Graduation with Distinction in Biology


The Biology Department honors a limited number (up to 10%) of graduating majors with Distinction in Biology. Each spring the faculty review the research papers and presentations of the student candidates, and award this academic honor to those who fulfill departmental ideals of academic excellence and research scholarship. Information about Distinction at St. Olaf College can be found in the academic catalog page linked here.

Distinction is open to seniors who have achieved a GPA in their biology major of 3.50 or greater.  The biology major is defined as all courses (including the year of general chemistry). Candidates for Distinction must have completed a significant research project, must turn in a major research paper, and must present publicly on this research at the department poster session. The biology faculty will evaluate each candidate on the quality of the paper and of the public presentation, and make a decision about whether or not to award the honor of Distinction.

Please note that the research paper is a major piece of work that is written for an audience of general biology faculty.  It is not a publication-ready manuscript.  It includes significant background information and literature research, in-depth analysis, critical reflection, and clearly emphasizes the significance of the research questions and results to the general field of biological knowledge.  Any biology faculty member who reads the thesis should be able to determine why the question is interesting and important, whether or not the methods used to test the hypotheses were appropriate, whether the analysis and interpretation was reasonable, and to identify the broader significance of the research. In order to help candidates prepare such a high-quality paper, each student will be assigned a peer-editing group and the assessment rubric the department will use when evaluating papers.  Each student is also encouraged to seek faculty advice.

First-semester seniors who meet the GPA criterion above, and who have conducted (or are conducting in Fall 2015) a significant research project, are invited to apply for nomination as Distinction candidates. The timeline for the entire process is given below.


Timeline for 2016 Graduates

Step: Date(s): Description:
Pre-application Due November 2 Student submits two items to Joy Broin

1) a Pre-Application form (linked here) that includes basic information, an abstract of the research project, and a detailed plan for completing the research paper by the final due date of March 14; 2) an unofficial transcript.You should obtain your research advisor’s approval before completing the pre-application.

Review and nomination of applicants November 2-8 The Biology faculty will review the pre-application documents and notify students who have met the requirements, and who have provided a sufficient writing project proposal, of their status as a candidate for Distinction in Biology.
Required meeting with Distinction Coordinator November 9 Each candidate will be assigned a peer-editing group and the assessment rubric will also be provided and explained at this time.
Preparation of research paper November 9 – March 14 Candidates will work on the research paper. During this time students will consult with their research mentors and faculty members and work with their peer-editing group.
Research Paper Submission March 14 Student submits final version of the research paper to Lisa Bowers at
Research Paper Review March 14 – April 14 Each research paper will be read and reviewed by two members of the Biology faculty (the student’s mentor will not be one of these two faculty).
Spring Research Poster Session April 4 This is the Biology Department poster session at which candidates for Distinction must present their research posters.
Notification of Distinction in Biology April 22 Candidates will receive a letter from the Biology Department indicating whether or not they have been awarded Distinction.


Questions can be directed to Lisa Bowers,