Finding an Honours Advisor (BIOL 4908)

Are you planning to conduct an honours thesis project (BIOL 4908 or BIOL 4907) next year (either in summer 2014 or fall/winter terms of 2014/15)? If so, you should be contacting potential faculty advisors now if you haven’t already done so. Since it is your thesis, it is your responsibility to find a faculty advisor. Advisors must be Carleton Biology professors or adjunct faculty members (listed on the Biology website). Most faculty advisors take on only a few honours students each year. These thesis positions fill up very fast (some are already filled). Therefore, if you haven’t started trying to find a faculty advisor for your thesis project, you should begin now. If you don’t know how, don’t really understand what an honours thesis is, or want to know the difference between a BIOL 4907 and BIOL 4908, look at the FAQ’s below. Plan to have your advisor and project lined up by December 2013 at the latest. To get on track and stay on track, here is a link that provides an overview of what you should be doing and when:


What is a BIOL 4908 and how does it differ from a regular course?BIOL 4908 Honours Research Thesis differs from other courses in several respects. It is a full credit course and therefore spans two academic terms (fall and winter or summer I and summer II). Further, the purpose of a thesis is to make a contribution to the existing body of knowledge in the field of biology. Consequently, it is quite different from an essay that you would write for a course that summarizes published research. There are no required lectures, seminars, textbooks, tests, etc. Instead, the course consists of an ongoing series of meetings between you and your honours thesis supervisor, during which you talk about each phase of your project. For BIOL 4908 this would include selecting a topic, designing your study, carrying out experiments, collecting your data, analysing your data, and writing up your results, all while spending several hours a week in the lab or field. You will produce a written thesis. You will also produce a poster that you will present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

What is a BIOL 4907 and how does it differ from BIOL 4908?BIOL 4907 Honours Essay and Research Proposal is similar to BIOL 4908 in that it is a full credit course, there are no required lectures, seminars, textbooks, tests. Further, the course consists of an ongoing series of meetings between you and your honours thesis supervisor, during which you talk about each phase of your project. For BIOL 4907 this includes selecting a topic, designing your essay, doing an extensive literature review, discussing key papers with your professor, discussing the essay’s outline with your professor, writing a comprehensive essay on your topic, and writing a research proposal discussing what question(s) should be researched next, why they are of theoretical importance, and what methodology you would follow to address the question(s). Similar to BIOL 4908 you would produce a comprehensive written document. You also produce a poster that you present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

How do I find an advisor?Students must show a good deal of initiative and persistence in finding an advisor. Your prospects for getting an advisor will be enhanced if you follow the tips listed below:

Do your homework. Most advisors prefer honours students to work on topics that are closely related to their own research interests. It is therefore best to be familiar with faculty advisors’ research area before you approach them. Biology faculty members’ research websites are here: Here the list of potential faculty mentors subdivided by area: A careful review of these websites will give you an overview of the kinds of research being conducted. Also look at the websites of adjunct faculty members as they can also be honours thesis advisors:

Be flexible. Your interests are important but you will dramatically increase your chances of landing a supervisor if you are willing to be flexible in terms of your thesis project. This is the best way to end up with a project that is tailored to both your interests and the professor’s interests.

Write an informative email. Be sensitive to the fact that professors may be busy when you first approach them and include a subject heading in your email (e.g., Conduct an honours thesis research in your laboratory?). In your email you should briefly describe yourself, your research interests, discuss relevant courses you have taken or will take that will provide you with a strong background in this research area, a brief overview of your grades to date, and ask whether they would be willing to meet to discuss honours thesis possibilities. Be sure to state the terms and year that you plan to conduct your thesis (i.e., summer 2014 or fall/winter 2014/15).

Go prepared. When meeting with potential advisors, make sure to bring a copy of your academic audit and come prepared with questions about their research program and how they mentor honours thesis students.