Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. Why an Honors degree in Biology?
  2. How many extra hours are involved in a Biology Honors degree?
  3. What does independent research mean?
  4. What are the primary goals of BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology?
  5. When is BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology taught and by whom?
  6. When should I take BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology?
  7. If BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology doesn't fit into my schedule, what is the alternative?
  8. When should I begin my Honors research?
  9. How do I find a lab for my research project?
  10. Is Biology Honors research possible outside the Department of Biology?
  11. How do I enroll for Honors Research?
  12. Is Honors Research possible during the Summer Sessions?
  13. What is a Research Proposal, and when is it due?
  14. When should I start writing my Honors thesis?
  15. What is the format of the Honors Thesis?
  16. When do I have to submit my Honors Thesis?
  17. When do I present my Honors research findings?
  18. How and when do I apply for graduation with Biology Honors?
  19. Other questions about the Biology Honors Program?

Why an Honors degree in Biology?
There are several reasons why this goal may be advantageous to you and your career, including the following: It's a great opportunity to participate in an independent research project in one of the Biology Department's laboratories guided by a faculty member. The Honors Seminar in Biology (or equivalent seminar) is an ideal opportunity to improve your skills in seminar presentation and scientific writing. Throughout undergraduate residence, you may take advantage of enrollment in honors sections of courses within the college. Irrespective of where you're headed after graduating from the UI (e.g. medical school, graduate school, or elsewhere), your Honors degree will make your application more competitive. The ties you establish with your mentor and Honors advisor will strengthen your letters of recommendation.

How many extra hours are involved in a Biology Honors degree?
Each s.h. of BIOL:4999 credit you register for is equivalent to 3-5 hours per week in the lab.  Students should expect to spend on average 10-12 hours per week in the laboratory working on their research project during the academic year.  You will work with your research advisor to come to an agreement as to how many hours per week you will be required to work in the lab for X hours of research credit.  You will also work together to set how those hours fit best into your class schedule for that semester.  At first glance, getting a Biology Honors degree appears to add at least 8 s.h. to the traditional Biology degree (e.g. 2 s.h. for BIOL:4998 and a minimum of 6 s.h. for BIOL:4999). However, as shown in the table below, there are several options for "double-counting" (where Honors requirements count towards Biology major requirements).

How to "double-count" towards Biology Honors degree
Degree BIOL:4999 BIOL:4998
Biology B.A. 6 s.h. satisfy Biology Elective
with Lab requirement
2 s.h. satisfy Biology Elective
requirement
Biology B.S. 6 s.h. satisfy Experiential Lab
requirement
****

In addition, Honors in Biology will satisfy requirements for a University Honors degree Level Two: Learning by Doing – 12 semester hours or equivalent in honors experiences.

What does independent research mean?
When you sign up to do an independent research project, you will interview with a Biology faculty member who will discuss potential research projects available in the lab.  This person will serve as your research advisor and will guide you as you conduct a research project in their laboratory.  Oftentimes, you will learn techniques from research assistants, graduate assistants or post-doctoral researchers in the laboratory.  Michelle Sullivan, a biology major from Urbandale, IA who graduated in May 2014, talks in this video feature about her major in biology, her challenging lab work, and how the creative problem solving of her dance minor complemented her scientific training. Starting in the fall, Sullivan will pursue her Ph.D. in biology.

What are the primary goals of BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology?
The Honors Seminar gives you an excellent opportunity to understand scientific methods and concepts in some specific area of biology. Furthermore, you will be able to improve your skills in seminar presentation, reading primary literature and writing scientific English.

When is BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology taught and by whom?
The Honors Seminar is taught in Spring semesters by Department of Biology faculty and has a maximum enrollment of 12 per semester. This course is restricted to Biology Honors students. Graduate students are not permitted to enroll. The topic of the Seminar varies widely from semester to semester, generally correlating with the research interests of the participating professors. 

When should I take BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology?
You should take this course as a junior or a senior. Keep in mind that there are many skills learned or developed in this course that will prove invaluable to you, as you work toward your Honors degree in Biology. These include giving Powerpoint presentations, undertaking computer-assisted literature searches, and critical analysis of scientific writing.

If BIOL:4998 Honors Seminar in Biology doesn't fit into my schedule, what is the alternative?
If the Honors Seminar doesn't fit into your schedule, or if the topic of the Honors Seminar does not interest you, you may fulfill the seminar requirement of the Honors degree by taking another 2 s.h. advanced-level biology seminar course, provided that the latter has both oral and writing components. Please consult your advisor or our Biology Undergraduate Advisor Anna Gaw (Phone: 353-2484; Email: anna-gaw@uiowa.edu) for further information.

When should I begin my Honors research?
In theory, the research requirement of the Biology Honors degree (namely, 6 s.h. of BIOL:4998, Honors Investigations taken over a minimum of two semesters and completion of an approved thesis) may be fulfilled entirely in your senior year. However, this modus operandi leaves little or no chance for you to extend your research opportunity, if you would so desire. For this reason, it is preferable, but not mandatory, that you start your Honors research as a sophomore or a junior. To facilitate this, the Honors Advisor will contact you twice annually, beginning in your sophomore year, to assist you in finding a lab that matches your interests. Keep in mind that many research labs will expect you to have completed BIOL:1402 and BIOL:1502 (Foundations of Biology and Diversity of Form and Function) before you start your Honors research; some may also require BIOL:2512 (Fundamental Genetics). Please consult your potential thesis supervisors for any minimum course requirements.

How do I find a lab for my research project?
About 3-6 months before you wish to begin your Honors research, contact the Honors Advisor (Dr. Lori Adams) by email (lori-adams@uiowa.edu) and set up an appointment to discuss research options. At that meeting, she will give you an overview of research being undertaken in the department and will ask you to visit the Faculty Research Areas webpage. You will be requested to provide her with a shortlist of labs that interest you. Based on information provided by her faculty colleagues, she will assist you to reduce your list to 2-3 labs. It will then be your responsibility to contact the individuals on your shortlist and discuss potential Honors projects. Once accepted by a lab, please inform the Honors Advisor of your final choice.

Is Biology Honors research possible outside the Department of Biology?

Biology honors students usually perform their honors research in the laboratory of a Department of Biology faculty member. In cases where the research is performed in a lab outside of the Biology department, a Department of Biology faculty member must serve as the supervisor of the project. As the Honors research supervisor, the Biology faculty member approves the Biology Honors proposal, the Thesis, and attends the Colloquium presentation. The student will register for BIOL:4999 using the section of the Biology faculty supervisor.  

How do I enroll for Honors Research?
After being accepted into a lab for Honors Research, you should discuss the following issues with your thesis supervisor: In which semesters will I undertake my Honors Research? How many credit hours will I enroll for each semester? How many hours per week am I expected to work in the lab per semester hour credit? With these issues resolved, sign up for BIOL:4999 Honors Investigations using your thesis supervisor's 'instructor number' as the section number. The latter action is important for two reasons: (a) it allows your supervisor to receive due credit for guiding your research, and (b) it allows the Honors Advisor to keep track of your progress toward an Honors degree. The appropriate instructor number can be obtained from your thesis supervisor, the Biology Honors Advisor, or the Biology Main Office (143 BB).

Is Honors Research possible during the Summer Sessions?
Certainly, the summer is an excellent time to undertake your Honors research, especially since your thesis supervisor may have fewer teaching commitments then. Also, if your research involves field-work, summer may be prime time to gather data.

What is a Research Proposal, and when is it due?
Please see the information located on the Honors Research Proposal Preparation and Submission page.

When should I start writing my Honors thesis?
It is recommended that you begin writing your Honors Thesis as early as possible. For example, by the end of your first semester of research, you should be able to write an initial draft of the Introduction as well as several sections of the Materials and Methods. It is unwise to delay thesis writing until near the end of the second semester of research, because, unless you are gifted in scientific writing, you will probably face several revisions of your thesis, before it is finally approved by your thesis supervisor.

What is the format of the Honors Thesis?
Please see the information located on the Honors Thesis Preparation and Submission page.

When do I have to submit my Honors Thesis?
You should plan on submitting your thesis to the Biology Honors Advisor no later than the last day of classes of the semester in which you plan to graduate (e.g. one full week before Commencement). This allows the Advisor sufficient time to review your thesis before its submission to the Blank Honors Center by the University's stated deadline.

When do I present my Honors research findings?
The final requirement of the Biology Honors degree is to give a brief (~12 minutes) oral presentation of your research findings to the Department as part of the Biology Honors Colloquium, which takes place each semester on Monday or Tuesday of the last week of classes. Most students give a Powerpoint presentation, but using overheads or giving a chalk-talk are alternative options. Please inform the Biology Honors Advisor by mid-semester of your intention to take part in the Colloquium.

How and when do I apply for graduation with Biology Honors?
In addition to submitting your Application For Degree, you must also complete the Application for Graduation with Honors form, which can be downloaded from the UIHP website. After obtaining the required signatures of your thesis supervisor and the Biology Honors Advisor (Dr. Lori Adams, 169 BB), you must submit the original form to 420 Blank Honors Center on or before the established deadline.

Other questions about the Biology Honors Program?
For further information or answers to any questions you may have, consult:
Dr. Lori Adams, Biology Honors Advisor (Phone: 335-1322; Email: lori-adams@uiowa.edu)