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BCB 4999: Honors Research in Biochemistry and Chemical Biology



The purpose of the Honors Program is to provide students with an intensive two-semester research project under the guidance of a faculty member. Honors students will normally register for BCB 4999 in sequential semesters during the senior year. Honors research is meant to be a research immersion experience. There is a significant time commitment, with a minimum of 6 credit hours (3 per semester), but students may register for more, up to 12 credits (6 per semester). A minimum grade point average of 3.3 overall and 3.4 in BCB courses and approval of the course coordinator are required to enter the program. It is recommended that students plan ahead so that they can meet graduation requirements and still be able to set aside time for a minimum of 3 credit hours of Honors research per semester with the expectation of at least 3-4 hours in the lab per credit hour.

Application for Admission to the BCB Honors Program

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Official Description of the Program

Applications Deadline
Apply to the Honors program between your junior and senior year, preferably prior to the end of the second semester junior year but no later than the week prior to the start of the fall semester of the senior year. It is recommended that students begin planning for Honors by the first semester of their junior year.

Finding A Research Mentor
Students should select an advisor engaged in biochemistry or chemical biology research. If the advisor is not affiliated with the BCB program, the student should receive prior approval from the course coordinator. In most cases, students applying to the Honors program will already have begun their research as a BCB 3201 project. This sequence is recommended, but not required.

Formal Requirements for Honors Program in Biological Sciences

I. Eligibility and Criteria for Entry into the Honors Program

  1. You must satisfy the conditions required by the College or Arts and Sciences for admission to the Departmental Honors programs.
  2. At the time of entry and upon graduation, you must have an overall grade point average equal to or greater than 3.3 and a grade point average in courses required for the BCB major (non including pre-requisite courses) equal to or greater than 3.4.
  3. Your application must be approved by the BCB directors and course coordinator.

II. Admission to the Program

Students should apply to the program no later than the week prior to the start of their senior year. In most cases, students will continue with an existing laboratory research program from the same lab as BCB 3201 projects. The formal application requires a title and a brief research proposal prepared by the student and the advisor, outlining the intended program of research.

Instructions for completing the application

  • Title
  • Brief Research Proposal. 2-3 pages double-spaced describing research program, background, and rationale for the project.
  • Indication that all required courses for the appropriate BCB major have been or will be completed by the end of the senior year. This can be specified by filling in the appropriate section of the BCB 3201 course application (available here)
  • Overall and BCB GPAs (does not include General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Calculus, Physics or Intro to Biological Sciences)
  • Selection of the desired number of credit hours
  • For complete program requirements, consult the Undergraduate Catalog and the requirements for the Honors program.
  • Applications should be completed and the research advisor should e-mail Dr. Michelle Sulikowski.

III. Requirements to receive honors

  1. Complete the requirements for either track of the BCB major.
  2. Achieve a minimum grade point average of 3.4 in all courses that count toward the major.
  3. Satisfactorily pursue a research project under the supervision of the advisor with a minimum of 6 hours of honors research, BCB 4999.
  4. Give a progress report to the Honors committee at the end of the first semester of research. This will consist of a short written progress report to be distributed to the Honors Committee one week before an oral presentation and meeting with the committee. The meeting must be scheduled before the start of finals week.
  5. At the end of the second semester of Honors Research, prepare an Honors Thesis based on the research project, to be read and evaluated by the Honors Committee. The thesis must be submitted to the examining committee one week prior to the last day of classes before graduation.
  6. Present the thesis orally before the Honors Committee and other BCB faculty. Oral presentations will either be a 15 minute talk or a poster presentation, usually on the Reading Day prior to final exams in the spring semester. The course instructor will notify the student by mid-term which form the presentation will take

IV. Awards

A conferral of no Honors, Honors, or Highest Honors will be made, based on the merit of the research presented in the thesis and the oral presentation. An award of Highest Honors is reserved for the rare student whose Honors work, BCB GPA, and contributions to the intellectual mission of the laboratory and department are truly outstanding.

Progress Report (End of the first semester)

Written report. This report will be the first chance for the student and research mentor to outline the overall project and progress during the first semester to the Honors Committee. It should be turned in to the research mentor and the committee at least one week prior to the meeting. It should contain sufficient background information to allow the committee to understand the broad goals of the research as well more detailed discussion of individual project successes and failures. It should be concise, no longer than 6 double-spaced pages and include:

  • Introduction, giving the background for the research, explaining its significance (including relevance to other projects), and briefly outlining the overall plan of the project.
  • Preliminary Data, describing experiments attempted and completed, and including both positive and negative results.
  • Research Plan, outlining plans for the second semester of research.
  • Each committee member and the BCB DUS receive a copy of the report.

Oral presentation. Accompanying this written document, students will prepare a 15 minute oral presentation with the Honors Committee to discuss the project and relevant data. It is the student’s responsibility to schedule this meeting with the members of the committee, and to let the course instructor know when and where the meeting will take place.

Thesis (End of the second semester)

Written report. The Thesis should be written in the format of a publication and include:

  • Title Page
  • Abstract (not more than 100 words)
  • Introduction (a more complete version of the Introduction to the Progress Report)
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results (an account of the research, including positive and negative results. This may be organized into one or more chapters)
  • Discussion (conclusions drawn from the research and recommendations for further research)
  • Figures (included within the text)
  • References

A copy of the Honors Thesis must be distributed to the Honors Committee one week prior to the last day of classes. The thesis may encompass research performed across BCB 3201 and 4999.

Oral thesis defense. The oral presentation will either be a 15 minute talk or a poster presentation, usually on the Reading Day prior to final exams in the spring semester. The course instructor will notify the student by mid-term which form the presentation will take. Talks will be scheduled for 15 minutes with 5 minutes for questions, and poster sessions will take place from 1-2 hours. Students are expected to ensure that all members of their Honors Committee can attend. The thesis presentations will be open to other undergraduate research students, the departmental faculty, and invited guests.

Honors Thesis and Research Report Preparation

The following points apply to all 3201 and 4999 research reports unless stated otherwise.

Title page:should include the project title, the student's name, the words "Honors Thesis" or "Research Report", the month and year, the department and university names, and the name of the research advisor. The research advisor is a faculty member; if some other member of the laboratory, such as a research associate, was the effective advisor, he or she should certainly be thanked in an Acknowledgements section, but should not appear on the title page. Example:

Long Title of the Research Project

Name of Honor’s Candidate

Honors Thesis

Biochemistry and Chemical Biology

Vanderbilt University


Research Advisor: Name

Acknowledgements: These are not required, but are often included. If included in a thesis, they should be on a page of their own, after the abstract and before the table of contents. In research reports for 3201, they should be at the end of the main text, before the reference list. Keep them brief and to the point to maximize their impact.

Abstract: Do not exceed 150 words

Table of Contents

Introduction: The introduction should always include three elements:

  • a general overview of the system under study, written in terms that are understandable to scientists in another field
  • background pertinent to the system addressed in the thesis, including significance and any information necessary to understand the question being addressed
  • a statement of the current gap in knowledge and the specific question being addressed in the current work
  • a brief summary of the conclusions described in the thesis or report

A summary of previous work on this project by the student in independent research and, if relevant, work done by others in the same laboratory, should also be included in the Introduction.

Page numbering:  The title page should not be numbered, and the next page (the abstract) should be numbered 2. Ideally, numbers should be centered at the bottom of each page.

Text, including Materials and Methods sections, should be double-spaced. Figure captions and reference lists may be single-spaced. Each section (shown in italics above) starts on a new page.

Figures and Tables:  Should be numbered and inserted into the text as soon as possible after the first reference to it. Figures and captions should be inserted together in a single text box.

If a figure or table is taken from another person's work, it should be acknowledged as the last sentence in the figure caption: "From Smith & Jones, 1998",  or "Courtesy of Jane Doe".

References: Can be numbered as in the style of ACS journals or by author and listed alphabetically at the end of the thesis as in the style of the Journal of Molecular Biology. Use the form "et al." for references with more than two authors.