Submission Guidelines for Biology Honors Projects

DEPARTMENTAL HONORS IN BIOLOGY (For May 2010 & December 2010 Graduates)

Information, Procedures and Criteria

Overview. Departmental Honors in Biology is awarded to students who have successfully completed a rigorous program of research and scholarship in the area of Biology. The written product, the honors thesis, is normally based on empirical research conducted by the student, although in certain cases, the thesis can be based on research of a different type, e.g., historical or philosophical research of a biological topic. The research can be conducted during the academic year, e.g., in a faculty member’s lab or on a study away program, and/or during the summer.

The department expects students pursuing departmental honors to make a major commitment of time and energy, one that normally extends as long as a year or more, including time spent developing and conducting the research, analyzing the results, reviewing the literature, writing the thesis, and preparing and presenting a public seminar on the thesis topic. Students should consider pursuing departmental honors only if they have a very strong interest in research and are willing to organize their senior year (academic and personal life) around the demands of the honors work. A small amount of college funding is available to help defray costs associated with honors work. Students interested in pursuing departmental honors are encouraged to contact a faculty member early in their junior year. Specific eligibility criteria and departmental procedures are described in more depth below.

Minimum GPA. To be accepted into the department’s honors program, students must have a cumulative GPA (all college courses) of at least 3.30 and a GPA in their biology courses of at least 3.40.

Prerequisite Course Work. Honors students must be biology majors. Biology minors are not eligible to pursue departmental honors in Biology. Students must have strong academic background and training in the area(s) needed to complete their honors work. The nature of the preparation will vary with the research, but adequate preparation must be demonstrated in relevant areas both within and outside of biology (e.g., in statistics or chemistry). Students interested in pursuing an interdisciplinary topic for their honors work must have demonstrated knowledge and expertise in the respective non-biological field(s) for their applications to be approved. In addition, these students may be asked to have a faculty member from the non-biological discipline serve as a co-faculty adviser to the honors project and thesis.

Application Process. Students must submit a Departmental Honors Application to the chair of the Biology Department no later than September 21, 2009 (for May 2010 graduates) or January 25, 2010 (for December 2010 graduates). The multi-page application involves a literature review of the topic, with a bibliography, and a thorough description of the proposed research, as well as information about the student’s preparation. (The application form should be attached to this information packet. If not, one can be obtained from the department office.) The application must be accompanied by a list of the biology courses taken and the grades earned by the students in those courses as well as overall GPA and biology GPA. The student and the biology faculty member serving as the student’s honors adviser must sign applications. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of department faculty members (the departmental honors committee). Accepted applicants will be admitted into the department’s honors program.

The Thesis. A typical thesis consists of two parts: an extensive literature review and a report of the student’s own research. In the literature review the student should demonstrate a thorough understanding of the major ideas, findings, and theories of the biological field that provides the context for the student’s own study. It is expected that the student will clearly describe how his/her specific study relates to the larger questions and issues confronting the broader research discipline. Literature reviews in honors theses are expected to range from 7,000 to 14,000 words (20-40 pages). While there are no formal length requirements for Biology theses, they normally range from 14,000 to 21,000 words (40-60 pages, excluding figures, tables, and bibliography).

Thesis Format.
A Biology Honors Thesis will be composed of the following ordered sections:

  • Title Page (listing the title, student’s name, the words “An Honors Thesis Submitted to the Biology Department at Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA”, and the date (day, month, year) of completion.
  • An Abstract (on its own page)
  • Table of Contents
  • A Preface (if desired)
  • Acknowledgments (if desired)
  • The body of the thesis
  • Literature Cited
  • Tables (if not incorporated into the text)
  • Figure Legends (if not incorporated into the text)
  • Figures (if not incorporated into the text)
  • Appendices (if any)

Font should be Times New Roman (12 point) (with exceptions for tables and figures). Margins should be one inch (top, bottom, and right) and 1.5 inches (left). Primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary (if any) headings must be distinguished from one another using different font, capitalization, and/or spacing conventions for the respective heading types.

References should be cited using one of the two following formats:

  • Cited parenthetically in the text (last name and year of publication) with the Literature Cited section arranged alphabetically according to the last name of the authors; or,
  • Cited numerically (in order of citation in the text) with the Literature Cited section arranged in ascending numerical order.

Note: In addition to being archived in the library, each successful thesis will be shelved and displayed in the Biology Department.

The Oral Presentation. Honors students are required to present a 30-60 minute public seminar on their research. In addition, honors students are expected to present their findings at the Winchell Symposium and/or at another professional meeting as well as at the Biology Department Spring Symposium.

The Defense. An honors thesis is read by a committee of faculty members, usually three and often including faculty or other experts from outside Macalester. This committee then meets with the student for about an hour (the defense) during which time committee members ask the student questions about the thesis and the research behind it. Following the meeting with the student, the committee decides as a group whether the thesis merits an honors designation.

Timeline. Students must submit a Departmental Honors Application to the chair of the Biology Department no later than September 21, 2009 (for May 2010 graduates) or January 25, 2010 (for December 2010 graduates).

During the last week of January in the senior year (August for December graduates), students are required to submit a first draft of their literature review to the department for approval. Only those students whose literature reviews are approved by the department will be permitted to proceed in the department honors program. Expectations and guidelines for the literature reviews are described above.

Honor’s Deadlines:

For May 2010 Graduates: For December 2010 Graduates:
Honor’s Application DUE September 21, 2009 January 25, 2009
Complete Draft of Literature Review January 22, 2010September 6, 2010 (Tentative)
Outside Examiner form DUE April 2, 2010 (Tentative) November 24, 2010 (Tentative)
AbstractApril 2, 2010 (Tentative) November 24, 2010 (Tentative)
Oral Defense Completion April 23, 2010(Tentative) December 8, 2010(Tentative)
Final Thesis April 30, 2010 (Tentative) December 15, 2010 (Tentative)

Independent Credits. Honors students are required to register for a two credit January independent credit during their senior year and are normally expected to be on campus during this time working on their research and/or writing. In certain cases, honors research and/or writing may be better accomplished off campus during January, e.g., in a particular lab, field site, or library. In these instances, the on campus requirement for January will be waived.

During the senior year, honors students are expected to commit the equivalent of at least one course per semester to working on their thesis. Typically, this commitment involves registering for an independent during one semester and enrolling in only three classes during the other semester. In any case, students are permitted to register for no more than two 4 credit independents (in addition to the 2 credit January independent) to work on their honors project. Note: only 4 independent credits can count toward the Biology major.