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Honors Research (BSCI 4999)

Honors students register for BSCI 4999 in both semesters of the senior year.  Honors research is meant to be a research immersion experience encompassing a significant time commitment with a minimum of 10 credit hours across two semesters.  A minimum grade point average of 3.4 in Biological Sciences courses and approval of the faculty 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 4 – 6 credit hours/semester of Honors research with the expectation of at least 3 – 4 hours in the lab per credit hour. 

Eligibility and Criteria for Entry into the Honors Program

You must satisfy the conditions required by the College or Arts and Sciences for admission to the Departmental Honors programs. 

You must have an overall grade point average of equal to or greater than 3.3 and a grade point average in courses required for the appropriate Biological Sciences major equal to or greater than 3.4 at the time of entry. 

Your application must be approved by a majority vote of the faculty of the department. 

Admission to the Program

Students should apply to the program no later than August 15 before their senior year.  In most cases, students will continue with an existing laboratory research program, i.e. continue in the same lab as BSCI 3861 or BSCI 3961 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 using the application form which should be returned to Dr. Patton.  

  • Title 
  • Brief Research Proposal 
  • Check mark that all required courses for the appropriate Biological Sciences major have been or will be completed by the end of the senior year. 
  • Overall and BSCI GPAs (do not include General Chemistry or Organic Chemistry in your BSCI GPA) 
  • Selection of the desired number of credit hours 

Requirements of the Program

To receive Honors or Highest Honors in Biological Sciences, a student in the Departmental Honors Program must: 

  • Complete the requirements for either the MCB, BioSci, or EEOB major. 
  • Achieve a minimum grade point average of 3.4 in all courses that count toward the major. 
  • Satisfactorily pursue a research project under the supervision of the advisor with a minimum of 10 hours of honors research, BSCI 4999. 
  • Complete and present an Honors Thesis to the Biological Sciences Faculty.

Program Structure

  • Honors Committee. An Honors Committee composed of the research mentor and two additional faculty is assigned by the Honors Director. One faculty member other than the mentor is assigned as the Honors Committee Chair.
  • Fall Committee Meeting. In late November/early December, students generate a 2-3- page document that describes their project background, rationale, progress during fall semester, and plans for the spring semester. The document is distributed to the Honors Committee ahead of an in-person, 1-hour meeting that consists of a 15-minute Powerpoint presentation followed by questions and comments from committee members
    and mentors.
  • Honors Thesis. Near the end of the second semester of Honors research, students submit a written Honors thesis detailing their discoveries and contributions to ongoing research. The format of the thesis should resemble a submitted manuscript but with extended Introductory and Discussion sections to provide a scholarly literature review for the work, implications of the work for the field, and future experiments. There are no specific page limits; rather, the goal is to write a concise and coherent description of the research. If multiple projects have been undertaken over the undergraduate career, appendices in the format of published papers can be used to describe projects outside the main Honors research project.
  • Spring Thesis Presentation. Near the end of the spring semester, students schedule a 20-minute public talk (15 min talk + 5 min questions), followed by a private defense, with their Honors Committee. Talks/defenses from individual students will be spread across the last two weeks of classes. The schedule will be distributed to all members of the department, with a clear designation of research area. Faculty in that area are expected to attend.
  • Thesis Defense. Immediately following the public oral presentation, the student defends their thesis in front of a 5-member Defense Committee, who will ask questions intended to gauge the student’s mastery of their research project and competency in their field of study. The Defense Committee is composed of the Honors Committee, the Honors Director, and an ad hoc Honors Defense member selected by the department chair at the start of the academic year. Each member of the Defense Committee reads the thesis and attends the oral presentation and private defense. The defense is run by the Honors Committee Chair and lasts no longer than 30 minutes. At the end of the defense, the Defense Committee convenes in private (without the student present) to discuss the student’s overall progress in the lab and their performance on the oral presentation and the defense. The Thesis Defense Committee votes to award Highest Honors, Honors, or no Honors. The mentor and Honors Committee Chair write a brief summary of their recommendation for Honors/Highest Honors that will include a tally of the vote, a description of the student’s overall progress in the lab, and the quality of their thesis, talk, and defense. This document will be made available to the full faculty at the end of the semester.
  • Honors/Highest Honors is awarded based on a majority vote of the 5-member Honors Defense Committee. The decision to award Honors, Highest Honors, or no Honors is based on overall effort, the quality of the Honors thesis, and the ability to effectively communicate the research and its implications. Highest Honors is based on whether the student has made major intellectual and technical contributions to publication quality research and who has demonstrated ownership of the research. There is no specific GPA requirement for awarding Highest Honors.
  • Honors/Highest Honors is conferred by a majority vote of the full faculty.

Recommended Form for the Fall Semester Progress 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 contain sufficient background information to allow the committee to understand the broad goals of the research as well as 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 and rationale (including relevance to other projects), and briefly outlining the overall plan of the project. 
  • Progress Report, describing experiments attempted and completed, and including both positive and negative results. 
  • Research Plan, outlining plans for the second semester of research. 

Accompanying this written document, students will prepare and deliver a 10-15 minute oral presentation to the Honors Committee to discuss the project and relevant data. 


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

  • Title Page 
  • Abstract
  • Introduction (including a complete, scholarly literature review)
  • Materials and Methods 
  • Results (an account of the research, including positive and negative results)
  • Discussion (conclusions drawn from the research and recommendations for further research) 
  • References 
  • Figures (these should be included within the text) 

Note: the thesis can encompass research performed across BSCI 3861, 3961, and 4999.

Oral Presentation of the Progress Report / Thesis Defense

Oral presentations will be scheduled near the end of spring semester. Talks will be scheduled for 15 minutes with 5 minutes for questions.  Students are expected to ensure that all members of their Honors Committee can attend. The thesis presentation will be open to other undergraduate research students, the departmental faculty, and invited guests. 


Honors Research is coordinated by Professor James Patton.