions for reading.
* Reporting on research done, sources identified and ideas for the thesis.
* Modification of the thesis topic if necessary.
* Preparation of thesis plan, structure of chapters and writing schedule.
* The supervisor attending whenever possible a student’s work-in-progress_ presentations during the year.
* The supervisor submitting a report on the student's progress to Molecular & Cell Biology Honours coordinator at the end of the first semester of full-time enrolment and first year of part-time enrolment.
* The student submitting a progress report to the Molecular & Cell Biology Honours coordinator at the end of the first semester of full-time enrolment and first year of part-time enrolment identifying any issues that may have arisen concerning supervision.
* The supervisor reading and commenting on draft thesis chapters and/or whole draft thesis.
* The supervisor checking final draft for corrections, format, style, etc.
The requirement in Molecular & Cell Biology for supervisory contact is one hour per fortnight (or 30 minutes/week) over the whole academic year. This time is best utilised according to the needs of the student as these are worked out in consultation with the supervisor. Some students feel they simply must touch base on a short weekly basis, while others prefer a less frequent supervisory session during the year with more intensive hourly meetings towards the end. Critically, supervisors cannot always be available when students want them to be. The best arrangement is to determine early on a suitable time for both parties and to stick to that time as best as one can, with the flexibility of mutually changing the arrangement if either or both party feels the need.
If a student misses appointed supervision sessions, it is not up to the supervisor to make up the time. Nor is a supervisor required to chase up a student for absenteeism. The onus is on the student and it is designed in this way to reflect a student’s capacity for independent scholarship. However, if a supervisor unreasonably fails to meet his or her commitment to a student, the student must immediately raise the matter with the Honours coordinator, who may refer the issue to the Head of Molecular & Cell Biology or Head of College.
A staff member who will be away during the year is usually not expected to supervise, especially if they are away in the second half of the year when theses are written and submitted. Honours supervision is part of an academic’s teaching load, which includes undergraduate teaching and postgraduate supervision. As a result of variations in this load, some academics do more Honours supervision than others. One cannot assume, therefore, that one will have the supervisor of choice. Students can contact a lecturer to discuss the possibility of supervision. However, the allocation of supervisors is not done on a “first-come first serve” basis, but must wait until the members of Molecular & Cell Biology meet at the beginning of the year to make an equitable allocation of workload.
The role of the Honours Coordinator
The coordinator is responsible for the following:
* Inducting students into Honours and going through the contents of the Honours Handbook
* Teaching at least one of the Molecular & Cell Biology seminars.
* Overseeing the progress of each student through liaising with the supervisors and collecting the progress reports.
* Ensuring the appropriate allocation of supervision
* Dealing with any issues that may arise between supervisor and student
All student queries of a general nature that cannot be addressed to the supervisor in the first instance should be addressed to the coordinator. In addition, the coordinator is responsible for creating and holding a confidential file on each student that contains the student's contact details, supervisor's name and a print-out of the student's academic record. The transcript includes the notation of the numerical marks the student has achieved in each subject that has counted towards the Molecular & Cell Biology Major. This last requirement stems from the fact that a number of Australian universities use these marks to assist in ranking students for scholarship applications. The practice derives from the traditional English Honours system where the Level 3 marks in the discipline one "read" at university are counted as a component of the Honours mark. JCU does not do this and instead requests the Level 3 GPA. However, other universities do make the request and it is much easier if the marks are recorded from School assessment records in advance.
The Honours Coordinators for Molecular & Cell Biology are Margaret Jordan or Sandip Kamath