Honors Guidelines

Advanced Independent Study and Honors Guidelines for Seniors in Biochemistry

About Advanced Independent Study

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.


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. These expectations are outlined in the Honors Guidelines.


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
Seminar Attendance:

Students should attend all seminars listed in the biochemistry honors syllabus, and may attend additional seminars in consultation with their advisor. Attendance is mandatory.

Advanced independent study requires a strong commitment to your scholarship and then conscientiousness necessary to participate in an "unstructured" course. Bear in mind that your time commitment is expected to exceed that of a standard Bowdoin course—you will need to spend an average of 12-15 hours a week to meet the above objectives.

Deadlines & Assignments

Your adherence to Fall and Spring deadlines is expected.


The biochemistry 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 biochemistry research community. Your progress toward achieving the stated objectives of the research experience will be formally evaluated by the biochemistry faculty at the mid-year point to ensure that you may continue in your pursuit of honors, and then again at the end of the year to determine if honors will be awarded. At these points, the biochemistry faculty will identify strengths and limitations in your progress and performance and either your advisor or a representative biochemistry 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 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. 


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 Biochemistry Committee.  Students who receive this distinction for their work must (i) meet eligibility standards (such as grade requirements), (ii) must participate in required honors activities (such as attending and engaging in seminars), (iii) must present their project in the required oral and written formats (as noted above), (iv) must demonstrate, through their independent engagement in the project, their ability to plan and execute experiments, and their ownership of the project and relevant literature, and (v) must demonstrate, 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 biochemistry, you will receive a written response from the Biochemistry Program with feedback regarding your project with information about areas where you are or are not meeting the expectations for an Honors project at the midyear point. Following your successful completion of two semesters of independent study (BIOC 400X), the department will assess whether your final thesis can be recommended for Honors. 

Grades for Biochem 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.

The major differences between honors and independent study projects are:

  • 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.