Senior Thesis and Honors

Deciding to do a Thesis

We encourage interested students to pursue research as part of their education in biology. Research brings the rewards of individual achievement outside of the normal classroom setting and allows the student to explore a depth of exposure not available in our regular courses. Research provides an opportunity to demonstrate responsibility by the scheduling of one's own work, and an opportunity to demonstrate initiative by attacking barriers that were not anticipated.

Students engage in research under the direction of a faculty advisor. The relationship between the research advisor and student is more intensive than in most courses. Successful research requires a level of independence, critical awareness and academic maturity beyond that expected in the classroom.

Independent Study

BIOL 0500 or 0700 is the course designation for students pursuing independent study projects. You earn credit for a term of work on a laboratory project, a field project, or in some cases a library project. Work is carried out under the supervision of a member of the Biology Department faculty with permission from the Chair of the department. You may conduct a single-semester BIOL 0500 or 0700  project, two (or more) semesters of BIOL 0500/0700 research, or you may decide to have you research culminate in a thesis, in which case you will enroll in BIOL 701 (or the equivalent MBBC or NSCI course) for your final semester.

Expectations and due dates for the final results of an Independent Study project are worked out with your faculty advisor, who assigns the final grade for the project. The grade for this work is intended to recognize your effort and determination as well as the material you have learned, including your understanding of the scientific process or experimental design.  Additional expectations and due dates for thesis work are described below, as well as on the "Deadlines" page of this web site.

Students undertaking an independent study are required to attend all departmental seminars, attend all weekly lunchtime research discussions, and make a presentation concerning his or her project during one or more of these discussions.

Senior Thesis

If you make satisfactory progress on an independent study project that requires more than one semester to complete and you wish to write a thesis and present your research in a more public forum, you may apply to continue your work for one additional semester as a senior thesis. The typical schedule for thesis work would involve enrolling in BIOL 700 during fall semester of your senior year and BIOL 701 during the spring semester.  Other schedules are possible, however, and should be discussed with your faculty research advisor.

Enrolling in BIOL 701 (or the equivalent MBBC or NSCI thesis course) and conducting your work in the context of a senior thesis changes the nature of the expectations placed on you.  By submitting the intent to continue thesis form and enrolling in BIOL 701, you are agreeing to accept those additional responsibilities. Because thesis work is a distinct class, note that a decision to pursue a thesis is subject to the same add/drop deadlines of any other course-- you cannot therefore decide NOT to do a thesis after the drop deadline of the semester in which are enrolled in BIOL 701 without petitioning the Administration Committee!

Requirements for continuing senior research as a senior thesis

During the semester just prior to the semester in which you plan to defend your thesis (fall semester if you are finishing in winter or spring, or spring semester if you are finshing in fall), you must do the following:

1. Meet with your advisor regarding this decision no later than two weeks before the end of classes.

2. No later than one week before the last day of classes you must find two additional faculty (one of these two can be outside the department, either on campus or from another institution) willing to serve on your committee. Discuss with them your progress to date, and the next steps in the research. At this point, you should clarify with them and your advisor how often and approximately when they want to meet with you concerning your thesis research. Monthly meetings are recommended.

3. No later than the last day of classes of fall term (for spring completion) or spring term (for fall completion), you must submit to the department chair a "Thesis Declaration Form" signed by your advisor and your committee members (Download form on the "Forms and Worksheets" page).

4. If you are granted permission to continue, you will be given a grade of "Satisfactory" for your current semester of BIOL 500/700. A letter grade will be retroactively assigned following the completion of your thesis.  Note that the letter grade reflects the full thesis experience, and is not simply a grade on the final written document.  If you have questions about how thesis grades are determined, consult with your advisor.

As with all senior research students, you are required to attend all departmental seminars, attend all weekly lunchtime research discussions, and make a presentation concerning your project during one of these discussions.

Requirements for Completing a Senior Thesis

After approval is given by the department for you to enroll in BIOL 701, you are encouraged to work closely with your committee in the further development of your research. You will be required to complete four steps before receiving grades for your thesis work.  (See "Deadlines" page for dates):

  1. Write the results of your study as a final thesis. The final paper most likely should be written in the format of the journal to which the work would be most appropriately submitted. You and your advisor will decide on a format, but it will generally follow the form of a published paper on that topic. A copy of your thesis must be submitted to each of your committee members no later than three days prior to the first thesis presentation.  Deadlines for submission of earlier drafts to committee members for comment should be worked out with your advisor.  Your committee will read your thesis prior to your presentation and prepare questions/comments accordingly.  Theses from previous years are in the display case across from MBH 342.  You are encouraged to look through them to get an idea of what constitutes a written thesis.  Joanna Shipley can loan you the key.
  2. During the final two weeks of classes in the semester you will make a public presentation of your results. These presentations normally take place at 12:30 Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  You will have 20-30 minutes to present your results and to answer questions from the audience concerning your research. See Deadlines page for when you must do this.
  3. Following the public presentation, you must defend your research before your Committee and any other faculty who wish to attend.  Your defense need not occur immediately after your public presentation, but in planning your defense, be sure to give yourself adequate time after your defense to make necessary changes to the final version of your thesis. During your defense you will be asked questions primarily about your research and other biological topics that relate to the theme of your work. However, faculty are free to ask any questions they want, and you are encouraged to talk to your Committee about your defense well in advance.
  4. Finally, you must submit the final version of your thesis, revised according to your committee's comments on the submitted version, your public presentation and your defense, to each member of your committee for final approval by the Friday of the 1st week of final exams (for Febs, by the last day of Winter Term).
  5. Once you have received final approval from your committee, print at least two copies of your thesis (one for your advisor and one for you) plus (a PDF for the department), double sided, send the PDF to the Biology Department Coordinator, plus print any additional copies if requested by your committee members. (Refer to "Turning in Your Thesis",  in the "Forms and Worksheets" section, for details.)  Each copy should be preceded by a title page of the style shown in the sample thesis title page (available on the "Forms and Worksheets" page, and signed by all committee members. This must be done no later than noon on the last day of exams.

    The final grade for your senior thesis is decided by your committee based on your effort and progress throughout the term, your public presentation, your defense, your final paper, your adherence to all specified deadlines, and any other criteria that they have established. Final grades will be retroactively assigned for the first term of the project.
Departmental Honors in Biology

The Biology Department awards High Honors and Honors in Biology to Biology majors and joint Biology majors who both show outstanding performance throughout their undergraduate career and prepare theses of high quality. Students with an average of 3.5 or higher in departmental courses other than BIOL 0500, BIOL 0700, and BIOL 0701 are eligible for departmental honors. The preparation of a senior thesis and a public presentation of your research are necessary but not sufficient conditions for the awarding of departmental honors. Both product and effort are evaluated in determining if a student will receive departmental honors. The faculty of the Biology Department makes its awards of honors based on the recommendations of the students' research committees and evaluations of all senior research projects considered together. The final decision to grant High Honors or Honors is made by the department based on your effort and progress throughout the term (including participation in the department research meetings and the department seminar program), your public presentation, your thesis defense, and the quality of your final paper. The department acts collectively on all honors decisions at a meeting traditionally scheduled during the middle of the finals period. Thesis committees are expected to present to the department nominations for High Honors and Honors with a detailed justification of the nomination

Department of Biology

McCardell Bicentennial Hall
276 Bicentennial Way
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753