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Indiana University Bloomington

Department of Biology

Undergraduate Studies

Honors in Biology

Which degree may be earned with Honors?   (top)

Any of the B.A. and B.S. degrees in the Department of Biology may be earned with Honors.

Who is eligible for a biology degree with
Honors?   (top)

Any undergraduate major in the Department of Biology may earn a degree with Honors by meeting the requirements explained below. Note that in most cases the work must be started a minimum of two semesters before a degree with Honors is granted. Students are strongly urged to select an advisor and begin work during their junior year or earlier. Some students begin Honors work during their freshman year.

Formal application for an Honors degree   (top)

Once an advisor (jump to list of advisors) has agreed to sponsor an honors program, the student should register with the Department of Biology Honors Committee by contacting Ms. Mary Ann Miller.

Scope of the Honors degree   (top)

The nature of the research project usually reflects both the specific interest area of the undergraduate student and the focus of the research program of the faculty advisor. Considering the broad scope of the research interests represented in the Department of Biology, a wide variety of honors projects could be undertaken by undergraduates. It is also possible for undergraduate biology majors to conduct honors research with faculty in other departments including medical sciences, chemistry, psychology, etc.

Purpose of the Honors degree   (top)

Several benefits are associated with obtaining the B.A. or B.S. biology degree with Honors, including the following:

  • Practical experience with research methods is obtained. Typically, honors students have an excellent opportunity to learn first-hand about the manner in which research projects are conceived, executed, and completed. That experience is valuable for virtually all career tracks which build upon a biology undergraduate degree. For example, aspiring research technicians frequently learn marketable skills during the course of performing honors research. Students who continue their education at a graduate school usually have a head start in developing a thesis project, and pre-professional students can use their honors research knowledge to better understand recent advances in medicine, dentistry, education, and other fields.
  • An occasion to learn scientific writing skills is available. An honors program in biology culminates in the preparation of a thesis. The thesis represents a detailed scientific report on the research project carried out by the student. The thesis usually follows the format of a paper prepared for publication in a scientific journal. Indeed, in several instances biology honors theses have been published in international research journals!
  • Opportunities to meet and interact with faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows are presented to honors students. During the course of the daily routines associated with honors research, students have the chance to interact with professional biologists. Students can gain insight into the attitudes, lifestyle, motivational factors, and career advantages and disadvantages which concern professional biologists.
  • Formal recognition for participating in a research project is obtained. The undergraduate degree is recorded as B.A. [or B.S.] with Honors. This accomplishment remains as a part of the honors student's permanent undergraduate record.
  • Financial remuneration is occasionally available. It is sometimes possible for honors students associated with federally funded research projects to earn hourly wages for part of their honors research work.

What are the formal requirements for a degree with Honors?   (top)

  • An overall GPA of 3.3 or above.
  • Completion of all required coursework for the desired degree.
  • Research work in Biology or in an associated discipline. A student earning BIOL-X490 credit in a SPEA lab CAN NOT convert that research to a Biology upper level lab or for the Biology Departmental Honors notation. This research may be performed at IUB, at another campus of Indiana University OR at another university PROVIDED THAT all such research is evaluated by a committee which shall include the student's mentor AND AT LEAST two members of the faculty of the biology department at IUB. Ordinarily, this research should encompass two academic semesters, an academic semester and a full summer, or two full summers. The summers should be full time research. Registration in BIOL-X490 during two summer sessions of a single summer SHALL NOT complete the research requirement for a degree with honors.
  • Successful defense of an Honors thesis as certified by an appropriate faculty committee (see below).
  • The Honors Thesis CANNOT be used for your intensive writing requirement.
  • If a student is pursuing the Honors notation and plans to use BIOL-X490 research as an upper level lab, the student must successfully complete the thesis for lab credit.

Honors courses   (top)

In order to provide opportunities and challenges for superior students, the department offers honors courses equivalent to its main courses and designated with an "S." These small-enrollment courses offer tightly integrated lecture and laboratory experiences that include an experimental approach and a quantitative orientation, in addition to covering the basic material taught in the regular courses. Candidates for an honors degree (see information above) need not necessarily take these courses but would clearly benefit from them. These courses include S211, Honors Molecular, S311, Honors Genetics, and S318, Honors Evolution. S211 and S318 are offered in the Fall semester only, with S311 being offered only in the Spring semester. Authorization is required so please contact the Biology Advising Office in Jordan Hall A115 if you would like to take one of these courses. You have to have a 3.3 GPA overall and also have completed the pre-requisites.

Relationship between BIOL-X490 and the Honors Degree   (top)

BIOL-X490 is designed to provide students with experiences and knowledge which are not normally available through formal courses. The course might be taken only one semester, for a limited number of credit hours (e.g., one or two), in order to accomplish a specific goal. Alternatively, BIOL-X490 might be considered an integral part of a student's curriculum and be taken each semester for two or three years in order to broaden the normal scope of an undergraduate degree in Biology. Students are permitted to count a total of 12 hours of BIOL-X490 credits toward an undergraduate degree.

An Honors program provides a more intense, comprehensive, and demanding experience than an BIOL-X490 course alone normally provides. As a major part of the BIOL-X490 course, a prospective honors student works on a goal-oriented research program for at least two semesters and a minimum of 6 credit hours total. Writing a research report based upon the results of field observations or laboratory research is the ultimate goal of the BIOL-X490 efforts.

In contrast to regular BIOL-X490 work, the Honors Degree BIOL-L490 project must include either laboratory or field research. BIOL-X490 projects can be based entirely on library research. However, the Honors Degree project must include laboratory or field research.

In summary, although BIOL-X490 is an integral part of an Honors program in Biology, the Honors Program encompasses more than the completion of two semesters of X490.

Read more about BIOL-X490 »

What is the preferred timing for the various aspects of a student's Honors degree program?   (top)

Although there is only a two-semester BIOL-X490 requirement for an Honors Degree (jump to requirements), it is advisable to begin working toward the Honors Degree as early as possible. In that way the full benefits of the Honors Program can be obtained.

Undergraduates have often underestimated the time required for thesis writing and some have had to abandon their Honors plans as a result. The responsibility for following the timetable outlined below lies squarely with the student.

  • Students engaged in undergraduate research for the honors notation are reminded that the BIOL-X490 experience MAY substitute for one of the upper level laboratories required for an undergraduate degree in Biology if the Honors thesis is approved. Several precisely defined steps must be taken before the department will approve such a substitution. A description of the requirements which must be met for such a substitution is available from the Biology Advisors in JH A115. NO SUBSTITUTION OF THIS KIND WILL BE MADE WITHOUT SUCH APPROVAL. Students pursuing a degree with honors can be reasonably sure that such a substitution will be approved upon completion of the written requirements and documentation.
  • No later than nine months prior to the time the Honors Degree is to be awarded, the potential candidate should have identified a probable thesis director and should have established at least a general topic for the work to be done. Students are encouraged to visit with faculty in areas they find most interesting and can seek advice from Biology Advisors, Biology Honors Chairman, or Chairman and Associate Chairman in Biology to identify appropriate faculty members.
  • The research should be past the initial reading and discussion stage and into the actual experimental stage early in the semester prior to graduation.
  • Prior to the last semester, the full committee should be selected and be acquainted with the work being done. This provides the committee with opportunities to make suggestions about the investigations needed to complete the work.
  • A thesis should be in the hands of the committee at least three weeks before the end of the student's final semester. The version circulated to the committee should have been revised following the reading of a first draft by the thesis director.
  • At least two weeks prior to the end of the student's last semester, the student must defend his/her thesis before the committee. A general departmental announcement should be made about the defense, and other members of the faculty may attend after notifying the thesis director so that space can be made available. A desirable format is for the student to present an open departmental seminar on his/her work, followed immediately by a defense of the work before the thesis committee.
  • Mary Ann Miller, a biology advisor, must certify the successful defense of the Honor's thesis to the Recorder's Office a week prior to the end of the semester. Therefore, the student must submit one bound copy of the thesis, signed by all committee members, to her at the Advising Office (JH A115, 855-3810).

The thesis   (top)

What type of work is suitable for inclusion in an Honors thesis?

In general, the work is a less ambitious version of a Masters thesis. In other words, the student is to perform laboratory or field experiments or to make observations generating new data that are then analyzed. A paper based strictly on library research is not suitable as an Honors thesis in Biology, but can be a legitimate X490 experience.

What is the nature of the thesis?

So far as is appropriate, the thesis should have the form of a paper written for publication. It will typically include a summary, introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion, and it should conclude with a list of literature cited.

Getting started on the thesis

Read and understand the literature. You must show that you understand the relevant primary literature. Work to master your sources. Plan to reread, use a dictionary, and struggle until you have a thorough grasp of all information important to your research question. Use your professor as a source, and ask questions about what you don't understand.

Think before you write, and use writing to think. It's often possible to fool ourselves into thinking we know exactly what we're doing. When forced to put it all down on paper, we see what needs to be clarified and explored further. To help yourself, take the time to answer the following questions IN WRITING:

  • What exactly do I plan to do?
  • What do I already know about the problem?
  • Why do I want to solve this problem, and why should it be solved?
  • How will I do it? When? Where? Under what conditions? What procedures?
  • What do I expect to find?

When it comes time to compose, some writers will begin with a detailed outline, others will prefer to just start writing and let the organization evolve through a series of rewrites. If you are an "outliner", don't be afraid to change your plan and let the proposal grow as you write. If you don't normally like outlines, it may still be helpful to use a rough "scratch" outline to guide you at the start.

Axelrod, R.; Cooper, C. 1988. The St. Martin's Guide to Writing, 2nd ed. St. Martin's Press, N.Y.
Biddle, A. W.; Bean, D. J. 1987. Writers Guide: Life Sciences. Health Writing Across The Curriculum Series. D.C. Health, Lexington, Mass.
Heffernan, J.; Lincoln, J. 1990. Writing: A College Handbook, 3rd. Ed. W. W. Norton & Co., N.Y.
Pechenik, Jan A. 1987. A Short Guide To Writing About Biology. Little, Brown, & Co., Boston.
Prepared By: Deede Real

Responsibilities   (top)

The faculty committee

Choose two other faculty members who are willing to serve on the committee. At least two committee members must be from the Department of Biology, Bloomington. The members must meet either jointly or individually with the Honors candidate no later than the third week of the candidate's last semester of undergraduate work to approve the scope of the Honors project. Members of the committee must agree to read the final draft of the thesis, administer the thesis defense, and accept or reject the thesis. The candidate bears the primary responsibility for meeting deadlines.

Moving the work along and meeting deadlines

Although the faculty member directing the work may help, the student bears ultimate responsibility for knowing and meeting the deadlines and requirements.

Additional information   (top)

Full requirements for the Biology Honors program are listed in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.

Please use the Undergraduate Academic Bulletin that was in effect when you matriculated into Indiana University Bloomington as a degree-seeking student. The major requirements outlined in the Bulletin in effect at the time of your matriculation will remain constant throughout your undergraduate career, assuming you graduate within eight years. Minor requirements may change from year to year, so it’s important that you refer to the correct Bulletin. If you are uncertain which Bulletin governs your undergraduate career, please consult a Biology advisor by emailing or calling (812) 855-3810.

BIOL-X490 and Honors faculty advisors   (top)

Visit X490 research opportunities page for a list of advisors.

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