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Honors Program in Biological Sciences

Timeline for 2018-2019 honors candidates by review and by committee. Information sessions for the 2019-2020 Biological Sciences Honors Program will be held in G01 Stimson on March 5, 2019 at 4:45 pm and April 17, 2019 at 12:20 pm.

Participants in the honors program conduct original, independent research in the biological sciences and write an honors thesis formatted as a scientific paper in the field of study. All students in the program are mentored by a Cornell faculty member on the Ithaca campus. After successful completion of the honors program students graduate with special distinction. Students in CALS are awarded “Distinction in Research” and Latin honors (e.g. Summa cum laude, etc.) are awarded based on GPA. Biological sciences majors in CAS must complete an honors thesis to be awarded Latin honors, and the level of Latin honors is determined by GPA.

Students Interested in Honors

Students interested in applying to the Honors Program are strongly encouraged to begin their research project in their junior year. Information on faculty research activities is available on our searchable faculty database or through department directories. Students should meet with their research advisor in their junior year to discuss becoming an honors candidate.  Interested students are welcome to attend an honors information meeting held twice during the spring semester. See OUB Events for dates.  Details pertaining to information meetings, thesis due dates, expectations for Honors research, and other requirements can be found on our Biological Sciences Honors Information Sheet.

One tremendous resource for undergraduate scientists preparing to do Honors research is the Mann Library Guide on Research in the Biological and Life Sciences: A Guide for Undergraduate Honors Students. You will find tips for science citation management (Mendeley and Endnote) and data management. See also the "Locating Theses" tab to direct you to published undergraduate honors theses on eCommons, the Cornell University Library public database.

The application for the 2019-2020 Honors Program will be available in late spring. If you are interested in participating in the honors program, please stop by or call the OUB in 216 Stimson to make an appointment to discuss.

Who Can Apply?

Students with an intended graduation date of December 2019 or May 2020 who are:

If you have any concerns about whether BioSci Honors is the right program for you, schedule a meeting with Dr. Laura Schoenle.

Program Requirements

The requirements of the Honors Program include: 

  1. Coursework and GPA
  • Completed at least 30 credits at Cornell or be Junior standing for transfers.
  • An overall Cornell cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.0.
  1. Honors Application
  • Submit your honors application/thesis proposal online
  •  Proposals must be submitted between May 1 – June 15, 2019.
  • Given the nature of science, we understand that some aspects of your project might change after proposal submission. As long as you continue to work with your mentor, there is no need to report changes until your progress report (due in Fall 2019).
  • More details on the content of proposals is provided here.

3. Mentor Agreement 

  • After you have submitted your research proposal, it will be sent to your research mentor for approval. Note: your research mentor must be a current Cornell faculty member based at the Ithaca campus and in Ithaca the spring semester of thesis submission.
  • Mentors must complete an online form indicating that they
    • agree to mentor you as an honors candidate, including:
      • supporting and evaluating your progress as you work towards your thesis
      • reviewing and providing feedback on your progress report
      • reviewing and providing feedback on your thesis before you submit the thesis for formal review
    • will be on the Ithaca campus during the semester you submit your thesis (i.e. not on sabbatical)
    •  approve your thesis proposal and state that the proposed project is sufficient for obtaining honors in biological sciences
    • will serve as a reviewer or committee member for 1-2 other theses

BIOG 4990

Honors candidates usually enroll for credit in BIOG 4990 under the direction of the faculty member acting as an honors supervisor, although it is not a requirement of the Honors Program. Students choosing to earn credit for honors research must register in BIOG 4990 using the enrollment process for that course (separate from the Honors Program application process). Students with questions about BIOG 4990 should go to 216 Stimson Hall.

The Program

Research Groups

If your application to the honors program is accepted, you will be assigned to a research group with other students working in similar branches of biology. A faculty member leads each research group (see table below for contact information) and will be one of your primary contacts throughout the honors program. The faculty member will organize a mandatory meeting in the fall semester at which they will review program logistics and all students will give an overview of their project. The group leader will provide additional information as the meeting approaches. In the spring semester, you will submit your
thesis to the group leader (and your committee in the case of NBB/Microbiology groups), and they will coordinate the review of your thesis.


The 2019-2020 Honors Faculty Committee

Research Group             Group Leader Phone  NetID
Animal Physiology  Dr. Mark Roberson 3-3537 msr14
Biochemistry  TBA 5-4744 gwf3
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dr. Irby Lovette 4-2140 ijl2
Genetics and Development Dr. Tudorita Tumbar  5-6542 tt252
Microbiology Dr. James Shapleigh 5-8535 jps2
Molecular and Cell Biology  Dr. Yuxin Mao 5-0783 ym253
Neurobiology and Behavior Dr. Christiane Linster  4-4351 cl243
Plant Biology  Dr. Wojtek Pawlowski  4-8745 wp45
Honors Coordinator  Dr. Laura Schoenle 5-5233 las86
Honors Program Assistant  Ms. Kristy Long 5-6859 kll25

Honors Thesis

BioSci honors theses follow the format of a manuscript being prepared for submission to a scientific journal in the research discipline. Students should work with their research supervisor to identify a journal in their field and follow the guidelines for that journal along with the general thesis formatting guidelines. In general, theses consist of an abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and literature cited. There is no length requirement for the thesis because the length required will vary with the content. Throughout the writing process, you should work closely with your research mentor(s) to ensure you are meeting the standards of the field. Although your faculty research supervisor must decide if your results are sufficient to justify their presentation in an honors thesis, the ultimate responsibility for the thesis is yours. Examples of previous honors theses are available online at

The BioSci Honors program uses two models to review theses: thesis by review and thesis by committee. 

Thesis by review follows the model of a scientific paper submitted for publication to a journal in the field. You will submit your thesis to the research group leader who will send it out to two anonymous reviewers (other Cornell affiliated researchers, often faculty). The reviewers will provide feedback on the manuscript, including whether or not they believe the work is suitable for honors. Based on these reviews and their own assessment of your thesis, the research group leaders will make a recommendation as to whether or not you should be awarded honors. If you are recommended for honors, you will be able to edit your thesis based on the reviews and submit a final version to Canvas.

The thesis by committee model (currently used by the Neurobiology and Behavior and Microbiology groups) is similar to the review of a master’s thesis. In the fall semester, you create a committee including your research mentor(s), the group leader, and an additional member from another lab (a professor, research associate, or postdoc). You submit your thesis to this committee and schedule a defense, where the committee will ask you questions and provide feedback on your work. Based on this meeting, your research group leader will make a recommendation about your work’s suitability for honors. If you are recommended for honors, you will be able to edit your thesis based on the defense and submit a final version to Canvas.

Honors Presentation

You must publicly present your research to be eligible for honors. May graduates can present their research at poster sessions for the honors program which are typically held early in May. December graduates or May graduates that cannot attend the honors poster session can present their research at: 1) a national or regional conference, 2) a campus-wide research event such as the CURB research symposia, or 3) at a lab meeting open to members of the public. If you choose option 1 or 2, email the abstract and meeting schedule to and if you choose option 3, invite Dr. Laura Schoenle to attend as a member of the public.


December 2019 Graduates

May 1 – July 1, 2019: Honors application submission. No late proposals will be accepted.
August 2019: Receive your honors group assignment and fall informational meeting (date TBA).
September 16: Submit progress reports on Canvas. If doing thesis by committee, identify committee members and inform your group leader.
November 1, 2019: Submit full draft to thesis mentor *at the latest!
November 25, 2019: Submit final thesis to group leader and/or committee for review.
December 15, 2019: Upload formatted and revised thesis to Canvas and Turnitin.

May 2020 Graduates

May 1 - July 1, 2019: Honors application submission.
September 15, 2019: Honors application, late submission. *Requires a letter of support from faculty mentor indicating the feasibility of the project and justifying late submission.
September 2019: Receive your honors group assignment fall informational meeting.
November 4, 2019: Submit progress reports on Canvas.
November/December 2019: Small group meeting: date TBA, organized by group leader. If doing thesis by committee, identify committee members and inform your group leader.
February 2020: Mandatory Spring Semester meeting: date TBA, organized by L. Schoenle.
March 23: Submit full draft to thesis mentor *at the latest!
April 17, 2020: Submit final thesis to group leader and/or committee for review.
May 15, 2020: Upload formatted and revised thesis to Canvas & Turnitin.

You must meet all submission deadlines to be considered for honors

Level of Honors

Latin honors, as recorded on the diploma (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude), is assigned differently for students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and students in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). In CALS, the level of Latin honors is determined exclusively by the student’s grade point average (GPA). See this link for more details. If the CALS honors candidate has written an acceptable honors thesis, the further words "with Distinction in Research" are added. In CAS, Latin honors requires a student to write a thesis. Once the thesis is accepted, the level of honors for CAS candidates is also determined by GPA. In CAS, “distinction in all subjects” is awarded to the graduates who achieve a GPA in the upper 30 percent of their class at the end of the seventh semester or next to last semester for transfers.

Resources for Honors Candidates

Research in the Biological and Life Sciences: A Guide for Undergraduate Honors Students ( undergrads) from Mann Library. You will find tips for science citation management (so important!!), data management, and literature searching. See also the "Locating Theses" tab to direct you to published undergraduate honors theses on eCommons, the Cornell University Library public database.

Cornell offers multiple grant programs to support undergraduate research. You can also find funding from external sources, including professional societies. See the OUB’s list of funding opportunities posted here:

Cornell Statistical Consulting Unit (CSCU)
CSCU can help you as you design your experiments and analyze results. Remember, you should know what analyses you will do before actually start the experiment! CSCU offers workshops in statistical methods and software and one-on-one consulting. Check out the options here:

Cornell’s digital repository, eCommons, allows you to publish your thesis online once it is accepted. This way, your thesis will be freely accessibly and searchable via engines like “Google Scholar.” To publish your thesis in eCommons, you and your faculty mentor will sign a release agreement and submit it to the OUB in person or by email to The OUB will ensure your thesis is published on eCommons! This is a great way to allow other researchers to access your work in addition to future employers, graduate schools, and friends and family.



Visit our FAQ! If you have further questions about this program, please contact or stop by the Office of Undergraduate Biology, 216 Stimson (607-255-5233).