Detailed Information for Honors Students

Sophomore or Junior Year

The student should enroll in Biology 401-404: Independent Research (or conduct an Excel project) with a faculty mentor in their sophomore or junior year. The possibility of Honors Thesis should be discussed with your research mentor by spring of your junior year. The student should then begin to develop a research plan for the Thesis work in consultation with the faculty mentor and obtain the department head’s permission to enroll in Biology 495: Honors Thesis. Be aware that research conducted for pay (e.g., Excel) cannot also count for academic credit; the Honors Thesis research must be distinct in some manner from research experiences for pay. Please note that you are required to take Biology 265: Biostatistics if you are going to successfully complete your thesis. Many students do this during their junior year, but can be completed during the senior year (frequently in the fall; Biology 265 is rarely offered in the spring).

Summer prior to Senior Year

Work on Honors Thesis Proposal and begin making arrangements for the thesis committee. At the discretion of the faculty mentor, one or more drafts may be required prior to the beginning of the fall semester.

Fall Semester of the Senior Year

Having enrolled in Thesis (Biol. 495), the Thesis candidate begins research, likely by performing a thorough search of the scientific literature, getting experiments underway and finishing the Honors Thesis Proposal (see Appendix 2: Departmental Standards for Written Work; Appendix 3 Sample Thesis Proposals). Candidates will receive a copy of the rubric that faculty will use to assess the quality and merit of Honors Thesis research. An Honors Thesis must demonstrate the student’s capacity for quality research and give evidence of mastery of the material. Typically, students meet at least weekly with their faculty mentor for project discussions and review of several Proposal drafts.

A Thesis Committee for the student will be formed in the fall. The Committee will consist of the mentor and at least one other department member. An additional member from outside Biology may also be on the Committee. Regardless, at least three faculty members must be on the Committee (also, see “Spring Semester, #3” below). The responsibilities of the Thesis Committee are:

  • To meet with the student and review the Proposal during fall semester as well as the Thesis during spring semester;
  • To help direct and support the student in pursuing the Thesis both at formal Committee meetings and through informal discussion;
  • To render to the department a judgment about the acceptability of the Thesis.

The format and due date of the proposal is guided by the committee. The following elements are frequently included in the proposal itself:

  • An introduction consisting of a current literature survey, a clear description of the research objective, and how this objective interfaces with the current scholarship within the field;
  • A research plan that broadly outlines the specific experiments and/or studies to be done;
  • If applicable, a statement of how living material will be maintained and managed, with particular attention to school breaks;
  • IACUC and IRB permits, if appropriate;
  • A budget.

Sample Honors Thesis Proposals are included in Appendix 3. The student will initiate a Thesis Committee meeting to discuss the Proposal and attendant faculty comments; this meeting may include a presentation by the student. At this time, any changes to the planned research can be discussed. The Committee also will adjudicate the suitability of the Proposal for producing an Honors Thesis and the acceptability of the Proposal as a whole. If the student and mentor chose to deviate significantly from any proposed elements during the year, they should consult with members of the Thesis Committee.

Students should initiate a discussion with their faculty mentor regarding potential research plans over the interim session (see below).

Students should use the fall semester wisely regarding completion of experiments, sample analysis, data management, and interpretation of results. It is unlikely that the entire body of research will be completed in one semester. Thus, both fall and spring must be utilized for making research progress (see Spring Semester, Item 1, below).

If required by the mentor, the student will write and submit a progress report by the end of classes in the Fall semester.

The student should enroll in Biology 40X: Independent Research for the spring semester.

The Committee’s review of the Proposal, a progress report (if required), and an evaluation of the student’s conduct as an investigator by the mentor will contribute to the grade given in Thesis for the fall semester.

Interim Session

During Interim, the faculty mentor will discuss with the Thesis Committee regarding whether the candidate is performing at, above, or below the “acceptable” level in all evaluation categories (refer to Rubric for the Honors Thesis in Biology downloadable here). After the Thesis Committee renders a decision on truncating or continuing Honors Thesis candidacy, the faculty mentor will communicate that decision to the student.

Frequently, with the permission of the mentor, candidates elect to use much of their Interim Session on campus doing research, returning early when possible. While not required, engaging in research during this concentrated period can advance progress significantly because the student is free from competing demands of other coursework and activities. This should be discussed by the candidate and mentor well in advance of the intersession.

Spring Semester of the Senior Year

  1. With approval from the committee and a grade of “A” in Biol. 495, the candidate will switch from Biol. 40X to Honors Thesis (Biol. 496) and continue the research project. As the semester continues, curricular matters other than research will rear their heads (e.g., midterm examinations, term papers, and final examinations in other courses; post-graduate plans, etc.); planning and executing successfully all necessary experiments/field work/analyses will become very important. For this reason, it is prudent to schedule completing necessary investigations by early in the spring semester. A reasonable target is that, by the Mid-Term Grade due date, the student has assembled the bulk of the final form of the Honors Thesis, including drafts of figures (graphs, diagrams, or photographs) and tables, and most statistical analyses.
  2. At the beginning of the spring semester, the student, mentor, and committee will agree upon due dates for important materials (e.g., thesis drafts). In particular, the committee should agree upon the date by which the candidate should circulate to the committee the near-final draft of the thesis that will be evaluated during the review meeting (see next item). This timeline is at the discretion of the committee, and failure to meet deadlines may affect the student’s candidacy.
  3. The student will present on their thesis to the Thesis Committee, and guests (including members of the department) are welcome. If the Thesis Committee does not already include a member from outside the Biology Department, an external evaluator will also attend. The Committee will probe the student’s understanding of their research. At this time, the Committee will make a judgment on the quality and suitability of the Thesis. If the thesis is approved, the Committee also will determine what changes, if any, must be made in the final draft of the Thesis. The specific format of this Committee meeting will be at the discretion of the mentor.
  4. The candidate should ensure that the mentor submits a completed Approval of Thesis form to the Academic Progress Committee as soon as possible after the presentation, but certainly no later than the date for submission of Senior Grades.
  5. An electronic PDF copy of the Honors Thesis, incorporating any and all changes as directed by the Committee, outside examiners, or Department members, are submitted to the Department Head and the mentor before the end of the final examination period.

Summary Timeline

The summary timeline below is a resource intended for those who have already read all of the above information. If you do not pay strict attention to the information above, you risk missing important information that will eliminate you from consideration for Honors.

Spring semester junior year

  • Discuss the possibility of an Honors Thesis with your mentor
  • Enroll in BIOL 495
  • Make sure you have completed Biology 265: Biostatistics

Summer between junior and senior year

  • Draft thesis proposal and start putting together a thesis committee.

Fall senior year

  • Present proposal to the thesis committee.
  • Engage in experiments/studies/analyses/etc.
  • Register for BIOL 40X for spring.

Interim senior year

  • Candidate works on thesis (in consultation with mentor).
  • Thesis committee decides whether the candidate can enroll in BIOL 496.

Spring senior year

  • If approved, the candidate enrolls in BIOL 496 and drops BIOL 40X.
  • The student follows the committee-specific timeline regarding submission of drafts and other materials.
  • Candidate defends thesis to Committee, with guests invited.

NEXT: Departmental standards for written work.