Honors in Neuroscience is awarded to students who have successfully completed a rigorous program of research and scholarship in the area of neuroscience. The written product, the honors thesis, is based on empirical research conducted by the student during the academic year, e.g., in a faculty member’s lab or on a study away program, and/or during the summer. Students pursuing honors are expected to make a major commitment of time and energy, one that normally extends as long as a year or more, including time spent developing and conducting the research, analyzing the results, reviewing the literature, writing the thesis, and preparing and presenting a public seminar on the thesis topic. As such, students should consider pursuing honors only if they have a very strong interest in research and are willing to organize their senior year around the demands of the honors work. Students interested in pursuing honors are encouraged to contact a faculty member early in their junior year to discuss their plans. Students who intend to graduate early should contact the director of the neuroscience program to discuss alternative timelines for completing honors. Specific eligibility criteria and procedures are described in more depth below.


Honors students must be Neuroscience majors with strong academic background and training in the area(s) needed to complete their honors work. Critically, students desiring to complete honors should plan to have taken the required Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience (BIOL 356) and Behavioral Neuroscience (PSYC 248) courses by the end of their junior year. In addition, honors students must have a cumulative GPA (all college courses) of at least 3.30 and a GPA in their neuroscience courses of at least 3.40.

Application Process

The application process for honors begins in the Spring semester of the student’s junior year when the student submits to the director of the program a letter of intent to complete honors. This letter of intent should be submitted by April 1st ideally, and by July 31st necessarily. Letters of intent should be one-page, single-spaced documents that describe the nature of the work to be conducted (i.e., what question[s] will be addressed; what method[s] will be used), where the research will be conducted (i.e., at what institution; in whose lab), and what faculty member(s) will supervise the work. Students planning to complete their research at another institution must include with their letter of intent a brief letter of support from the off-campus faculty supervisor. Students will receive feedback on their plans at this point and may revise them if needed.

The formal honors proposal is due on the 5th day of classes during the Fall semester of the student’s senior year (the approximate mid-point of the Add/Drop period). The formal proposal should include a preliminary review of the literature on the honors topic, a clear statement of the goals of the proposed work (e.g., hypotheses to be tested, questions to be answered), an overview of the approach and methodology to be used, a statement as to the potential significance of the work (i.e., what new contributions might the proposed project make to our knowledge and understanding), and a bibliography of the references cited in the proposal. This portion of the proposal should be approximately 1500 words (about 6 pages, double-spaced). In addition, a final section should be included in which the applicant describes their qualifications to undertake the proposed work, e.g., courses taken, research experience, familiarity with particular techniques (laboratory, statistical, computer), and attaches their Macalester transcript with their Neuroscience GPA calculated. Proposals will be reviewed by the Neuroscience Steering Committee, and students will receive official approval to complete honors (or not) at that point.

Students who are approved to complete honors will register for a 4-credit independent study during the Fall semester (NSCI 614) and a 2-credit independent study during the Spring semester (NSCI 612) for a total of 6 credits.

The Thesis

A typical thesis consists of two parts: an extensive literature review and a report of the student’s own research. In the literature review the student should demonstrate a thorough understanding of the major ideas, findings, and theories of the neuroscientific field that provides the context for the student’s own study. It is expected that the student will clearly describe how their specific study relates to the larger questions and issues confronting the broader research discipline. Literature reviews in honors theses are expected to range from 7,000 to 14,000 words (30-60 pages, double-spaced). While there are no formal length requirements for Neuroscience theses, complete theses typically range from 14,000 to 21,000 words (60-80 pages, double-spaced, excluding figures, tables, and bibliography).

The thesis will be composed of the following ordered sections:

  • Title Page (listing the title, student’s name, the words “An Honors Thesis Submitted to the Neuroscience Program at Macalester College, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA”, and the date (day, month, year) of completion
  • An Abstract (on its own page)
  • Table of Contents
  • A Preface (if desired)
  • Acknowledgments (if desired)
  • The body of the thesis
  • Literature Cited
  • Tables (if not incorporated into the text)
  • Figure Legends (if not incorporated into the text)
  • Figures (if not incorporated into the text)
  • Appendices (if any)

Font should be 12-point, Times New Roman (with exceptions for tables and figures). Margins should be one inch (top, bottom, and right) and 1.5 inches (left; for binding). Primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary (if any) headings must be distinguished from one another using different font, capitalization, and/or spacing conventions for the respective heading types.

Literature cited should be referenced using American Psychological Association (APA) style (information on this style is available here).

Oral Presentations/Thesis Defense

Honors students will give a minimum of two oral presentations on their work. The first presentation is an approximately 15-minute progress report that will be given in December of the student’s senior year. This presentation will be evaluated by the Neuroscience Steering Committee members who will determine whether the student has made sufficient progress on their project to continue it for honors in the Spring.

The second presentation is an approximately 30-minute talk that precedes the student’s defense of their honors work to a committee of at least three faculty members (2 from the Neuroscience Steering Committee and 1 from another discipline, who may be from Macalester or another institution). This committee will read the honors thesis prior to the defense meeting and will ask the student questions about the thesis and the research behind it during the defense. Following the defense meeting, the committee will decide whether the work merits an honors designation. If the decision is positive, an appropriate document will be signed by all committee members.