Biology Requirements for Honors 

Biology 4000+

Advanced Independent Study and Honors Guidelines for Seniors Working in the Biology Dept.

 Course Description:    Advanced independent study is designed to provide a capstone experience that will integrate your scientific background, develop your ability to explore scientific questions independently, and present scientific information through a complete research experience. In this research experience you will learn alongside your advisor and your peers.  An additional goal of this experience is to strengthen the peer group that exists among seniors conducting research.

Course Philosophy:    We expect you to be active participants in your research experience.  Explore the literature. Discuss ideas with your advisor.  Attend and actively participate in seminars. Ask questions of our invited speakers and of your peers to demonstrate your engagement in research beyond your own. Ask questions of your peers during their practice seminars to help them anticipate questions from others. Questions drive the advancement of scientific knowledge – your questioning will help someone to think outside their box. You are encouraged to provide peer-review of posters, oral presentations, and written documents to your fellow students.

Objectives:  In the course of your research experience this year you will:

  1. develop research goals and objectives
  2. perform a comprehensive literature review of your research area
  3. design appropriate experiments to reach your goals and objectives
  4. conduct well-planned experiments
  5. analyze your data to understand and interpret your results
  6. present your findings in poster, oral and written formats
  7. thoughtfully critique the work of your peers
  8. stay current with developments in the field by attending weekly seminars featuring invited speakers who will present current and on-going research

Time commitment:      Advanced independent study requires a strong commitment to your scholarship and the conscientiousness necessary to participate in an “unstructured” course.  Bear in mind that your time commitment is likely to exceed that of a standard Bowdoin course – you will probably need to spend an average of 10-15 hours a week to meet the above objectives.

Seminars: Thursdays 4:00-5:00 PM, Druckenmiller 20

Candidates must demonstrate a serious commitment to participate in departmental programs and are required to attend the majority of Biology Department seminars. If you have a compelling reason to be absent, please seek permission of your research advisor.  Candidates are also required to participate in the Senior Honors Seminar series, which includes a paper discussion prior to 2 seminars each semester and a short discussion with each of these speakers following the seminar.

Assignments: Your adherence to Fall and Spring deadlines is expected:

Fall 2017

Early Oct:  Schedule poster printing (students who performed summer research)

Fri, Oct 20:  President’s Science Symposium:  Present a poster of your summer research

By Fri, Nov 3:  Biology prospective honors students submit title to Department Coordinator, Mary Keenan (*

By Fri, Nov 17: Complete preliminary research paper draft to advisor* (see more details below)

By Fri, Dec 1:  Submit your final fall paper to your advisor and readers*.

Tues & Wed, Dec 11-12:  Give an oral presentation of your research project and progress*.

*Required of students working towards Honors. The Biology Dept will assign readers for each honors project and inform students by early Nov.  Students pursuing independent study only, please consult with your advisor

           Plan Ahead!  You will iterate several drafts of your oral and written presentations with your advisor. Collaborate with your advisor to develop timelines that are workable for both of you.

Spring 2018

Winter break:  Students will be invited into the honors program by the Biology faculty, based on the review of their work and academic standing.

By Thurs, Feb 1:  Discuss paper with readers and progress and performance with advisor

By Fri, March 30: Final thesis title to Department Coordinator, Mary Keenan (*

By Fri, April 13: Complete thesis to advisor.*

By Fri, May 4: Revised thesis to reviewers.*

Thurs & Fri, May 10-11: Final oral presentation of thesis.*

By Fri, May 18: Final Revised and approved thesis due to library 5:00 p.m.*

The student should continue to consult with all three faculty members until thesis is ready for final submission. The approval of each of the faculty readers is required before the thesis is submitted to the College Librarian.

By Wed, May 23: Two Copies of the Final Revised Thesis and one electronic copy submitted to the Biology Department Coordinator, Mary Keenan (*

Evaluation: The biology faculty has high expectations of the quality of work produced by all senior research students, and these expectations are elevated for those working toward Honors. Your grade on your independent study project will reflect your efforts in all elements of the research experience documented above and your active participation in the biology research community. Your progress toward achieving the stated objectives of the research experience will be formally evaluated by the biology faculty mid-year and once again at the conclusion of the year.  At these points, the faculty will identify strengths and limitations in your progress and performance and either your advisor or a representative biology faculty member will provide recommendations for addressing any concerns in progress.  The following criteria will be used to evaluate your performance and progress: (i) your engagement in the project; (ii) independence in laboratory/field and analysis (which we expect will be enhanced over the two semesters); (iii) your ability to incorporate feedback from your advisor in written and oral assignments; (iv) the final quality of your written and oral assignments. See mid-year feedback form at the end of this document.

Grades: Grades for Bio 4000+ are awarded by your faculty advisor.  For students undertaking a yearlong project, faculty members often submit a grade of “S” (satisfactory) for the first semester grade.  This grade is then replaced by a final grade at the completion of the year.  The convention for grading should be discussed with your advisor (see more information p. 4).

Honors: Honors is a distinction awarded at the end of the year to advanced independent study students whose projects merit this recognition, as determined by the Biology Department.  Students who receive this distinction for their work must meet eligibility standards (such as grade requirements), must participate in required honors activities (such as attending and engaging in seminars), must present their project in the required oral and written formats (as noted above), and must demonstrate, through their independent engagement in the project, their ability to plan and execute experiments, their ownership of the project and relevant literature, and through the quality of their final thesis, that their project has risen to a level worthy of receiving the award of Honors. 

For students pursuing Honors in biology, you will receive feedback regarding your project with information about areas where you are or are not meeting the expectations for an Honors project (see p. 5). Following your successful completion of two semesters of independent study (e.g. Biology 4000 and 4001), the department will assess whether your final thesis can be recommended for Honors.  If you achieve honors, the registrar will switch the course numbers on your transcript to 4050 and 4051.

Honors vs.                  The major differences between honors and independent study projects are:

Independent study:     -- Only honors candidates present posters/talks during reading period.

-- Independent study papers do not need to meet the library formatting requirements.

-- Only honors projects are reviewed by faculty members other than your advisor.

Talk with your advisor about whether there are other differences specific to work in her/his research group.

Preliminary Research Paper (“Fall paper”) and Oral Presentation

The Fall preliminary research paper and oral presentation will generally include:

  • An introduction to the research problem (with appropriate review of the scientific literature and citations)
  • A brief summary of the goals of the project
  • Brief descriptions of:
    • Methods used
    • Results to date
    • Plans for the continuation of the research in the spring semester

Details of the format and length of this paper should be determined in a discussion between the faculty advisor and the student (e.g. how much interpretation/discussion of data to include).  The length of the oral presentation of this workwill be determined by the Biology Department Faculty and notification will be sent to students. 

The Biology Department recommends that you talk with your advisor early in the fall semester about whether to set additional deadlines. Such deadlines are particularly helpful for people who are more comfortable with more structure, who are inclined toward procrastination, or who find writing or reading the literature particularly challenging.

Possible intermediate deadlines you could set with your advisory include those for:

  • Writing a short project description.
  • Assembling an annotated bibliography of papers relevant to your project
  • Writing an outline for your preliminary research paper
  • Exchanging a draft of your paper with a fellow student for feedback
  • Submitting a preliminary draft of your paper to your advisor

For a copy of the Mid-Year Feedback Form click here [pdf].