Honors Program

Nick O Conner

Nick O'Connor '11 did research in synthetic organic chemistry. 
He is attending Caltech pursuing his PhD in chemistry.

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 the first day of the fall semester of the senior year.  The application consists of a short research proposal with title, a timetable for completing the necessary work, a copy of the student’s transcript, and a letter of endorsement from the faculty sponsor.  A departmental review committee composed of the chemistry faculty will review the applications and notify all applicants of their acceptance or denial within two weeks.  (Note that the Academic Programs Office requires each department to provide a list of students approved to pursue honors projects by the last Monday in September.)

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 take the Honors Independent project course (CHEM 64x, where x, the number of credits, ranges from 1 to 4) during the fall semester.

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 or computational work that still needs to be completed, and present an updated timetable for the completion of the project.  This update should comprise at least two pages.  The data collection for the project should 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. (Note that the Academic Programs Office requires each department to provide a list of students approved to continue honors projects by the last Monday in January.) If desired, continuing honors students may take the Honors Independent project course (CHEM 64x, where x, the number of credits, ranges from 1 to 4) during the spring semester.

Each honors candidate and his or her faculty sponsor must meet two other deadlines before the final oral examination.  The first deadline, typically in late March, requires the faculty sponsor to confirm to the Academic Programs Office that the honors student is likely to complete his or her project successfully and to provide a project title that will be printed in the Commencement program.  The second deadline, typically in early April, requires the honors student to submit a 100-word abstract to the Academic Programs Office.   Honors candidates and sponsors should carefully consult the Academic Programs Office web site for specific deadlines.

All senior honors theses will be defended before a thesis committee consisting of the faculty sponsor, another member of the chemistry department, and a scientist 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.