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 that are counting as major requirements (including the year of general chemistry). Candidates for Distinction must have completed a significant research project, and must turn in a major research paper and present publicly on this research (usually at a 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 faculty person as a Pre-Reader, an assessment rubric to be used by the department will be provided ahead of time, and peer-editing opportunities will be arranged.

First-semester seniors who meet the GPA criterion above, and who have conducted (or are conducting in Fall 2013) a significant research project, are invited to apply for nomination as Distinction candidates. The timeline for the entire process is given below.


Timeline for 2014 Graduates

Step: Date(s): Description:
Pre-application Due November 5Extended to November 13 Student submits two items to Tory Borovsky at 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 April 7; 2) an unofficial transcript.
Review and nomination of applicants November 5-12 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.
Notification of Pre-Reader and of paper rubric November 15 Each candidate will receive the name of a faculty member who will serve as the Pre-Reader for that student; the rubric that will be used to assess the research papers will also be provided at this time.
Preparation of research paper November 15 – April 7 Candidates will work on the research paper. During this time, students will consult their Pre-Readers, research mentors, and any other resources that they wish. There will also be peer-editing opportunities in February and March.
Fall Research Poster Session December 9 This is the first of two Biology Department poster sessions at which candidates for Distinction can present their research posters.
Research Paper Submission April 7 Student submits final version of the research paper to Tory Borovsky at
Research Paper Review month of April Each research paper will be read and reviewed by two members of the Biology faculty (the student’s Pre-Reader will not be one of these two faculty).
Spring Research Poster Session April 21 This is the second of two Biology Department poster sessions at which candidates for Distinction can present their research posters.
Poster Session April 28
Notification of Distinction in Biology April 30 Candidates will receive a letter from the Biology Department indicating whether or not they have been awarded Distinction.


Questions can be directed to Jean Porterfield, Chair of Biology, at