Overview of Honors
The Honors process for neuroscience majors consists of a year of intensive, innovative, and meaningful research, the writing of a substantial, publication-quality document, and an oral examination about the project by a panel of faculty. The award of Honors is given to the student after successful completion of the process, a designation that appears on the student’s undergraduate transcript, diploma, and other graduation-related materials.
Nomination to the Honors Program
Student participation in the Honors Program is by invitation of the neuroscience faculty. The neuroscience faculty consider multiple criteria when discussing a student’s eligibility. These criteria include objective measures such as the student’s GPA inside and outside the major, class ranking within the major, performance in laboratory sections of previous classes, and performance on past writing-intensive assignments. Criteria also include subjective observations of the student, including faculty assessment of the student’s ability to think creatively, critically, and independently, the student’s level of determination, persistence, and conscientiousness, and the student’s maturity to withstand the rigors of the Honors process. As per campus-wide policy of the Honors Program, the neuroscience faculty may nominate up to ten percent of senior majors. With all of these considerations, the eligibility criteria are quite rigorous, and there are some years when no seniors are deemed eligible for Honors.
Faculty begin discussions about students’ candidacy at the end of junior year, and these discussions continue during the summer months and into the early fall term of senior year. Faculty may approach individual students at any point during this time frame to discuss the possibility of Honors and to index the student’s level of interest in the Honors Program. Honors theses, by definition, must be year-long projects that are conducted during Fall and Winter terms of senior year. Because of this requirement, students who are judged by faculty to be eligible for Honors and who wish to participate in the Honors program must work with the thesis adviser to design a year-long project. As the design of year-long projects requires time and care, faculty may approach students as early as March or April of junior year to discuss the possibility of Honors.
Per campus-wide policy, a student’s official nomination to the Honors Program is not until early January of the senior year. Nomination is based on all of the criteria noted above as well as evidence to the thesis adviser that the student has made significant headway in meeting thesis goals and expectations by the end of the senior fall semester. General thesis expectations include those listed here. For Honors eligibility, the student must demonstrate during the fall semester the ability to exceed all or almost all of the expectations. In addition to these expectations, the thesis adviser will expect the student to have achieved certain tangible progress goals by the end of the fall term, such as running a certain number of subjects, completing one out of two proposed experiments, or mastering a certain laboratory skill set. Failure to meet these expectations or goals, whether or not through any fault of the student, will likely result in the neuroscience faculty deeming the student no longer eligible for the Honors Program. In this case, the thesis adviser will not submit the student’s name to the Honors Committee in January of the senior year, even if the thesis adviser had previously encouraged the student to plan for Honors several months prior to this. This is not necessarily meant to be punitive; instead, the faculty are operating from the premise that only those students should be nominated in January who are likely to be successful in the Honors defense come the end of senior year.
Remaining in the Honors Program
After official nomination to the Honors Program in January, the student must now abide by an additional set of deadlines associated with the Honors Program. These deadlines as publicized separately via the Honors Program officers and pertain to submission of an abstract and title of the project and eventually submission of the finished written document. Note that the deadline for submitting the finished Honors thesis is several weeks earlier than the deadline for submitting a neuroscience non-Honors thesis.
During the months of January and February of senior year, the thesis adviser works with the student to plan the details of the thesis defense, including the specific date of the defense and the composition of the panel of examiners. At any time between the official nomination date in January and the date of submission of the Honors thesis document in March, either the student or the thesis adviser may decide to pull the project from Honors consideration. The decision, whether initiated by the student or the thesis adviser, must be made after a thorough discussion with the other party; in other words, the student must consult with the thesis adviser and the thesis adviser must consult with the student before notifying the Honors Program Committee of the decision to rescind the nomination. Reasons to forego Honors vary and may include factors such as ongoing illness or other life stressors that impede the student’s progress toward thesis goals and expectations, unexpected delays or mishaps during the research process that hurt data collection, or incomplete or uninterpretable data that would render an Honors defense pointless. The thesis adviser will also pull the student from the Honors process in the event of an ethical transgression by the student such as falsification of data or plagiarism.
Determination of Honors
Final determination of Honors is made by a panel of examiners with the outcome being either “Honors” or “No Honors”. As per campus-wide guidelines established by the Honors Committee, the voting members of the panel include the outside examiner, a Bates neuroscience faculty member, and a Bates non-neuroscience faculty member. The thesis adviser, who is present during the oral defense, does not vote on the Honors designation. However, the thesis adviser has the sole responsibility for assigning a thesis letter grade to the student for the fall and winter semesters.
At a minimum, the designation of Honors reflects a year-long process of research that has been performed consistently by the student at A-level quality in the domains of Knowledge, Process, Communication, and Comportment (See “Expectations and Evaluation”). The award of Honors signals that the student has demonstrated significant, independent thought during all stages of the research project, has mastered the research methodology and methods of analysis appropriate to the question at hand, explicitly recognizes that one’s research is done within a frame of reference, has an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of his/her study and articulates how the work might be improved, can situate his/her research in the context of the work of others, and can defend his/her work cogently and effectively to multiple audiences. The Neuroscience faculty considers the Honors designation as testimony that the student has advanced the field of neuroscience in some tangible way by offering a novel contribution to the foundation of neuroscience knowledge.