Honors Program

Nick O Conner

Nick O'Conner '11 works in the Organic Chemistry lab.
He will attend Cal Tech for his PhD in chemistry.

The chemistry honors program is designed to provide majors with an opportunity to carry out independent research, to present and defend their results, and to be recognized at graduation for this significant accomplishment.

Typically, honors projects are carried out at Macalester under the supervision of a departmental faculty member, but the work can also be undertaken in another department or in an off-campus program such as the Oak Ridge Science Semester or an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates site. Off-campus research projects require a departmental sponsor to receive senior honors designation, and this sponsorship should be negotiated in advance of undertaking the research. Honors projects involve experimental, theoretical or historical investigations related to chemistry and require significant independent scholarship on the part of the student. The honors program culminates in a one-hour departmental seminar and in an extensive written thesis that is defended before a thesis review committee.

Students who are interested in pursuing an honors project should consult with a departmental faculty member in the spring of their junior year in order to develop their application. A minimum overall GPA of 3.30 at time of application is required, and the student must be making good progress toward the completion of the major. Applications must be submitted to the department chair by April 15 of the junior year. The application consists of a short research proposal with title, a timetable for completing the necessary work, and a copy of the student’s transcript. The faculty sponsor will be asked to write a letter of endorsement. A departmental review committee composed of the chemistry faculty will review the applications and notify all applicants of their acceptance or denial by May 1.

Laboratory or investigative work on the project is normally carried out during the summer and fall semester of the senior year in close collaboration with the faculty sponsor. The student and sponsor should meet frequently to ensure that satisfactory progress is being made. If desired, honors students may register for up to six academic credits of independent research during the senior year.

The departmental review committee will conduct a review of all ongoing honors projects during the January break to ensure that candidates are making sufficient progress toward completion. Honors candidates must provide an interim report to this committee one week before the start of the spring semester. This report should outline progress on the project, describe any experimental work that still needs to be completed, and present an updated timetable for the completion of the project. Normally, the experimental aspects of the project will be largely completed by this date, with the spring semester reserved for analysis of results and writing the thesis. The departmental review committee will notify all candidates by the first week of the spring semester whether or not they are approved to continue in the honors program.

All senior honors theses will be defended before a thesis committee consisting of the faculty sponsor, another member of the chemistry department, and someone from another department or institution. The faculty sponsor is responsible for choosing the other two members. Candidates should meet with the departmental seminar coordinator to arrange the time for their public honors presentation, which normally takes place during the regular seminar period on Wednesday afternoon. Typically, the honors defense immediately follows the seminar presentation and lasts for about an hour. The defense must be scheduled no later than one week before the deadline by which the department must notify the Academic Programs office of successful candidates, in order to provide time to make any changes to the thesis mandated by the thesis committee. This mid-April deadline is determined each year based on the date of graduation. The candidate must provide a copy of the honors thesis to each committee member no later than one week before the scheduled defense.

The purpose of the thesis defense is to explore in detail the scientific arguments advanced in the thesis and to ask the candidate to defend his or her results and conclusions. Following the defense, the committee will meet privately to decide whether to approve the thesis unconditionally, to approve the thesis with required revisions, or to deny the thesis for honors recognition. The faculty sponsor is responsible for ensuring that any mandatory revisions have been made by the candidate before final approval and awarding of honors.

Honors candidates and their faculty sponsors are encouraged to represent the department at the fall and spring semester honors lunches organized by the Academic Programs Office. All successful candidates are recognized in the college's commencement program and their honors distinction is noted on their Macalester transcripts and diplomas. The Academic Programs Office also coordinates the binding of honors theses, and successful candidates are responsible for providing four copies of the final thesis to that Office. Bound copies are provided to the student, the faculty sponsor, the college library and the chemistry reading room. The department will cover the costs of reproduction and binding.