Honors Research

During your senior year (or possibly bridging your junior and senior years) you might choose to carry out an honors research project in which you carry through a research project as one of your semester courses during fall and spring semesters plus Winter Study (BIOL 493 – BIOL W031– BIOL 494) culminating in your first scientific publication–a bound honors thesis listed in the Williams College Library catalog.

The honors research program is a lot of work but students find it to be correspondingly rewarding; during the course of the year, you become a working scientist, and the experience of realizing that you have become one of the world’s experts within a particular area can be extremely exciting and fulfilling.

The Honors Application Process

The deadline to apply to the Honors program is in early February (TBD).  There will be an open house/info session scheduled in early-mid January so you can get more information and talk to faculty.

  • For students planning to do honors research their senior year, start planning during WSP of your junior year. If planning to start your thesis during WSP or Spring of your junior year, start planning at the beginning of the Fall semester of your junior year. See the list of Important Deadlines for Honors Research.
  • First step–Think about why you want to do honors research– what do you hope to gain from the experience? Is there a particular field of biology that interests you? Are there particular techniques you’d like to learn?
  • Discuss your interests with all professors with whom you might like to work. Find out about the types of projects that might be available in their labs for you to work on. Start this process at least a few weeks before the application deadline.  The Open House is a good place to get information as well.

Submitting your application

  • Fill out the application form, keeping the following in mind:
    • A faculty member cannot promise you a place in their lab when you speak to them. Decisions on student placement are made by the entire Biology faculty once all applications are received.
    • Students who list only one faculty member with whom they would like to work, decrease their chance of being chosen if more students apply to that lab than the lab can manage. If a student does not get placed in the one lab s/he listed, s/he will be able to reapply, listing labs in which there are still spots remaining after all other students have been placed. This also applies to students who apply late.
    • The number of Biology Department faculty available to mentor research students and the number of students each can accommodate in his/her lab vary from year to year. Although the department will make every effort to provide an opportunity for students to conduct Honors research, you should be aware that it may not be possible to place all applicants in a laboratory.

Curricular Information

  • Students who successfully complete the honors thesis will be awarded the B.A. degree in Biology with Honors; a few of the very best honors students will receive highest honors, based primarily upon the quality of the research presented in their thesis.
  • The quality of the thesis work is evaluated by the Biology faculty in several ways.
    • First, your day-to-day performance in carrying out your research is assessed by your thesis advisor.
    • Second, your final written thesis is evaluated by your advisor and another faculty member chosen by the department in consultation with your advisor, who serves as a second reader. Examine some of the previous theses produced by honors students available in Schow Library (QH9 W5) or online to get an idea of what “writing a thesis” really means!
    • Third, two public presentations of your thesis project are important in judging your understanding of the theory and significance of your work and the appropriateness of your experimental protocol. The first presentation is an 8-minute oral presentation of your research plans given ~4 weeks into the semester; the final presentation is at a poster session held the next-to-last Friday of the spring semester of your senior year.

Helpful Resources