Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Honors in Biology

Honors in Biology are awarded to students who meet minimum GPA requirements, successfully complete two semesters of independent study, and pass an oral examination given by a committee of faculty. (Refer to the College Catalog for additional information.)  Copies of student research papers which have received Honors in Biology are included in the College Archives.


The following guidelines are Department of Biology policy regarding the award of Honors in Biology.

  • To be considered for Honors, a student must have a GPA of at least 3.30 in specified courses in the major after the fall of his or her senior year.  There are no exceptions to this requirement.  For Biology majors, GPA will be caluclated using grades from the Biology core courses and Biology electives (including cross-listed courses) taken at F&M.  For Biochemistry and Molecular Biology majors, GPA will be calculated using grades from all Biology and Chemistry courses taken at F&M.
  • Departmental Honors are granted for two full semesters of independent research; Honors will not be granted for one-semester research projects.  However, students may combine one semester of research and a full-time summer research experience with an F&M professor.  In such a case, the student must submit a progress report at the end of the first research period, whether a semester or the summer, which will be examined by all members of the Biology faculty before consideration for Honors will be granted.
  • Students are nominated for honors by the faculty supervising their independent study project.  This nomination must have the student's approval and it typically takes place between semesters of a two-semester independent study project.  For each student nominated for honors, the faculty of the Department read and discuss the progress report and approve or disapprove the continuation of the project for honors within 14 days of the beginning of the second semester.  
  • Honors defense committees are formed well in advance of the defense so that members have enough time to thoroughly read the final paper, which is due on the last day of classes.  The defense is publicized and open to the public.  Typically, honors defenses are held during Reading Days or Finals Week in the semester the independent study research is completed.
  • Committees should have 3-5 members in addition to the adviser.
    • At least one member must be from outside the Biology Department.
    • At least two members (and a majority) must be Biology faculty and should be a mix of junior and senior faculty.  The adviser is not a voting member of the committee.

Honors Defense

Honors candidates will defend their thesis before the examining committee during the period specified by the College.  The Honors Defense involves an oral presentation and an oral defense of the research findings and their implications.  Candidates for Honors in Biology will be examined on their thesis topic and are expected to be conversant with all aspects of their study very broadly defined. Honors is awarded for excellent quality work in the laboratory, for initiative and enterprise in the performance of research, for an excellent thesis and presentation, and for a significant understanding of the research results and their implications.

The defense procedure takes place in the following order (Exceptions may be made upon petition to the Department of Biology)

  • A very brief introduction by the adviser
  • The student makes an approximately 15-minute professional meeting-style presentation of his/her research to the committee and the public
  • The student answers questions by the public audience
  • The public audience is asked to leave, and the committee members ask questions.  Although the adviser is present, he/she does not participate in the questioning portion of the defense and the student should not defer to the adviser for any answers or questions
  • The adviser will ask the student to leave the room when all members of the committee are satisfied; the student should stay close at hand
  • The committee discusses quality of the paper, the presentaiton and the defense in order to reach a decision on whether or not to recommend the student for honors in Biology; the adviser is present but does not participate in the discussion unless asked for information
  • A formal vote is taken; the adviser does not vote
  • The committee may require or suggest that changes be made to the paper before honor is granted or before the paper is sent to the College Archives and stored in the department records
  • After a decision is reached, the adviser informs the student of the decision and the nature of the criticisms of his/her work.  The adviser also oversees the changes to the paper required by the committee
  • Successful honors candidates will submit one unbound copy of the final revised thesis to the College Archives and one unbound copy to the Department.  These copies will become part of the permanent collections of the College and the Department.  Instructions for formatting and archiving the honors thesis can be found at this link.