Honors Programs

The Honors Programs train students to conduct independent research in Cell and Molecular Biology or Microbiology. In addition to completing all the requirements for one of the Departmental majors, an Honors degree requires a major GPA of at least 3.3, and the completion of a significant piece of independent research that is reported in an Honors thesis.

Admission to the Honors Program. Students interested in the Honors Program should complete an application for admission. This application includes (a) the student's name and e-mail address, (b) a copy of the student's transcript, and (c) a statement describing the student's general area of research interest. It is not necessary to have a research mentor identified at the time of the application.

The Honors Program

  1. BIOLOGY 201. "Introduction to Research in the Life Sciences." This course surveys the range of research opportunities available in the Departments, and in other life science units at the University of Michigan. Students should complete BIOLOGY 201 during their sophomore year, although a student may enroll in their junior year.
  2. Research. The student must identify a research mentor, preferably by the end of the sophomore year. The research mentor can be a member of the Departments, or a life scientist holding a faculty appointment in another unit of the University, such as the Medical School or the School of Public Health. If the mentor is not a member of the Departments, the student must also identify a co-sponsor within the Departments.

    Students must register for independent research (MCDB 300 or 400) for at least two terms; most students register for three or four terms of independent research. All students working in labs in the Departments must register for MCDB 300 during their first term of Honors research, and for MCDB 400 in subsequent terms. Students working in labs outside of the Departments will usually register for MCDB 300 and 400 through their co-sponsor's independent study number. However, it is permitted to use the independent study number of another department if the co-sponsor approves it.

    It is highly recommended that students arrange to work full time on their Honors thesis during the summer between their junior and senior years. A limited amount of funds are available from university fellowships, so in most cases, support will have to come from the sponsoring lab. For students working in areas of field biology, it is often necessary to arrange for two field seasons to complete a project. For this reason, students working on field-based topics are urged to contact faculty about the possibility of starting work during the summer between their sophomore and junior years.
  3. Honors thesis proposal. A thesis proposal must be submitted during the student's third year. A research proposal should be approximately five pages long, and include a description of the background to the project, the specific hypotheses to be tested, the methods to be used, and the potential results of the student's proposed research. This proposal must include the signature of the mentor (and co-sponsor if there is one) indicating that he or she supports the proposal. The Honors Committee will review all thesis proposals, and communicate any concerns they have about the appropriateness and feasibility of the project to the student and mentor. If the committee judges a project to be unlikely to succeed, or on a topic that is outside the student's major, they will not approve the proposed project. For instance, research in molecular neurobiology would be appropriate for a CMB major, but not for a student concentrating in Microbiology. The Honors Committee will communicate their approval or disapproval of an Honors thesis proposal within one month of its submission.
  4. Readers. Prior to submitting their thesis, the student should identify three readers for the thesis, one of whom is the sponsor. At least two readers must be faculty members of the Departments, unless the student receives the written approval of the Biology Honors Committee for an exception. Readers must agree to turn in their evaluations within ten days after the thesis is submitted. Once the thesis is submitted, a member of the Honors Committee will be designated as a fourth reader of the thesis.
  5. The Honors thesis. For April/May graduates, the Honors thesis is due one week after the end of the winter break. This will allow ample time for the readers and the Honors Committee to evaluate all theses prior to the spring symposium. For December or August graduates, the thesis will be due one month before the last day of classes; there will be no Honors symposia in these terms.

    The Honors thesis is expected to be a report of a substantial body of original results obtained during a sustained period of investigation. It is to be written in the form of a research paper that could be submitted to a journal in the student's area of interest, with the exception that the introduction is expected to provide substantially more background on the research area than is typical of a research article.

    Based on the material presented in the Honors thesis and the student's overall record, the readers of the thesis will recommend a rating of "No Honors," "Honors," "High Honors," or "Highest Honors." "Highest Honors" will be given only in rare cases when (a) the student has a major GPA of 3.6 or above, and (b) all reviewers agree that the material, as presented, would be likely to be accepted into a professional journal with only minor modifications. Readers of Honors theses are expected to file their reports within ten days after the thesis is submitted. The reports of all readers should address the quality of the science reported in the thesis, as well as the quality of the presentation.

    The report of the mentor should also address the role the student played in the design, execution and interpretation of the experiments reported in the thesis, and should point out the role that others in the lab played.

    The Honors Committee will meet approximately two weeks after the due date of theses to review the recommendations of the readers and decide on the appropriate level of Honors. The committee will attempt to maintain uniform standards for Honors and is not constrained by the level of Honors recommended by the readers. The Honors Committee may decide to table discussion and request the student to revise the thesis if they believe that a revised version might merit a higher rating.
  6. Honors symposium. An Honors symposium will be held during the month of April. Each Honors graduate will be expected to prepare a poster describing his or her work. At the end of the poster session there will be an awards ceremony.

Typical Honors schedule

Year 1. Fall or Winter Term - Complete Introductory Biology (BIOLOGY 162).

Year 2. Fall or Winter Term - Enroll in BIOLOGY 201. Apply to Biology Honors Program.

Identify a research mentor.

Year 3. Fall Term - Begin research and submit Honors thesis proposal.

Winter Term - Continue research. (Submit Honors thesis proposal if it was not submitted fall term.)

Spring/Summer - Continue working in lab or field.

Year 4. Fall Term - Finish research and begin writing.

Early March - Turn in completed thesis.

Early April - Receive evaluation of thesis and present poster at Honors symposium.

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