Majors in chemistry are encouraged to elect an honors research project with approval of a faculty sponsor in the department. Successful completion of the required coursework of the major and the required work for the honors research project (including a formal public presentation and accepted thesis) will enable the student to graduate “With Honors in Chemistry.”

An Honors project will be completed over the course of the senior year typically for 7 to 9 credits, with a normal workload distributed as follows.

  • Fall: 1 to 3 credits
  • Jan Plan: 3 credits
  • Spring: 3 credits (1 of these credits are earned for successful completion of the thesis; therefore, if you end up dropping the thesis and converting to independent study, you would drop to 2 credits.)

Course Crediting for Honors Thesis writing

In recognition of the significant time commitment involved in writing a thesis, one academic credit will be awarded for the successful completion of an Honors Thesis. This credit will be given in the Spring semester and is included in the crediting for the CH484 course described above. This crediting, in accord with independent study and honors research crediting, indicates that the Department of Chemistry expects 50-60 total hours of work be devoted to thesis writing. An increase in thesis crediting is possible for cases where a student commits significantly more time to thesis writing than is commensurate with one academic credit. Increases in thesis crediting require Departmental approval, and should be discussed with a student’s research mentor.

Critical Deadlines and Milestones for Honors in Chemistry


Due before fall break

Discuss with your mentor who should be the reader on your thesis, decide on a thesis title, and formally declare your intention to complete an honors thesis by the following form.

Honors thesis reader / title submission

Due the end of first semester

The Introduction section of your thesis is due to your mentor by the Monday following the last day of fall classes. This section will be shared with the departmental committee that oversees independent research to ensure that you are on track to complete your Honors work.

Important for the completion of the Fall Honors Requirement is literature searching. Have you searched for and read primary literature relating to the project? If you are not sure what this entails, you should have a discussion with your mentor and the science librarian about appropriate primary references. Your thesis is expected to have appropriate background references from the primary literature, not just papers from your own research lab.

The last few regular seminar slots of the semester are devoted to short senior research presentations. These presentations are an introduction to the research project, explaining why the topic is important, what others have done, and what the presenting student plans to do. Presentation of that student’s research results is not part of this presentation.

Honors thesis introduction submission


Jan Plan

Normally this is spent in full-time active research.  By the end of Jan Plan, the Methods and Materials section and a revised Introduction are due to your mentor.


Spring seminars present “research results” along with sufficient background for a chemically literate audience to follow your research. Honors thesis presentations are usually done in a CLAS (Colby Liberal Arts Symposium) Chemistry session. Since you are representing yourself and the Chemistry Department, please dress and conduct yourself professionally.

Due on or before April 15th (earlier is better to give you more time to revise)

The first complete draft is due to your mentor.

  • Note that failure to make this deadline may result in conversion of your Honors credits to independent study. The departmental committee that oversees independent research must have all theses in hand to approve Honors in Chemistry.
Thesis title and signature pages template (downloads)

Due one week before the last day of classes

A revised and polished draft must be submitted to your reader.

  • Note that failure to make this deadline may result in conversion of your Honors credits to independent study. The departmental committee that oversees independent research must have all theses in hand to approve Honors in Chemistry.
Honors Thesis Submission to Your Reader

Due the last day of finals

Final copies (6) must be submitted to Cate Conway with signature pages completed signifying acceptance by your mentor and reader.  You must also submit an electronic copy as a PDF both to Cate and to your mentor.

  • Note that failure to make this deadline may result in conversion of your Honors credits to Independent study.

Writing the Honors Thesis

By the end of the spring semester, the Honors Student should be familiar with:

  • Scientific writing
  • Plagiarism
  • An understanding of when references are needed in text
  • Scientific ethics

The following resources may be helpful during thesis writing:

  • Your mentor!
  • Former students’ honors theses in Keyes 103
  • Robinson, M. S.; Stoller, F. L.; Costanza-Robinson, M. S.; Jones, J. K. Write Like a Chemist: A Guide and Resource; Oxford University Press: New York, 2008
  • The ACS Style Guide: Effective Communication of Scientific Information, 3rd ed. Coghill, A. M. Garson, L. R., Eds.; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2006, available online:  (General advice and specific issues of scientific abbreviations and nomenclature)
  • Eisenberg, Anne. Strategies five productive chemists use to handle the writing process. Chem. Educ. 1982 59 566.  (A list of suggestions for a successful scientific writing process — including a section that emphasizes the importance of outlining before writing)
  • Spector, Thomas. Writing a scientific manuscript. J Chem. Educ. 1994 71 47. (Overview of scientific writing style and common sections of a research paper)
  • Bunting, Roger. Precise writing for a precise science. J. Chem. Educ. 1999 76 1407. (For examples of common mistakes in scientific writing)
  • Potera, Carol. The basic elements of writing a scientific paper: The art of scientific style. J. Chem. Ed. 1984 61 246.

Normally, the sections of a chemistry thesis are the following, in order:

  • Title Page (Template attached)
  • Signature Page (Template attached)
  • Vitae
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods or Experimental
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References
Thesis title and signature pages template (downloads)

Because the sections and order vary from subdiscipline to subdiscipline, you should check with your advisor for standards in your field. The theses of previous group members may be most helpful to you for formatting issues.

Finally, since each thesis reader is investing a significant amount of time and effort to help you produce a better thesis and earn Chemistry Honors, it is appropriate to recognize this support, for instance in the acknowledgements sections of your seminars and thesis.


updated 9/11/2018