Senior Seminar

Biology 480

Senior Seminars are student-initiated, student-taught, and student-evaluated. Topics, content, reading materials, seminar structure, scheduling, and student evaluation are all to be decided by seminar participants, and must be approved by the Biology Department.

The seminars are expected to be discussion-based and should include significant literature research by all participants. The final products of the seminar will include an oral and a written component. These two components must together demonstrate a depth of knowledge and synthesis, in all participants, that is representative of graduating seniors in biology. Students and/or groups with weak products will be asked to redo and increase the quality of either or both components.

Seminar groups are to submit an Initial Proposal during the semester prior to enrollment in BIOL 480, AND a Full Proposal at the beginning of the semester of the senior seminar. It is the design and hope of the faculty that the senior seminar will enable you to incorporate the skills and knowledge that you have developed in your previous courses, and to make your oral and written components crowning accomplishments for your biology experience at Earlham! It should be fun, hard work and a rewarding experience!


  1. Only senior biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience majors and biology minors are allowed to enroll in these seminars. Exceptions to this are conceivable. For example, senior chemistry or psychology majors could be invited to participate in certain cross-disciplinary seminars. Also, juniors who will be off campus in their senior year may participate.
  2. In order to enroll in BIOL 480, student groups must submit an Initial Proposal to the Biology Department. This must happen during the semester prior to enrollment in BIOL 480 (no later than noon on the last Monday of scheduled classes). Details on the Initial Proposal are given below.
  3. At the beginning of the semester of the senior seminar (no later than 3pm on the Friday of the first full week of the semester) the student groups must submit a Full Proposal to the department for approval. See below for details on the Full Proposal. Failure to meet this deadline may result in postponement of the BIOL 480 to a subsequent semester.
  4. All seminars are 2 semester hours, requiring a minimum of 6 hours of work per week in and out of class. A minimum of 2 hours should be spent together each week.
  5. Grading is CR/NC; it is a college rule that all student-initiated courses are CR/NC. Student participants will evaluate one another in appropriate ways, including the ultimate determination of CR or NC.
  6. Attendance at all meetings is expected. No more than two absences are allowed for successful completion of the course. This attendance policy must be spelled out in the course proposal.
  7. Minimum enrollment = 4, maximum enrollment = 8.
  8. Each seminar will have a biology faculty person as an advisor. The faculty advisor should be consulted before the initial and formal proposals are submitted to the department. Additionally, each seminar group will meet with the advisor on two occasions during the semester. One meeting should occur early in the semester as a check-in and one meeting later so the faculty advisor can offer expectations for the written and oral component. This advisor's roll will vary but is presumed to be very minor. For example, faculty will not be attending class unless specially invited, and even then only very occasionally. The advisor can be a helpful resource when organizing the seminar.
  9. Seminars can be scheduled either in the fall or spring semester of the senior year. Class meeting times and locations are at the discretion of the participants.
  10. The graduating class (ALL of you!) is responsible for seeing that all are enrolled in at least one seminar. Please be inclusive! Also, it is each individual's personal responsibility to be an active part of a seminar group before the full proposal is completed.
  11. Both an oral component (a depart colloquium) and a written component are required for satisfactory completion of BIOL480.Together the oral and written work must demonstrate that the seminar participants have investigated the topic in sufficient depth and have effectively synthesized the knowledge gained. If either of these is not sufficiently demonstrated, the faculty may ask for additional work.
  12. The Final Oral Component: Each seminar group will give a mandatory practice presentation delivered to their faculty advisor, plus one other faculty member who the group chooses. This practice presentation should occur several days prior to the group's public collquium. The time slots for the colloquium will be make available to groups approximately one month before the end of the semester. The colloquium will also be 45-50 minutes long with time left afterwards for question. A seminar group of 6-8 persons should schedule two colloquium time slots.
  13. The Final Written Component: The seminar group's final paper will start with a short (1-2) page abstract that states the group's goals and summarizes each person's topic. Then each individual's paper will follow and should include a total, an introduction stating the context of the topic and the goals for the paper, the body of the paper (subheading are encouraged), and a finishing conclusion, which includes an assessment of where the field is going. Your paper should not just report the known. It should also critique the research that has been published in the field.

    It is supremely important that your voice be in the open. Each individual's paper must be at least 10 double-paced pages with 11-12 pt. font and normal margins. Each paper must have at least 20 cited sources. Reliable websites can be primary sources, in many cases. Literature Sources must be cited parenthetically in the body of the paper, and listed in proper format in the Literature Cited section at the end. The Earlham Biology Department follows the so-called "consensus format" for the biological sciences. This format is used in EcoBio and other courses and can be found online. Failure to follow these formats precisely will be grounds for rejecting the paper. The faculty adviser will determine whether a paper is acceptable or not. The seminar group's final research paper is due the last day of class.

Initial Proposals

During the semester prior to enrollment in BIOL 480 (no later than noon on the last Monday of scheduled classes), a seminar group must submit the following: A) a list of the students in the group; B) the topic for the seminar plus several subtopics that individuals in the group plan to pursue; C) at least five relevant references for each subtopic, some of which should be current (in the last few years) and some of which should represent the seminal literature of that field; and D) the signature of the faculty advisor. Must follow the "consensus format" for the biological sciences. Note: each list of referrals give the same website as above. The advisor will reject proposals not following this format.

The purpose of the initial proposal is to ensure that the semester of enrollment in BIOL 480 may be maximally utilized for research and writing, and not wasted by working out topics and logistical details. Further, the initial proposal allows sufficient time for the library to obtain materials pertinent to your topics. The initial proposal, with the signature of the adviser, is due no later than noon on the last Monday of scheduled classes.

Format for references: Citing Sources in Earlham Biology Courses

Full Proposals

Written proposals to the department should include the following: title, list of participants, student leader(s) (if appropriate), faculty advisor, time and meeting place, course objectives, detailed description of subtopics to be covered, revised preliminary bibliography for each subtopic, other resources to be used (books, guest speakers, field trips, etc.), course structure (how is the course taught?), paper assignment, oral presentation format (colloquium), requirements for successful completion (i.e., attendance policy, required assignments) and evaluation format. In addition, an appointment day and time with the Science Librarian should be stated in the proposal. Each seminar is required to meet with the Science Librarian by the end of the second full week of the semester. Note: As with the initial proposal, the list of 4 sources MUST follow the consensus format (see website above).

The seminar group will first review their proposal with the faculty advisor and then the department must formally approve the proposal. Significant planning should be accomplished in the semester before the seminar is to be taught, culminating with the Initial Proposal. With more planning and with final polishing, the Full Proposal with the approving signature of the advisor will be due no later than 3pm on the Friday of the first full week of classes. Approval by the department should be completed by the end of the second full week of the semester.

Format for references: Citing Sources in Earlham Biology Courses

Previous Topics

Just to stimulate your creative juices, here are some seminar topics that have been conducted by seniors in recent years: conservation ecology of tropical forest, ebola, the biology of human sexuality, RNAi, invasive species, apoptosis, landscape ecology, the biology of war, breast cancer, habitat fragmentation, mycology, conservation of North American deserts, disease threats in the modern world, biology of color, advances in immunology, ecology and biogeochemistry of global change, history of evolutionary thought, herpetology, speciation, virology, current topics in medicine, animal cognition, physiology of sleep, physiology of stress, cancer and monoclonal antibodies, agricultural ecology, Alzheimer’s disease, evolutionary plant reproductive ecology, equine diseases, human evolution and sexual selection.