Research Emphasis and Latin Honors


Students typically declare the semester before they plan on graduating. Students interested in becoming Latin Honors/Research Emphasis candidates should email Patrick Clark at with the following information:

  • Semester of Graduation

  • Student ID

  • Full name

  • Email

  • Major

  • Mentor

  • Mentor email


Research Emphasis in Biology Requirements

An optional research emphasis pertains equally to students completing the biology major with or without one of the optional tracks. The research emphasis and an appropriate grade
performance qualify a student for Latin honors (scroll down for the requirements for Latin Honors in Biology). A student who fulfills the research emphasis but does not meet the grade requirements for Latin honors receives a research milestone on their transcript.

The Research Emphasis comprises the following work in addition to the biology major requirements:

1.  Six units of independent research (Biol 500). In most cases, independent study leading to a research emphasis starts no later than spring of the junior year. Most students work full time on this research during the summer following their junior year and complete their work during the senior year.

2.  A paper (Thesis) written by the student and judged by the mentor to be worthy of recognition. The paper should be written in the style of a scientific article for a professional journal, with abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion. The research thesis should reflect substantial effort. The introduction should put the work into biological context and thoroughly review relevant literature. The methods section should be more extensive than a journal article's and should demonstrate that the student understands the methods used. Results and discussion may be combined or presented separately. Tables, figures, and bibliographies should be used to present results and should be in standard journal-style form. Extensive or complete results are not required for a thesis to be acceptable. Discussion of incomplete results and problems encountered may be appropriate when experiments have not yielded significant results. Because a student rarely completely solves a problem within the available time, an indication of what should be done next is often appropriate.

3.  Mentor certification of the student's thesis.  This certification is required and completed by the student's faculty mentor using the Online Thesis Certification Form.  Mr. Patrick Clark will send the form to each faculty mentor at the time the final version of the thesis is due. IMPORTANT: No candidate is approved for graduation with a research emphasis in biology unless all requirements are met. An oral examination may be held at the discretion of the Department.

4.  Presentation of the thesis work in the form of a poster or short talk at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Latin Honors In Biology Requirements

To qualify for Latin honors in biology a student must meet the following requirements. For requirements 1, 2, and 3, only courses taken at Washington University are considered. Averages are now computed after 8 semesters, at the time of graduation.  Latin Honors students also receive a research milestone on their transcript and the appropriate Latin Honor (Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, Suma Cum Laude).

1. Cumulative B+ average (3.3) or better in biology courses.

2. Cumulative average of B+ (3.3) or better in the science courses required for a biology major (math, chemistry, and physics).

3. Overall 3.65 average

4. Completion of the Research Emphasis.

Thesis Guidelines
An honors and research emphasis thesis should be closer in format to a Masters’ thesis than to a journal paper, but will usually contain less material than a Masters’ thesis.  It should follow this format:

  • An Abstract is required.  It is typically one page or less and presents the essence of the research problem, key methods and results, and the main conclusions.

  • The Introduction describes the biological context of the problem (that is, why this research question is interesting and the information known at the start of the study). The Introduction should be more extensive than in a typical journal article, introducing a non-specialist to the field and the specific work performed.

  • The Methods section should describe the methods used in enough detail to make them clear to an informed reader. The typical journal article format - "... was performed according to the method of Schwartz (1987)" - is too brief; however overly detailed protocols are inappropriate.

  • The Results and Discussion may either be presented as separate sections or together.  If separate, the figures and tables showing the findings of the research should be in the Results, along with explanatory text; this is followed by the Discussion that provides context for the observations and conclusions that can be drawn.

  • A Conclusions subheading at the end of the Discussion is often useful to summarize the findings; however, it is not strictly required.  Similarly, some prefer a “Future Work” subheading at the end of the Discussion (which can also be combined with the Conclusions) to discuss where the work is likely to proceed from here.  This is also optional.  Mentors will often have additional specific ideas and suggestions regarding the organization of the thesis.

Students should consult with mentors about the organization and content of the thesis well in advance of the submission deadline.  STUDENTS WILL NOT BE DESIGNATED FOR HONORS WITHOUT CERTIFICATION BY THEIR MENTOR THAT THE THESIS MEETS BASIC REQUIREMENTS OF AN ACCEPTABLE RESEARCH PAPER.

The Biology department suggests that initial planning begin before the end of the fall semester, with actual writing beginning no later than the first week of the spring semester.   Sections like the Introduction and Materials and Methods can be written starting in late fall or over winter break, even if all results are not finalized until much later.  Usually students work with their mentors and other members of the lab to generate the final version, as any researcher would in writing results for publication.  HOWEVER, THE WRITING IS PRIMARILY THE STUDENT’S RESPONSIBILITY and others’ contributions should be limited to commenting on student drafts.

From time to time, despite considerable effort, students have few, if any, results to report.  If the absence of results is because of bad luck or an intractable (perhaps too ambitious) problem, then the criterion for writing a thesis is that the student has invested considerable physical and intellectual time and effort in the work.  In that case, the thesis will be heavy on background.  It may include the results of others in the lab, as long as the person who did the work is acknowledged.  If the source of the absence of results can be identified, writing about this would be appropriate, especially if the student has any advice for anyone else who might pursue the same question.  Having definitive results IS NOT REQUIRED to write a suitable honors thesis.

6. The certification of your thesis by your **mentor and final approval of your thesis by Dr. Kenneth Olsen.  **Your mentor will receive the Thesis Certification Form by email.

7.  Presentation of thesis work in poster or oral form at the spring Undergraduate Research Symposium, sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research.  This symposium is usually held late in April.

Time Table for Honors

For students graduating in the Spring, abstracts are due the third week of February (the exact date will be emailed to candidates), Latin Honors/Research Emphasis theses are due the Monday following spring break of senior year. 

For students graduating in the Fall, abstracts are due the third week of October (the exact date will be emailed to candidates), theses are due the Monday after Thanksgiving break.

To have an acceptable thesis, students must begin writing and submit draft versions of each part of their honors thesis to their mentors to get feedback well in advance of this deadline. Students are advised to consult with their mentors about an appropriate time table by the end of the Fall semester of the senior year.

Generally, writing should begin no later than January (start of spring semester) and preliminary drafts of sections like introduction, methods should be presented to mentors for feedback beginning early in February. There should be several rounds of revision and discussion among mentor, possibly others in the lab (bench mentor and others who are familiar with the project) and the student to generate the final version.

The process is akin to writing a manuscript for publication and students should seek advice and feedback as would any researcher writing up results for publication. Mentor approval is required on the final version. If a mentor has not seen and approved the final version prior to the deadline, the department will NOT recommend the student receive Latin Honors/Research Emphasis in Biology.

If any delay or problem in submitting an acceptable thesis by the deadline is anticipated/suspected, students and/or mentor must discuss the problem with the department (begin by notifying Mr. Patrick Clark) as soon as possible.

Theses should be submitted electronically as a pdf by email to Patrick Clark.

NOTE: The Department of Biology annually awards three prizes/awards.The Marion Smith Spector Prize is awarded to an undergraduate who has compiled an excellent academic record and submitted an outstanding honors thesis. The Biology Department also awards the Harrison D. Stalker Award to a graduating senior whose college career has been distinguished by scholarship, service, and breadth of interest. The Quatrano Prize is awarded to the thesis showing greatest evidence of creativity in design, research methodology, and/or broader scientific implications. For details, please see the Biology Major's Handbook.

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