Honors research in MCDB provides an opportunity for undergraduate students who are in the College of Arts and Sciences, to participate in world-class original research. This experience gives students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in lecture classes to unsolved problems in biological research. Graduation with Departmental Honors from MCDB is recognized as an outstanding accomplishment, and the experience gained from having done original research provides a significant advantage for students who wish to go on to Medical School, Graduate School, or a position in industry.

How do you get involved in Honors Research in MCDB?

First, find a faculty mentor that will support your research project and your pursuit of departmental honors. Honors research projects are conducted in faculty labs. Find out about the research interests of individual faculty members by going to the MCDB Website. Contact the faculty member directly for more information about conducting honors research in their lab. The honors research project can begin as soon the student begins working in the lab.  Honors students write an Honor’s Thesis document and present and defend their research the semester of graduation.

If you are interested in graduating with Honors, make an appointment with Dr. Christy Fillman (Chair of the Departmental Honors Committee, Christy.Fillman@Colorado.edu) for guidance through the Honors process.  When you have secured a faculty thesis advisor for your honors research, fill out the Honors Research Approval form. 

Students who choose to perform research outside of the MCDB department must provide updates on their projects to Dr. Christy Fillman (Chair of the Departmental Honors Committee, Christy.Fillman@Colorado.edu) to ensure the project remains within MCDB guidelines.

When should you start your Honors Research Project?

Most students start their projects in their sophomore or junior year via independent study and continue until their senior year. At least two semesters of undergraduate laboratory research are recommended for graduation with Honors to allow sufficient data to be collected for the thesis project and written thesis document.  The semester just prior to graduation is usually reserved for writing the thesis document and preparing for the thesis defense.  Credit can be earned for this research by enrolling in independent study (MCDB 4840), Honors Research (MCDB 4980) and/or Honors Thesis (MCDB 4990).  None of these courses are required to graduate with honors. Consult with your thesis advisor and Dr. Fillman about these options.   

What are the requirements for graduation with departmental honors in MCDB?

  • A student must be in the College of Arts and Sciences and have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.3.  This requirement can be waived for students who have done exceptionally well in their research (contact Dr. Fillman if you are in this category).
  • A student must complete at least two semesters of original laboratory research under the guidance of a faculty member. This research experience can be obtained through independent study for credit (the quality of research must be equivalent to a B or higher), or from an equivalent research experience without credit.  Consult with your thesis advisor about these options.
  • A student must generate original research data that will support an honors thesis document. Consult frequently with your advisor to ensure that your project is on track for thesis quality data.

The semester before your graduation semester

  • Make sure you have submitted the MCDB Honors Research Approval form and discussed your plans to graduate with honors with Dr. Fillman.
  • Complete the Arts and Sciences Honors Program Thesis Registration Application.  The honors application requires a brief prospectus of your research, bibliography and timeline for your thesis project. Registration for honors occurs early in the semester prior to the semester you plan to graduate (early October for students graduating in May and late April for students graduating in December). Visit to the Arts and Sciences Honors Program website for the current semester deadlines and a link to the application form. 

The semester of your graduation

  • Write an Honors thesis. Your thesis should synthesize the results of your honors project and include an abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, and references section (your thesis advisor can help you with this, as can Dr. Fillman).  You can view prior students’ honors theses at the Undergraduate Honors Thesis Repository on CU Scholar.  Students can earn credit for writing their thesis by enrolling in MCDB 4990, Honors Thesis, during the semester they plan to defend their thesis.
  • Form a thesis examination committee. This committee will consist of at least three members: your thesis advisor, a representative of the MCDB Honors Committee (your Honors representative), and one faculty member from outside the MCDB department. The committee members can provide support and feedback during the writing process. Provide each member of your examination committee a copy of your thesis at least one week before your Oral thesis defense presentation.
  • Complete the Honors Oral Defense presentation. The Honors Defense consists of a public seminar (usually approximately 30 minutes) during which you present your project/data, followed by questions from the audience and then further questions from your thesis committee in a private defense.   Thesis defense presentations typically occur 4 weeks prior to the end of the semester of graduation but can be done earlier if necessary.

How is your level of Honors determined?

Your MCDB Honors committee vote on the level of honors after your thesis defense and will make a recommendation to the Arts and Sciences Honors Council who will make the actual designation (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude). Factors considered in the recommendation include the quality of the research, the quality of the thesis, the student’s performance during the oral examination, and the student’s overall academic record (minimum GPA of 3.3 for cum laude, 3.5 for magna cum laude, and 3.8 for summa cum laude). Honors candidates whose performance does not meet, or exceeds, the designated grade point ranges can be awarded higher or lower levels of honors pending support from their committee and the vote of the Council.