Biology Requirements for Honors 

Biology 4000+

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

Course Description:  Honors 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.

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 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

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 may 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 4:15-5:15 PM, Druckenmiller 20 [unless otherwise noted]

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 two 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 2018

By Fri, Nov 2:  Biology prospective honors students submit preliminary title to Department Coordinator, Mary Keenan (

By Fri, Nov 16: Share preliminary research paper draft to advisor (find more details below)

By Fri, Dec 3:  Submit your final fall paper to your advisor and readers

Mon, Dec 10:  Deliver an oral presentation of your research project and progress to the Department

[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 2019

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, Jan 31:  Discuss paper with readers and progress and performance with advisor

Fri, March 29: Final thesis title to Department Coordinator, Mary Keenan (

Fri, April 19: Complete draft thesis to advisor

By Fri, May 3: Revised thesis to reviewers

Thurs & Fri, May 9-10: Final oral presentation of thesis

By Fri, May 17: 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 22: 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, using the following criteria: (i) your engagement in the project; (ii) independence in laboratory/field and analysis; (iii) your ability to incorporate feedback from your advisor and reader in written and oral assignments; (iv) the final quality of your written and oral assignments. 

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. 

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 distinction of Honors. 

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 work will 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 function better 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].