Nick O Conner
Nick O’Connor ’11 did research in synthetic organic chemistry. 
He is attending Caltech pursuing 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 or computational 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 no later than the spring of their junior year in order to develop their application.  While the College requires a minimum overall GPA of 3.30 at the time of application, the Chemistry Department requires a higher minimum overall GPA of 3.50. In addition, the student must be making good progress toward the completion of the major. A student whose overall GPA falls between 3.30 and 3.49 (inclusive) after his or her junior year, but who nevertheless would like to pursue an honors project, may submit a one-paragraph appeal, along with an unofficial copy of his or her transcript, to the department chair asking for an exemption from the GPA requirement. This appeal must be submitted by June 1 of the summer between the junior and senior year. The department chair will consider the appeal in consultation with other departmental faculty and notify the student of the decision within one week.

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 successful application must provide evidence that (1) the student already has obtained or will obtain a substantial body of experimental and/or computational results and that (2) the student has the ability and motivation both to write an intellectually rigorous thesis and provide an excellent oral defense of the project. Applications must be submitted to the department chair by the first day of the fall semester of the senior year

A departmental review committee composed of the chemistry faculty will review the applications according to the two criteria stated above. The department chair will 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 two copies of the final thesis to that Office.  Bound copies are provided to the student and the faculty sponsor.  The Chemistry Department will cover the costs of reproduction and binding.

Students who intend to graduate in December of their senior year may also participate in the honors program. The Chemistry Department deadlines for such students are as follows:

• Appeal of a GPA between 3.30 and 3.49: One week before the start of the spring semester of the junior year

• Honors project application: One week before the start of the spring semester of the junior year

• Interim report: The first day of the fall semester of the senior year

Honors candidates and sponsors should carefully consult the Academic Programs Office web site for specific deadlines.

Revised December 2016