The Undergraduate Honors Program in the Biological Sciences

Learning Goals of the Biology Honors Program

This program is designed to provide Biology students an opportunity to turn their undergraduate research experience into a formal honors thesis. As part of completing an honors thesis, the student will conduct a results-based independent research project under the tutelage of a Faculty member in Department of Biological Sciences, participate in a seminar course designed for students doing undergraduate research, write an honors thesis, and communicate their work publicly.

As a member of the Honors Program, students will be able to combine their knowledge from courses with a firsthand understanding of experimental Biology. They will interact one-on-one with a faculty mentor, graduate students, and other undergraduate students. They will gain experience in discussing science with others. The primary learning goal of the program is for students to be able to integrate all components of biological sciences into their knowledge base: basic research and the scientific method, study of the primary literature, and communication of the knowledge that is gained.

Students who have experience doing independent research are invited to apply to the Honors Program no later than the spring of their junior year. See below for details.

Requirements for Admittance to the Honors Program

1) A major in Biology and experience doing research with a member of the Department of Biology. On a case-by-case basis, we may allow faculty mentors from other departments.

2) At least two credits of BIOL 398 or 399 completed or in process by the time you are applying to the program. Participation in the summer URP can count as one credit.

3) A completed application for the Program. This includes:
i. A 1-2 page statement describing the objectives of your independent research and results obtained to date. Your statement must explain how your research is unique from that of others working in your research lab.

ii. Your resume.
iii. Your transcripts.
iv. Contract with your research mentor (see link)

Application Process

It is strongly advised that you meet with the Director of the Honors Program (Dr. Sarah Woodley, before applying. Applications are due by March 30th. They are reviewed by the Director of the Honors Program and members of the Honors Program Committee (Undergraduate Curriculum Committee).

Requirements for Graduation with Honors in Biological Sciences:

Procedural Requirements:

1) A student must have completed a minimum of 3 credits of undergraduate research (BIOL 398/399, or summer URP equivalent) and a minimum of 2 semesters of research (approved summer research may count as one semester) in the lab of a Biology faculty member. On a case-by-case basis, we may allow faculty mentors from other scientific disciplines.

2) Biology Research Forum (BIOL 394) taken during the fall of junior or senior years. In this course, open to all students doing undergraduate research, students read journal articles, discuss ethical issues, and hone their written and oral scientific communication skills.

3) Two credits of Honors Thesis (BIOL 415H) during which students write an Honors Thesis in consultation with their faculty advisor. This course is taken in the fall or spring of senior year. The course includes a series of thesis draft deadlines that must be followed. The final draft of the thesis is evaluated by the Instructor and members of the Honors Program Committee. As part of this course, you will also present a 20 minute seminar on your research as part of the departmental seminar series (BIOL 490) as well as participate (poster) in the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium. Enrollment is by permission of the Honors Program Director, based on evidence that sufficient research results have been obtained as a basis for the Honors Thesis.

Successful Completion of a Biology Honors Thesis:

The departmental Honors Committee is responsible for your acceptance and retention in the Program and for the ultimate designation of your work as an Honors Thesis. The timely completion and quality of your thesis will be monitored through BIOL415 and through consultation with your research mentor. If progress along the way is insufficient, a student may be withdrawn from the program. If the thesis is acceptable as an Honors thesis, the thesis title will be added to the student's transcripts, after the words, "Honors Thesis". If the thesis is not acceptable as an Honors thesis, the title will not appear on the transcript, or would follow the words, "Undergraduate Thesis". For questions regarding the Program or admittance, please contact the Director of the Honors Program, Dr. Sarah Woodley, Mellon Hall 225, 412-396-6320,

Course Descriptions

BIOL 398, 399. Undergraduate Biology Research. 1-3 credits. Laboratory research under the direction of a faculty mentor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Prerequisite: Permission of faculty mentor. May be taken more than once, but a maximum of 6 credits can be counted towards your degree.

BIOL 394. Biology Research Forum. 1 credit. An interactive format encourages students to develop a strong foundation in reading, writing, and presenting scientific communication. Designed for students performing research with a faculty mentor, the course will guide students to write a manuscript and develop an oral presentation based on their own research project. In addition to presenting their ideas in written and oral form, students will read and critically assess scientific literature, discuss the ethics of research and publication, and evaluate and critique the work of their peers. Prerequisite: at least 1 credit of BIOL 398 or BIOL 399. Offered fall.

BIOL 415H. Honors Biology Thesis. 2 credits. A written honors Biology thesis that is based on research that was conducted under the mentorship of a faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences. Also includes public presentations (oral and poster) of the thesis research. Prerequisite: 3 credits of undergraduate research (BIOL 398/399; summer URP may count as 1 credit) and a minimum of 2 semesters of research (approved summer research may count as one semester), permission of a faculty mentor, and permission of Director of the Biology Honors Program.