Departmental Honors in Biology

Honors in Biology can be earned through an advanced experience conducting a research project under the guidance of faculty members.  The project must synthesize related scientific literature and/or endeavors to answer an original experimental question. To qualify for the Honors Program, a student must:

  • Finish a Biology major with a minimum GPA of 3.5 in all semester Biology courses completed at Gustavus, plus the required Chemistry and Math courses.
  • Complete an original research project and write a thesis OR write an extensive literature review, preferably with some experimental components. 
  • Convene a Committee of three faculty members who agree to supervise and review the student's research project (see details below).
  • Complete an oral examination
  • Present a public presentation (poster or oral).

Students interested in applying to the Departmental Honors Program are strongly encouraged to begin developing their research plans, in consultation with potential research advisors, by the spring of their junior year or the following summer.

The Honors Committee will consist of three people: a chair who must be a member of the Biology department, one additional member of the Biology department, and an individual from another source, on or off campus. The Committee will read and comment on the student’s proposal and determine their recommendation regarding the proposal. The Committee Chair will forward the recommendation on behalf of the student to the Biology department. After approval the proposal may be posted on the Department Moodle site. Final approval of the proposal is granted by the Department. Thus, proposals to the Department are recommended by the 12th week of the spring semester, however, all appropriate proposals must be submitted no later than the drop/add date in fall semester of the candidate’s senior year.

A draft of the final project will be given to the student's Honor Committee no later than five weeks before the end of the senior year (last day of classes) and will be in the format of a scientific publication selected by the Honors Committee. A final revised copy will be submitted after the committee reviews the draft(s). This will be followed by the oral exam given by the Honors Committee and the public research presentation or poster. The exam will be scheduled for no later than two weeks prior to the last day of classes in the senior year..

The Proposal
The proposal should be detailed enough that everyone knows the full extent of the work to be accomplished. It should contain a significant explanation of the work leading to the proposal and the work to be pursued; the proposal should include sufficient background citations, clearly articulated objective(s), potential methodology and may include preliminary data. It should also include details about the amount of time that will be devoted to the project as well as a timeline. The committee (not solely the advisor) will determine the extent of work to be performed, set standards and specify, preferably in writing, the expectations. If the proposal is judged acceptable by the Committee (preferably after a committee meeting), then a recommendation is forwarded to the Department.

An application form must be completed and submitted with your proposal. This form is available in the Biology Department Office or you may print out this PDF document. Biology Honors Application

The honors paper or thesis will be in the format agreed upon by the Committee. There should be a minimum length established, with criteria for font and margins. The introduction should constitute a review of the relevant literature and appropriate citations must be included. Methods and Results should be detailed and follow the format of a selected journal. Copies of all written materials shall have publication quality figures and photos (not copies) included in the archival copy for the department files.

Oral Exam
The exam will be both on the content and methods associated with the honors project, and may include general knowledge in the candidate's area of specialty. A minimum and maximum time range shall be established for the exam so that students realize this is an important part of the honors process, and can budget their time accordingly.

Public Presentation
A public presentation to peers and colleagues can take the form of a poster or an oral presentation.  It is preferable that a public presentation occurs at Gustavus before the end of the spring semester of the senior year, but Honor’s students are also encouraged to present at a regional or national meeting.  Please consult with your Honor’s Committee to determine the appropriate venues to present your work publicly.

A written summary with dates and signatures should be submitted to the Biology Department no later than two weeks before the end of the academic year for final awarding of the Honors Designation.