Biology Requirements for 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.

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.


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 research to the community orally in honors symposia
  7. Write a thorough and thoughtful honors thesis describing your research and its connections and contributions to your research field
  8. Thoughtfully critique the work of your peers
  9. 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 12-15 hours a week to meet the above objectives.


Candidates must demonstrate a serious commitment to participate in departmental programs.  Biology department seminars will be on Fridays from 2:30-3:30pm in Druckenmiller 20.  In the interest of building our scientific community, you are expected to attend the majority of Biology Department seminars in person and to engage with the speakers by asking questions.  

If you have individual circumstances that means you cannot attend a seminar, please seek permission from your research advisor.  

Spring 2024 Seminar Schedule - Fridays, 2:30-3:30pm, Druckenmiller Hall, Room 20

Full schedule of speakers can be found here: Biology Seminar Series

Fall 2023 and Spring 2024 Deadlines

Your adherence to fall and spring deadlines is expected.  Exact spring deadlines will be posted by the beginning of the spring '24 semester


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.  Over winter break, students will be invited to continue in the honors program by the Biology faculty, based on the review of their work in the fall and their academic standing.  

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 your fall paper, thesis and honors talks; (iv) the final quality of your fall paper, thesis and honors talks. 


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. 


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.  The thesis is a key component on which your honors will be decided.  Our expectation is that it will be scientifically thorough and well-written.

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. 

Work on your fall research papers and honors thesis should start early with the understanding that multiple revisions are an expected part of the process.  Every paper improves with each revision.  Your advisers and readers are here to help you along - consult early, use them well and use them often.  

The Biology Department recommends that you talk with your advisor early in the fall semester about whether to set deadlines in addition to those listed above.  Such deadlines are particularly helpful for people who 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