Honors Program 2017

Guidelines and Schedule for Honors in Biology for the Class of 2017

February 5, 2016 (Version 4.0)

            Honors in Biological Sciences can be earned via one of two tracks.  The first, Scholar Honors, recognizes exceptional academic performance (minimum cumulative GPA of 3.7 or above), including submission and acceptance of a scholarly thesis.  The second, Research Honors, emphasizes exceptional achievement in a program of original research (minimum cumulative GPA of 3.25 or above) plus submission and acceptance of an in-depth research thesis. 

            The Biology Honors programs are managed by the Honors Faculty comprising a Director (S. Kron) and Curriculum Committee (I. Rebay, G. Thinakaran, J. Greenberg, R. Keenan, C. Rinker-Schaeffer, A. Sperling, B. Kee, J. Marks, D. Nicolae, M. Swartz, W.-J. Tang, P. Sereno, and L. Mets (ex officio), with additional faculty to be added).

            By spring quarter of third year (or the year before graduation), both Honors tracks require formal declaration of intent. Acceptance into the Research Honors program includes a guarantee of stipend and fee support for research during the summer prior to graduation. Half of the support will be provided by the BSCD with matching funds provided or arranged by the research Mentor. No similar BSCD support will be provided for Scholars Honors candidates who opt to pursue research over the summer, but they are welcome to obtain funding from other sources including their Mentor.

The details of each Honors program are provided below.  

You can find templates for the Biographical sketch and Proposal and a FAQ at the links.

Scholar Honors

Scholar application format:

For candidates seeking Scholar Honors for graduation in Spring, 2017:

Declaration of Intent:

A)         No later than noon on Friday, April 1, 2016, submit the name and email contact of the prospective Mentor, who must be a full faculty member of The University of Chicago. They will be sent a request by the Director via Kila Roberts for a letter of support and commitment.

B)         No later than noon on Friday, April 1, 2016, submit the name and email contact for at least one and no more than two BSCD full faculty members.  They will be contacted by the Director via Kila Roberts to submit a letter of recommendation.

Application: No later than noon on Friday, April 22, 2016, submit all application documents, combined into a single pdf file, via email to Kila Roberts at kila@uchicago.edu.

Format: All pages will use 0.5" margins all around without headers or footers, single column, with text in Arial 11 font, single spaced, with diagrams and tables embedded in the text close to where they are first referenced. Figure legends and table entries should be Arial 9.  No text in figures or diagrams should be smaller than Arial 9.

Application Documents:

Cover letter

1)         A one-page statement describing motivation to pursue the Honors degree, the thesis project, selection and qualifications of the mentor, overall intellectual goals and any plans for post-graduate education.

Supporting documentation

2)         A biographical sketch in the format of the Biosketch Template.

3)         A scan of your U of C transcript (official transcript not needed)

4)         A plan for all Biology and other science courses to be completed by graduation.  

Proposal

5)         A project description in the format of the Research Proposal Template

or

5')        Abstract of no more than 1/2 page describing overall project goals and rationale and detailed project description in an appropriate format to the field, covering the scientific problem and its significance, aims and methods of study, anticipated results, pitfalls and alternatives, and broader impacts, consisting of no more than 3 pages, inclusive of figures and tables, with numbered citations.

6)         Bibliography of up to thirty references in PNAS format, with PubMed links to each paper.

Addendum (optional)

7)         Additional supporting material can be provided of no more than ten pages, including abstracts, published papers, etc.

Scholar candidate selection:

            While a minimum GPA of 3.7 is required, it is not sufficient to be invited to complete an Honors degree.  Selection of candidates for Scholar in Biology Honors will be made by the Honors Faculty, based upon, A) the academic record, and particularly the selection of Biology courses completed and grades received (B+ or better), and relevant honors and fellowships; B) evidence of active participation, leadership, advocacy, research or other extracurricular activities demonstrating a commitment to scholarship in biology; C) evaluation of the candidate regarding both ability and performance as evidenced by the letter(s) of recommendation; and D) commitment and appropriateness of the mentor, relevance of the topic to contemporary biology, and rigor and quality of the thesis proposal and plan.  Candidates will be informed of acceptance or rejection by May 9, 2016. 

            Candidates may contact the Director via Kila Roberts regarding questions of suitability of a thesis project and/or mentor at any time prior to the application due date.  Applications will not be accepted after the due date.

Scholar Honors curriculum:

            There are no requirements for specific courses or to be in residence during any quarter.  Any changes in the proposed Biology coursework plan must be approved by the Honors Director, in consultation with the Curriculum Committee, as needed.  The Biology major and all other coursework required for graduation must be completed successfully. 

Winter quarter:

            By end of first week:  A thesis committee of three Honors Faculty must be approved by Director.  

            By end of second week: A detailed thesis précis and outline, endorsed by the Mentor, must be submitted for review.

            By end of fifth week:  The thesis plan must be approved by the thesis committee.

Spring quarter:

            By end of second week:  A complete thesis draft, approved by the Mentor, must be submitted for review.

            By end of sixth week:  A final thesis must be accepted by the Mentor and committee of Honors Faculty.

            Poster and/or oral presentation of the thesis at Rowley Honors Symposium.

            By beginning of finals week:  An official transcript must be provided showing satisfactory performance (B+ or better) in all Biology coursework and final overall GPA of 3.7 or higher.

            Convocation:  Honors graduates are invited to attend the Biology Honors ceremony along with their families so that they can receive their certificates.

Research Honors

 

For candidates seeking Research Honors for graduation in Spring, 2017:

Declaration of Intent:

A)         No later than noon on Friday, April 1, 2016, submit the name and email contact of the prospective Mentor, who must be a full faculty member of The University of Chicago. They will be sent a request by the Director via Kila Roberts for a letter of support and commitment.

B)         No later than noon on Friday, April 1, 2016, submit the name and email contact for at least one and no more than two BSCD full faculty members.  They will be contacted by the Director via Kila Roberts to submit a letter of recommendation.

Application: No later than noon on Friday, April 22, 2016, submit all application documents, combined into a single pdf file, via email to Kila Roberts at kila@uchicago.edu.

Format: All pages will use 0.5" margins all around without headers or footers, single column, with text in Arial 11 font, single spaced, with diagrams and tables embedded in the text close to where they are first referenced. Figure legends and table entries should be Arial 9.  No text in figures or diagrams should be smaller than Arial 9.

Application Documents:

Cover letter

1)         A one-page statement describing motivation to pursue the Honors degree, prior or ongoing research, the research project, selection of the mentor, and any plans for post-graduate research or other training and education.

Supporting documentation

2)         A biographical sketch in the format of the Biosketch Template.

3)         A scan of your U of C transcript (official transcript not needed)

4)         A plan for Biology and other science courses to be completed by graduation. 

Proposal

5)         A research proposal in the format of the Research Proposal Template.

Addendum (optional)

6)         Additional supporting material can be provided of no more than ten pages, including abstracts, published papers, etc.

Research candidate selection:

            While a minimum GPA of 3.25 is required, it is not sufficient to be invited to complete an Honors degree.  Selection of candidates for Biology Research Honors will be made by the Honors Faculty, based on, A) evidence of commitment to and substantive experience in biological research; B) rigor and quality of the thesis proposal and plan; C) Biology courses completed and grades received (B+ or better); and D) evaluation of the candidate regarding both ability and performance as evidenced by the letters of support and recommendation.  Candidates will be informed of acceptance or rejection by May 9, 2016.

            Candidates may contact the Director via Kila Roberts regarding questions of suitability of a thesis project and/or mentor at any time prior to the application due date.  Applications will not be accepted after the due date.

Research Honors curriculum:

            The Biology Research Honors program will require continuous participation from the end of the Spring quarter of the Third year through Spring quarter of the Fourth year.  This precludes any extended absence from campus during any academic quarter, including Summer. Any changes in science coursework must be approved by the Honors Director, in consultation with the Curriculum Committee, as needed.  The Biology major and all other coursework required for graduation must be completed successfully. 

            All accepted Research Honors candidates will be awarded a $4000 summer research fellowship stipend and if necessary, $1000 for fees, program, and research costs.  Funding for the fellowship will be $2000 from the Honors program matched by $2000 from the Mentor or their Department (and an additional $500 from both for extraneous fees, program, and research costs).  Students who are able to obtain a summer fellowship from other sources will qualify for additional funding from the Honors program to pay fees, program and research costs and/or raise their stipend up to a maximum of $5000, as permitted.

Spring quarter:

            Informal program welcome meeting May 16th.

            Attend Rowley Honors Symposium May 20th.  Poster presentation available.

Summer quarter:

            Registration for one pass/fail course, 0 units.  No other coursework is permitted.

            Ten weeks of full-time research on campus.

            Weekly Research in Progress meeting led by Honors Faculty.

            Scholarly paper corresponding to draft "Background" thesis chapter due at end of quarter.

Fall quarter:

            Registration for one graded course, 100 units.

            Poster presentation at retreat at beginning of quarter.

            Weekly Research in Progress meeting led by Honors Faculty.

            Scholarly paper corresponding to draft "Methods" thesis chapter due at end of quarter.

Winter quarter:

            Registration for one graded course, 100 units.

            Weekly Research in Progress meeting led by Honors Faculty.

Honors thesis committee formed, with at least two Honors Faculty members, and approved by Director.

            Scholarly paper corresponding to draft "Results" thesis chapter due at end of quarter.

Spring quarter:

            Full thesis draft endorsed by Mentor presented to thesis committee by end of third week.

            Thesis defense to a committee of Honors Faculty must be completed by end of seventh week.

            Accepted thesis signed by Mentor and committee due by end of eighth week.

            Final transcript showing satisfactory performance in all Biology coursework.

            Poster and/or oral presentation of the thesis at Rowley Honors Symposium.

Convocation:

            Honors graduates are invited to attend the Biology Honors ceremony along with their families so that they can receive their certificates.

Honors FAQ 2017

Will all students who submit a complete Scholar or Research Proposals be accepted?

            Only those those students who appear on track to achieve the level of accomplishment that would be expected of a Biology Honors graduate will be accepted.  The selection criteria will be applied in a balanced manner, with the consideration that students may display strength in one area sufficient to offset a weakness in another.  On the other hand, students who submit a complete proposal but show no evidence of excellence, commitment or unusual promise in any aspect of their record as Biology majors will likely not be invited to complete an Honors thesis.  While high grades, honors, activities, accomplishments and an exciting thesis proposal are all important, the Curriculum Committee will consider significant enthusiasm and support from the faculty writers critical for all applicants, insofar as Honors reflects a recognition by our faculty of their best students. 

How strict are the GPA and Biology grade limits for consideration for Scholar or Research Honors? 

            Some students who hope to complete an Honors degree are borderline eligible based on the guidelines, with GPA's below 3.25.  Some students might have run into trouble in one Biology course and do not have B+ or better across the board. 

            In general, students with GPA < 3.25 or any Biology grade < B+ are ineligible for Scholar Honors and should not apply, but should they hope to be considered for Research Honors, an email can be sent to Kila Roberts formally requesting permission to apply.  The letter should briefly describe the problem and any offsetting considerations such as a particularly strong research background.  Students who provide a strong argument are likely to be invited to apply, but without any promise of acceptance.  In their application, the cover letter should provide a compelling statement regarding the qualifications offsetting the academic performance, and describe any factors that mitigate the grade issues.  The candidate should also make sure that their Mentor and the faculty member(s) providing a recommendation are aware of their grades and courses in some detail as well as any explanation for the prior difficulties.  The invitation for a letter of support will almost certainly ask the Mentor to address this weakness and the faculty writing recommendations will be free to comment as well.

Are there any constraints on Scholar Honors candidates once the proposal is accepted?  Is it just make the deadlines next Spring and maintain the GPA and Biology grades until graduation?

            While Scholar Honors involves very few requirements, it will be expected that work will start on the thesis in the Spring this year and then continue through the year, in regular consultation with the Mentor.  This means that there should be more than adequate time to make significant progress on the topic.

            As such, students may fail to receive Honors because the thesis falls below the level of accomplishment expected.  If the final draft is not judged as substantive, intellectually rigorous, insightful, and representative of what should be possible with a year of sustained effort on the proposed topic, it may not qualify.

            In turn, if the the thesis precis or draft submitted next Spring is on a different topic from what was reviewed and approved this year, the thesis may well be rejected and the candidate would not be approved for Honors.  In all cases, any change in the thesis topic and/or Mentor would have to be approved by the Honors Curriculum Committee and likely no later than the end of Fall quarter of senior year.

            Thus, any issues that have begun to affect progress, like problems with experiments, lack of access to resources, an uninvolved mentor, etc., should be discussed with the Honors Director early on, so that a reasonable response can be agreed upon, whether revising the goals or even a complete change in project.

To what extent are Scholar Honors theses expected to contain results from original research conducted by the undergrad (me)?

            We do not intend to require Scholar Honors students to all pursue conventional original research projects that require collecting new data via bench or field experiments, direct observations or measurements, computational modeling, etc. but to allow wide latitude to consider alternative thesis concepts.  So, while a Scholar thesis can certainly be based on independent experimentation, observation and/or modeling, the Scholar track can accommodate other options as well such as pursuing a critical analysis of existing data or a large collection of literature. 

            Scholars might opt to pursue a critical analysis of existing primary data and the related body of literature.  One might imagine theses that constitute a critique of a healthcare policy such as methadone maintenance, a meta-analysis of recent clinical trials of anti-depressants, an argument against punctuated equilibria based on a fossil collection or genomic data, or a review of developments in laser technology for opthalmology.  The topic must touch on a current issue in Biology, including medicine and other applied fields, be described in a compelling thesis proposal and be supported by a willing and appropriate Mentor.  If the thesis precis and abstract and then the final document are accepted and approved by the Curriculum Committee, then Honors will be awarded.

            If the Scholar thesis is experimental/observational/modeling, then it would be expected to report significant progress toward the goals and provide a critical analysis of this work, just like a Research Honors thesis.  Of course, even a highly experiment-driven thesis is driven by a problem that needs to emerge from a scholarly review of the literature.  As such, the thesis document would include one or more chapters that examine the primary papers that provide the intellectual foundation and context for the work. 

            Of course, the depth and breadth of synthesis and analysis expected from a student who is pursuing a purely analytic topic would be considerably greater, insofar as all their efforts during the year would be focused on data and literature analysis rather than generating new knowledge.

What do you mean by a "full faculty member" for the Mentor and/or recommendations?

            Briefly, a Mentor should have an appointment as a faculty member of the University of Chicago with an appointment in a Department or Committee of the Biological Sciences Division/Pritzker School of Medicine that offers them the opportunity to serve as a thesis advisor for a graduate student PhD dissertation project.  Typically, these faculty supervise graduate and post-doctoral trainees, write grants to support their research, have an office and other space on campus where they conduct research, and so on. 

            The University of Chicago has several faculty tracks, leading to confusion.  In general, faculty on the standard tenure track, the Biological Sciences Division "BSD" track would all be considered as appropriate as Mentors.  Faculty on the School of Medicine "SOM" track are generally tenure eligible and most are also appropriate.  However, some SOM faculty have only a clinical affiliation, are mentored themselves, and/or have other limited status and may not be appropriate.  Similarly, BSD faculty on the "parenthetical" track are formally considered to be linked to other faculty and are generally not appropriate, although there are many exceptions.  Faculty whose appointment is as a member of the BSD teaching faculty are not appropriate.

            Some appropriate Mentors may have their office off campus, as at Argonne or the Field Museum.  Other potential Mentors may plan to be away from campus for long periods during the four quarters of Honors research.  In each such case, a clear plan needs to be presented to ensure that the Mentor and candidate will be able to work together effectively.

            As general guideline, recommenders should be faculty who have a status that would allow them to serve as a Mentor.  Ideally, they are sufficiently familiar with College students via their teaching and/or mentoring activities to offer an informed opinion of your suitability for Honors in Biology.  A useful recommendation might come from a faculty member who collaborates with your Mentor, but not from someone who is directly supervised by them.  Thus, other members of the laboratory are not appropriate.

I am going to be away for part/most of Summer/Fall/Winter quarter to take a class/volunteer/travel/do a project/etc. so I would not be able to sign up for the discussion class that quarter.  Can I do Research Honors?

            In general, missing more than one or two of the Research Honors weekly Research in Progress meetings during Summer, Fall and Winter quarters may lead to a grade of Incomplete. However, there are exceptions: if A) your travel is for field work or other research that requires you to be at a particular site off campus and B) during the off-campus period you remain in close contact with your faculty Mentor, C) your Mentor specifically points out in their letter of support that the travel is critical to your project, and D) you are able to participate in the meetings electronically, you may participate in Research Honors.  Otherwise, you should apply for Scholar Honors.

            Along these lines, our experience is that some students may need to travel extensively for grad school and med school interviews during Fall and Winter.  We really want you to get into good schools, get fellowships, etc. and this may take a fair number of trips.  Nonetheless, interview trips will not be considered an excused absence without two weeks advance warning, so that a "make-up" session can be scheduled.

Should I apply for Scholars or Research honors?

            The two tracks are significantly different. The Scholars track allows more freedom in the quality of the topic. A thorough thesis topic about biomedical policy or ethics, or an analysis of publicly available datasets for example, would qualify more towards the Scholars track than the Research track. The latter is constrained by full-time research (with stipend) over the summer continued throughout the year, as well as the course work, the meetings etc. In some way, the Scholars track is a more lenient track for those seeking Honors without constraints such as those required to pursue a conventional project in a lab. This leniency is not to be confused with ease. The lack of specific deadlines and step-by-step guidance requires a strong work ethic and initiative in order to complete the thesis by graduation, and a thesis deemed unworthy of Honors will not receive it.