Skip to main content

BSCI 4999: Honors Research in Biological Sciences

Introduction to the Biological Sciences Honors Program

Biological Sciences has a vigorous Departmental Honors program, whose central feature is a two-semester research project under the guidance of a faculty member. About 15-25% of our majors participate. The following pages contain the official description of the program. Professor James Patton directs the program. He will be happy to discuss the program with you.

Back to top

Applications Deadline

Apply to the Honors program by August 15 between your junior and senior year. It is recommended that students begin planning for Honors by the first semester of their junior year.

Finding An Honors Research Mentor

You should select an advisor from the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences.  In most cases, students applying to the Honors program will already have begun their research as a BSCI 3861 or BSCI 3961 project. This sequence is recommended, but not required. Faculty from departments other than Biological Sciences are eligible to serve as research mentors provided a Biological Sciences faculty member agrees to serve as a co-mentor.

Back to top

Other Considerations

Honors students will normally 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, but most students register for 12 credits.  A minimum grade point average of 3.4 in Biological Sciences courses and approval of the faculty 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 10 - 12 credit hours of Honors research with the expectation of at least 3 - 4 hours in the lab per credit hour.


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

II. 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 is available online and 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
  • 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
  • For complete program requirements, consult the Undergraduate Catalog and the requirements for the Departmental Honors program.
  • Applications should be completed and the research advisor should e-mail Dr. Patton.

click to download application

Each Honors student will be assigned an Honors Committee of four Biological Sciences faculty members including the research mentor and Dr. Patton.  The committee will be appointed by the end of the third week of the semester.

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

  1. Complete the requirements for either the MCB, BioSci, or EEOB 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 10 hours of honors research, BSCI 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 HOnor Thesis, based on the research project, to be read and evaluated by the Honors Committee.  The thesis must be submitted to the examining committee by 5:00 pm on the last day of classes before graduation.
  6. Present the thesis orally before the Honors Committee and faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences.  Oral presentations will normally be scheduled for the Reading Day preceding final exams.

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, Biological Sciences GPA, and contributions to the intellectual mission of the laboratory and department are truly outstanding.

Back to top

Recommended Form of the Written Reports


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 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.
  • 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 a 10-15 minute oral presentation with 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 (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)
  • References
  • Figures (these should be included within the text)

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

Back to top

Oral presentation of the progress report; thesis defense

The oral presentation will usually take place on the Reading Day prior to final exams.  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.  A copy of the Honors Thesis must be distributed to the Honors Committee by 5:00 pm on the last day of classes.  The thesis presentation will be open to other undergraduate research students, the departmental faculty, and invited guests.

Back to top

Honors Thesis and Research Report Preparation

The following points apply to all 3861 and 3961 research reports, as well as Honors theses, 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:

The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectra of Polypeptides in the Helical Configuration


Jane Smith


Honors Thesis

Department of Biological Sciences
Vanderbilt University
April, 2017

Research Advisor: Dr Mary Jones

Acknowledgements: These are not required, but are often included, and they are certainly a nice idea. 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 3861 and 3961, they should be at the end of the main text, before the reference list. Keep them brief and to the point; this gives them more impact. Note that if Mary Jones has a doctorate, she may be referred to as Dr. Mary Jones or as Mary Jones, Ph.D. (or M.D. or D.Phil.), but not as Dr. Mary Jones, Ph.D. Informal acknowledgements (I would like to thank Mary for ..." ) are also acceptable, if you feel they are appropriate.

Abstract : not to exceed 100 words

Table of Contents

Introduction: Whatever else it may contain, an introduction should always include three elements:

  • a general overview of the system or topic under study, written in terms that are understandable to a well-read scientist in some field outside that of the thesis
  • background to the work described in the thesis or report, including its significance; again, the reader is assumed to be from outside the field
  • a very brief summary of the work described in the thesis or report

A summary of previous work on this project by the student (for example, in a directed or independent research project) 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.

Figures and Tables: should be numbered and inserted into the text, with their captions. A figure should appear as soon as possible after the first reference to it.  They may be incorporated in the text pages, or on separate pages. If space allows, each caption should be on the same page as the corresponding figure or table.

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 Mary Wang".

References should be given in the text by author (use the form "et al." for references with more than two authors), and listed alphabetically at the end of the thesis, in the style of Journal of Molecular Biology, Journal of Cell Biology, Evolution, or similar.