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Enhancing final year projects

CETL-AURS funded a number of initiatives across a range of different disciplines to enhance final year projects. In some cases the impetus for these initiatives came from employers nationally identifying certain skills gaps amongst current graduates. In other cases the projects encouraged students to become aware of, and conduct active research on, the museums, archives and collections at their disposal here at Reading, adding knowledge and value to the University's collections. CETL-AURS funded projects in:

  • Chemistry
  • Plant Sciences
  • Special Collections working with the Department of English and American Literature and the Department of History
  • Typography

Chemistry with Forensic Analysis

At the University of Reading, Chemistry with Forensic Analysis is a popular programme but the increasing number of students, together with the lack of full-time teaching staff with the relevant expertise and research interest, has precluded the possibility of individual final year projects in forensic analysis. CETL-AURS funding was used to develop a suite of final year mini-projects to enable students to:

  • experience research in forensic analysis first-hand;
  • obtain an in-depth understanding of modern analytical techniques
  • develop their team-working skills;
  • undertake independent open-ended study.

To facilitate the mini-projects CETL-AURS also funded a dedicated microscope laboratory so that students worked with the latest equipment.

Read the Chemistry with Forensic Analysis evaluation report.

Plant Sciences

The School of Biological Science houses the Harris Garden and Herbarium, a rich source of plant materials for students studying plant-based degrees as well as those in other fields such as pharmacy, food biosciences, biology and microbiology.

CETL-AURS funded a project based in Plant Sciences to create a bank of template research designs for various kind of botanical, biomedical, pharmaceutical and nutritional degree students' final year projects. This project enabled the use of the whole school's plant resources in the Harris Garden, the experimental grounds and glasshouses, and preserved specimens in the herbarium, and evened out the workload of project supervisors.

The creation of the bank of well-designed and supported projects ensures that students have a positive experience carrying out their research projects, and gain a wide range of skills.

Read the Plant-Based Research Project Templates evaluation report.

Special Collections

The University has extensive holdings of rare books, publishers' papers, manuscripts and individual author archives whose full potential in undergraduate teaching and research has yet to be realised. CETL-AURS funded two projects to maximise the use of the Special Collections in undergraduate dissertations.

In the Department of English and American Literature the project created a database of dissertation topic ideas, based on both individual authors such as the internationally significant Beckett Collection, books by and about W.B. Yeats and letters by Thomas Hardy, and based on rare book collections such as the Children's Collection, the Crusoe Collection and the Wizard of Oz Collection.

The database provides bullet points of available information for students and the relevant archival details and references for the materials, so that undergraduates can generate their own title and hypothesis. The database is made available to Part 2 students as they choose their dissertation.

A second strand of the project was to create an on-line library on Blackboard of previous dissertation topics and exemplars of high-quality dissertations.

In the Department of History the project created dissertation topic ideas for both Medievalist and Modern Historians using the papers and books in the Special Collections. The Collections hold the Stenton Library of works by medieval historians Sir Frank and Lady Doris Stenton, as well as the Great Exhibition Collection of material from 1851 and the Astor papers.

A database of topic ideas with the references for the materials and the archival details was created, and linked to departmental members of staff research interests so that undergraduates could be linked up with the most appropriate supervisor.


In the Department of Typography students complete a dissertation relating to the history, theory and/or practice of typography and graphic communication. The sorting and re-housing of the department's Lettering, Printing and Design collections have led to heightened awareness of their availability to students and their potential for dissertation research. CETL-AURS funded a project to focus on oral history as primary source material, which sought to organise and catalogue the Sound Archives to be available as dissertation material, as well as compiling a database of previous theses and dissertations so that students could find and locate exemplars. The project:

  • encouraged students to exploit the department's large resource of sound archives in its original form;
  • developed a culture of using recorded interviews for dissertation purposes;
  • enabled students to improve their own skills in interviewing techniques, listening to materials, summarising and evaluating them and analysing how they are used;
  • created a fully searchable archive of recorded interviews.

Read the evaluation report on Collections-Based Research Projects in Typography