Honors Thesis


Rebecca Dobbins '16 studies fin regeneration in zebra fish using the Leica scanning confocal microscope for her senior thesis research.

Rebecca Dobbins ’16 studied fin regeneration in zebra fish using the Leica scanning confocal microscope for her senior thesis research.

In contrast to Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude), which are based solely on overall GPA, achieving honors in one’s major is determined by a rigorous thesis process. This achievement appears on a graduate’s transcript as, for example, Honors in Biology. In Biology, any student may apply to conduct an Honors Thesis.

The Honors Thesis differs from a regular senior thesis in several key regards, all detailed below. (1) The research and writing are expected to meet a higher standard for rigor and scope. (2) The Honors candidate defends the thesis orally in front of a panel of examiners. (3) The deadline for thesis submission is earlier than for non-honors theses; this may seem trivial now but can become more important as the deadline approaches!  Although the details of achieving Honors in the major are somewhat specific to each department and program, there are some commonalities to the Honors Program as described here: https://www.bates.edu/honors/.

Because of the high expectations for Honors Theses, and because of the relatively early deadline for submission of Honors Theses, an early start is crucial. The actual research project can begin during the junior year as an independent study, during the summer between the junior and senior years, or during the senior year itself. Honors Thesis work must extend over at least two semesters, by registering for Bio 457 & 458. Proposals for collaborative work may be considered by the department.

An Honors Thesis must be presented and defended orally at the end of the final semester. This oral examination covers the thesis and topics related to the thesis, including biology in general. For the oral defense, an Honors Panel is assigned specifically for each student and comprises one faculty member from the Biology Department, one Bates faculty member outside Biology, and one outside examiner from off campus (who has expertise in the relevant field but has not had input into the project). The student’s research advisor will also be present to ask questions but cannot vote on the outcome. The Honors Panel determines whether Honors is awarded, based on a combination of the written work (60%) and the oral defense (40%).


Winter Semester of the Junior Year

Meet with potential advisors to discuss summer plans and the possibility of doing Honors; it doesn’t hurt to start these conversations in the fall of the junior year.

Summer between Junior and Senior Years

Spend the summer either conducting research with your advisor or reading and planning in preparation for a full-speed start in the fall semester.

Fall of Senior Year

Submit a written proposal to your biology thesis advisor by the 10th day of classes in the first

Research posters and publications produced by Larissa Williams and her Bates students.

Research posters and publications produced by Larissa Williams and her Bates students.

semester of the senior year. Students whose proposals are approved by the department then can begin (or continue) an in-depth research project under the guidance of the individual faculty advisor.

Winter of Senior Year

At the first Biology faculty meeting of the winter semester, the department will discuss each Honors candidate’s progress and decide whether the student should proceed with the official Honors nomination process.

Details for the remaining steps of the process, including exact deadlines for the current academic year, are available at https://www.bates.edu/honors/.

  • Work with faculty mentor to submit an Honors Nomination Form to the Honors Program by
    the Program’s January deadline of the student’s final semester.
  • Submit a thesis abstract to the Honors Program by the late-January deadline.
  • Upload the completed thesis to SCARAB by the late-March deadline.
  • Conduct an oral defense of the thesis by the late-April deadline.
  • Upload a revised thesis, if necessary, by the early-May deadline.

Honors candidates are also encouraged to present their work at the Mount David Summit in late April and/or at a regional or national conference.

Withdrawing from Honors Consideration

If, at any time prior to the submission of the written thesis, the thesis advisor feels that the student is not meeting the department’s expectations for a satisfactory Honors Thesis, the advisor has the authority to withdraw the student from the Honors Program.  Likewise, withdrawal may be initiated by the student, at any time prior to the thesis submission deadline or oral exam date.  Withdrawal forms are available on the Honors Program website.


Receipt of Honors in Biology is a special distinction awarded to those students who have excelled in their academic accomplishments at Bates and have completed a rigorous and substantive thesis project.  The distinction of Honors requires that the student and the thesis meet all of the criteria specified below.  An outstanding performance in several of the expectations for Honors may offset a less than exemplary performance in another area, but a significant deficiency in any one expectation is sufficient grounds to deny Honors. The Honors Panel, who may consult with the advisor, has final authority for judging whether the student has satisfactorily met the criteria for receipt of Honors.

The thesis must explore a novel question or topic, with creative and independent intellectual work by the student.

The thesis should describe a project that, if brought to completion, would be suitable for publication in the peer-reviewed literature, either as a stand-alone item or as part of a larger project.  The department recognizes that two semesters of work is seldom sufficient to complete a project to the point of a peer-reviewed publication, but the project should be on a trajectory for such an outcome.

In the written thesis and oral defense, the student must demonstrate a thorough understanding of the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the project.  The thesis must develop the necessary background, theory and/or methodology via a thorough discussion and citation of relevant primary literature.

The student must demonstrate a high level of self-motivation, independence, and continuous engagement over the duration of the project.

The student must demonstrate that considerable progress has been made in the actual execution of the project. The student must have advanced the project to the stage where defensible conclusions can be drawn.

The thesis must be well written and accessible to expert and non-expert audiences.  A high quality thesis is well organized, concise, grammatically and mechanistically correct, and coherent and logical in its arguments and development of ideas.  The written thesis must cite appropriate sources that inform the project.  Data must be clearly presented.  Language must be precise and sophisticated, with terminology appropriate for the topic of the thesis.

In the oral exam, the student must demonstrate both a mastery of the field and an understanding of the limitations of the research project and the limitations of the student’s own knowledge.  The student must be able to answer questions posed by the Honors Panel and engage with members of the Panel in a scholarly discussion of all facets of the project, including relevant background and supporting coursework.