Introduction & Requirements

The Honors program in Biology is research-based and requires students to complete a substantial piece of original biological work which they describe in a formal Thesis and present at the departmental Achauer Honors Research Symposium. The program offers a unique opportunity for independent research, creativity and achievement. The Department of Biology is very proud of the achievements of our undergraduate researchers and of the fact that so many of our students take advantage of this opportunity (over 50% of our students write Honors Theses each year!). Honors research also offers a chance to interact more closely with faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and fellow undergraduates.

There are five requirements for graduation with Honors in Biology:

  1. You must have a minimum cumulative average GPA of at least 3.0 in Bio core, foundational breadth, and Bio elective courses. Research and teaching courses (BIO 198, 198X, 199, 199X, 300, 300X, 290, 291) are not included in this average. There is no minimum Bio GPA required to be admitted to the Honors Program, but the 3.0 must be obtained by the quarter in which the student is graduating.
  2. 10 units of BIO 199 or 199X or BIOHOPK 199H from the same lab. These units do not need to be for a letter grade.
  3. An approved Honors proposal.
  4. Submittal of two bound hard copies and one electronic copy as a PDF of the Honors Thesis read and approved by at least two Academic Council members (the Research Sponsor and designated Second Reader, at least one of whom must be from the Department of Biology), and one additional electronic copy of the Honors abstract.
  5. Attendance at, and poster or oral presentation in, the Achauer Biology Honors Research Symposium held at the end of Spring Quarter.

Honors Information Handout
Honors Information Session Powerpoint Presentation

The Petition Process

To petition for honors, students must submit the following materials to their research sponsor, second reader, and faculty advisor:

  1. Honors Proposal form with signatures from
    • Research Sponsor
    • Second Reader
    • Biology Department Faculty Advisor (your Faculty Advisor may also sign as your Second Reader; if this is what you are doing, please have him/her sign twice - once as your Second Reader and again as your Faculty Advisor)
  2. Biology GPA calculation sheet, filled out and printed out
  3. 5-6 page proposal

Once the Research Sponsor, Second Reader, and Faculty Advisor have read and approved the honors proposal, the complete packet must be submitted to Gilbert 108. This means that you should be submitting these documents to faculty at least two weeks ahead of the deadline to allow enough time for your faculty to review, provide feedback, and for you to revise!

Proposal Deadlines

Honors proposals are due to the Student Services Office in Gilbert 108 no later than two quarters prior to graduating.

 Spring 2013-14 graduates: Monday, October 28, 2013 at 3:00pm
 Autumn 2014-15 graduates: Monday, January 27, 2014 at 3:00pm
 Winter 2014-15 graduates: Monday, April 28, 2014 at 3:00pm

It is your responsibility to obtain the necessary signatures on the proposal form. Many faculty travel extensively, so make sure your Research Sponsor, Academic Advisor, and Readers will be on-campus to read your proposal and sign your form well ahead of the deadline. Students submitting late proposals will automatically be excluded from winning the Firestone Award or doing an oral presentation at the Honors Symposium.

The Honors Proposal

The proposal should be appropriately referenced (most students have 5 – 20 references) and be at least 5-6 pages in length, not including the references and appendices (double, not triple, spaced; 10-12 point font) and organized as follows with the headings shown below:

A. Your Name and Title of Honors Project

B. Objective of research. Briefly and clearly state the question that your research is designed to address. Explain the specific aims of the research.

C. Introduction. Using appropriately referenced background information, indicate the significance of your research.

D. Materials and Methods. Describe the experimental design used to carry out your research including methods and materials. Indicate how these techniques will allow you to address your research question.

E. Preliminary or Anticipated Results. Describe the expected outcome of your research, including any preliminary results you have obtained so far. Indicate how the data collected will be used to draw conclusions regarding the research question. Be sure to indicate your role in all aspects of the project, from conception of idea to experimental design through data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

F. References

Samples of previous proposals are on file in the Student Services office in Gilbert 108.


The Thesis

If you submitted a properly formatted and cohesive honors proposal, you should be able to use the Introduction and Materials & Methods sections of your proposal as a starting point for your thesis. Once you have finished your research in the lab or the field, now begins the time for the analysis and synthesis processes which are the culmination of your scholarly endeavors.

The Honors Thesis should take the standard form of a research report, with the intended audience being a Biology faculty member or student who is not necessarily in your specific field. The minimum length of the Thesis is 12 pages, not including data appendices and reference lists. Most theses are more than 20 pages. The Thesis must be either 1.5 spacing or double spaced, written in a 12-point font, and printed one-sided. Your Research Sponsor should be able to provide specific guidance regarding the content and organization of your Thesis. Be sure to get your Sponsor's advice on early drafts of the Thesis. It is also advisable to keep in contact with your Second Reader, so she or he can see a draft in sufficient time to provide constructive feedback as well.

You are required submit a polished draft of the Thesis to both your Sponsor and Second Reader (with a cc to Student Services) at least two weeks before they are due to the department. Many faculty will want to see it earlier than this, so CHECK WITH THEM ahead of time! Revisions to this draft will be minimal and easily correctable if you have been in contact earlier with both Sponsor and Second Reader!

Please click here for a Word document that you are strongly encouraged to use as the template for your thesis. All items highlighted in yellow are meant to guide you through the format, and should be deleted for your final thesis!

Deadlines are quarter-specific. Following are the deadlines for thesis submission for students graduating during the 2013-2014 academic year:

Autumn 2013-2014 graduates: Monday, November 25, 2013 at 3:00pm
Winter 2013-2014 graduates: Monday, March 3, 2014 at 3:00pm
Spring 2013-2014 graduates: Thursday, May 8, 2013 at 3:00pm

The following items must be submitted to the Student Services Office in Gilbert 108:

Printed and bound thesis. Two copies of the printed and bound Thesis are required; three, for work done at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. All copies of the printed/bound thesis must have original faculty signatures. The binding must be flat, NOT spiral. Spiral-bound theses will not be accepted. Sample acceptable binding is available in Gilbert 108, or on the Kinko's website (called strip binding). One copy will be catalogued into Falconer Biology Library and the other will be submitted to the University's archives.

Thesis Abstract. The thesis abstract should be written after the thesis itself is written. In addition to including the abstract in the thesis itself, you are also required to submit the abstract electronically (emailed as a PDF to Student Services). Be sure to include your name, Thesis title, sponsor name and department as well as the date you submitted it in the document. The abstract will be separated from your thesis, so this is the only way it can remain identified as yours! File name must be "LastName_FirstName_Abstract.pdf".

Electronic copy of thesis. In addition to submitting hard copies of your thesis, you are also required to email a PDF version of your thesis to Student Services. File name must be "LastName_FirstName.pdf".

The Honors Symposium

Honors students graduating in Spring Quarter are required to participate in the Biology Achauer Honors Symposium held Friday May 16, 2014. The Symposium is intended to be a celebration and acknowledgment of the research achievements of the graduating students in the Honors Program, as well as a focal event for undergraduates considering research as a part of their curriculum. Most students will present their work on posters (including all those graduating in autumn or winter quarters). For information on how to construct a poster, see Poster Guidelines. Examples of previous years' posters are on display outside Gilbert 118. For Colin Purrington's (Swarthmore College) hilarious guide to poster design and presentation, click here.

Approximately 5-7 students will give oral presentations. If you are interested in giving an oral presentation at the Symposium, applications are due to Student Services by April 24, 2014.

All Honors graduates are expected to attend all of the oral presentations during the Achauer Honors Symposium, so as soon as you have finalized your Spring Quarter study list, make alternative plans for any class that meets Friday afternoons!

Firestone Awards

Research Sponsors may nominate their Honors student(s) for the Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, using the Honors Thesis as the basis for the award. Students cannot apply for this distinction. In order for students to be considered for the award, the Research Sponsor needs to submit an application to Student Services by Friday,  April 25, 2014 . This means that, in reality, you should have your Thesis in to your Readers even earlier than the deadline if you’d like to be considered for the prestige -- and cash -- associated with the Firestone Medal! Additionally, the Firestone nominee needs to submit an extra copy of the completed Thesis to Student Services by the Thesis deadline date.

See the Calendar for all important dates!