Bio 490 Senior Project

Coordinator: Dr. Larsen

The senior paper is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the expertise you have gained in a sub-discipline of biology. It is also a chance for you to show that you have mastered some of the techniques used by professional biologists in conducting research and communicating their results to other biologists. Plan to do your best work on it.

Deadlines for 2017-2018

  • Fall Semester 2017:
    • Friday, Sept. 22 — submit paper topic form to your advisor
    • Friday, Oct. 27 — last day to withdraw from Senior Project without record
    • Monday, Nov. 20 - last day to withdraw from Senior Project with a "W"
    • Tuesday, Nov. 21 — completed paper due no later than 5:00 pm to Michelle in the Biology Office, SHL 231. You must withdraw from Bio 490 by Nov 20th if you will not complete the project fall semester.
    • Thurs, Nov 30 - 9:40 am required Two-Minute Talk, location TBA
  • January Term 2018:
    • If you complete your paper during J-term, it is due no later than 5:00 pm to Michelle in the Biology Office, SHL 231 on the last day of J-term.
  • Spring Semester 2018:
    • Friday, March 2 — submit paper topic form to your advisor
    • Tuesday, Apr 10 — last day to withdraw from Senior Project without record
    • Monday, Apr 30 - last day to withdraw from Senior Project with a "W"
    • Monday, May 7 — completed paper due no later than 5:00 pm to Michelle in the Biology Office, SHL 231.
    • Thurs, May 17 - 9:40 am required Two-Minute Talk, location TBA

Topic Advisors

To achieve an equitable distribution of senior paper work among the biology faculty, you will be assigned to a topic advisor based on your responses to the survey sent out by the biology department during the spring. Requests will be accommodated if at all possible.  If you wish to switch to another advisor, you may do so only if another student assigned to that advisor agrees to switch with you; and you must inform the Coordinator of the switch. Your topic advisor will work with you on matters of both substance and style — e.g., choosing and focusing your topic, and citing references. You should consult with your topic advisor early in the semester so that you can submit a completed topic form to them by the deadline date. The topic advisor may have additional specific requirements of you during the writing process, and s/he will be the grader for your senior paper.

Senior Project Topic Submission Form

Choosing a Topic

In 3+ years of study, you each will have developed specific interests within the broad field of biology. Choose a senior paper topic that you already know a lot about, or one that you really want to know a lot about. 

Sample of Past Senior Project Topics

You should have relevant course background for the topic you choose. Focus your topic. A good senior paper can be done in 12–15 double-spaced pages. Of course, your paper must be long enough to thoroughly cover the topic, so this is an incentive to choose and narrow your topic carefully. The Biology Department prefers that you choose a topic that is discipline-based rather than an applied topic. For example, rather than writing a broad "book report" style paper on a particular disease, write about its physiology, immunology, or demographic aspects. Or, rather than writing a paper on "the wolf", write about some specific aspect of its behavior, ecology, or physiology (e.g., "the significance of copulation ties in canids", or "the ontogeny of vocalizations in Canis lupus"). Use care in composing a title for your paper — you may want to use it on your resume!

You may present a review of the literature, or you may combine original research and literature review. If, during your college years, you have authored or coauthored a research paper published in an appropriate refereed journal, you may submit a reprint of the publication for your senior paper. Consult with the coordinator regarding procedures to follow.

Plagiarism and Attribution

Use special care in crediting ideas in order to avoid plagiarism and the automatic 'F' grade that goes with it. Senior papers must be your own original work and the material must be a new endeavor on your part. Rewriting an old paper is not acceptable. Shared work is not acceptable for credit in Bio 490, except in the case of a published paper.

Information and ideas that are not attributed to another are assumed to be yours (or of the general domain of knowledge). Therefore you must cite authorities. To not give credit is plagiarism and fraud, the worst sin for a scholar. Be sure to cite the source of Figures and Tables in their titles, unless the figure or table is your own original work. Use original references if possible (i.e., avoid citing general or review texts that borrow data from other publications; if you did not see the original, then so indicate — consult your advisor on how to do this).


  • Most senior papers in biology will include the following sections:
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Review of literature (this may be replaced by separate Methods and Results sections if you present original research)
    • Discussion
    • Literature cited

  • Probably the most standard citation style in biology papers is the one you learned in Biology 151–152. Guidelines and examples are given in this resource on writing scientific papers in biology.
  • As a reminder, the following are standard conventions in biological writing:
    • Use the metric system.
    • Use the 24-hr clock (e.g., 17:30 rather than 5:30 P.M.).
    • Use the military/European/scientific calendar (e.g., 10 September 2017).
    • Do not use footnotes.
    • Give the complete scientific name of a species the first time that organism is mentioned.
  • The Biology Department makes the following style specifications for senior papers:
    • The paper should be typed double-spaced, with high quality, legible print.
    • Use white paper.
    • Figures and tables photocopied/scanned from other sources must be legible.
    • Photocopies and photographs should be printed on the page (not attached with tape, glue, staples, etc.).
    • A standard title page must be used.
    • Staple the paper in the upper left corner; a binder is not necessary.


Methods for conducting library research in the biological sciences will be presented to you as a group early in the semester by the biology library liason, Preus Library.

Two-Minute Talks

All students completing senior project/paper in biology will deliver a 2-minute talk related to their work. The talk will be given during a biology department colloquium session late in the semester in which you are registered for senior project. This brief oral presentation will allow you to convey your topic question/problem and the most relevant findings or conclusions to peers and faculty. Check Katie for examples of two-minute talks.  The grading rubric can be found here.

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