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Senior Seminar

Biology 480: Senior Seminar and Suggested Milestones

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. Seminars can be scheduled either in the Fall or Spring semester of the senior year. Class meeting times and locations are decided by the participants. The seminars are expected to be discussion-based and should include literature research by all participants.

Both an oral component (a department colloquium) and a written component are required for satisfactory completion of BIOL 480. These two components must together demonstrate a depth of knowledge and synthesis from all participants. Students and/or groups with weak products will be asked to redo and increase the quality of either or both components. It is the 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 make your oral and written components crowning accomplishments for your biology experience at Earlham! It should be fun, hard work, and a rewarding experience!

Seminar groups are to submit an Initial Proposal during the semester prior to enrollment in BIOL 480 and submit a Full Proposal at the beginning of the semester of the senior seminar.  See timeline below for specifics.

Senior biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience majors, and biology minors, are allowed to enroll in these seminars. Exceptions are possible. For example, senior chemistry or psychology majors could be invited to participate in certain cross-disciplinary seminars. Juniors who will be off campus in their senior year are encouraged to consult with their adviser about enrolling in their junior year.

During the semester prior to enrollment in BIOL 480 a seminar group must submit the Initial Proposal. It is due before noon on the last Monday of scheduled classes.

The Initial Proposal includes a list of the students in the group, a faculty adviser (usually a person familiar with the topic), the topic for the seminar, the subtopics that individuals in the group plan to pursue, 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.

Significant planning should be accomplished in the semester before the seminar is to be taught, culminating with the Initial Proposal.  Its purpose is to ensure that time during the seminar itself is not wasted by working out topics and logistical details. It also allows sufficient time for the library to obtain needed materials.

Format for references: See BioCite document in All Biology Research Guide —

At the beginning of the semester of the senior seminar, before 4 p.m. on the Friday of the first full week of the semester, the student group must submit a Full Proposal to their adviser. Failure to meet this deadline may result in postponement of the BIOL 480 to a subsequent semester.

Full proposals must include a title, list of participants, faculty adviser, day and time of weekly meetings, meeting place, overview of course topic, detailed description of subtopics, revised preliminary bibliography for each subtopic (10 sources, including several within the past 1-3 years), other resources to be used (books, guest speakers, field trips, etc.), attendance policy, and other required assignments.  An appointment day and time with the Science Librarian must be stated in the proposal. Each seminar is required to meet with the Science Librarian by the end of the third full week of the semester.

The adviser will review the Full Proposal and suggest modifications. The department must formally approve the proposal. Approval by the department should be completed by the end of the second full week of the semester.

All seminars are two credits, requiring a minimum of six hours of work per week, including the meeting time. A minimum of two hours each week should be spent together.

Grading is CR/NC; this is by college rule for student-initiated courses. At the end of the semester, student participants will evaluate each other, including the ultimate determination of CR or NC.

Attendance at all meetings is required. No more than two absences are allowed for successful completion of the course. This attendance policy must be spelled out in the Full Proposal.

The minimum enrollment for a Senior Seminar group is three students. The maximum enrollment is six students. The graduating class is responsible for seeing that all students 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.

Roles of the faculty adviser. The faculty adviser should be consulted before the initial and final proposals are submitted to the department. The adviser can be a helpful resource for the proposals and during the seminar. Advisers will not attend the seminar meetings unless specially invited. Each seminar group will meet with their adviser on three occasions during the semester.

The first adviser meeting must occur during the week before the Full Proposal is due. At this meeting the adviser will check the meeting schedule, will confirm that the group has scheduled a meeting with the science librarian, and will confirm the attendance policy.

The second meeting will occur around the mid-semester time so the faculty adviser can offer expectations for the written and oral component.

The third meeting will occur no later than one week before your colloquium presentation. Each seminar group must give a practice presentation to their faculty adviser plus one other faculty member chosen by the group. A hardcopy of the slides (4-6 slides per page) should be provided to the two faculty at the beginning of the practice presentation.

The Final Oral Component: The time slots for colloquium presentations will be reserved during the last month of the semester. The colloquium will be 40-45 minutes long with time left afterwards for questions. A seminar group of 5 or 6 persons should schedule two colloquium time slots.

After the colloquium, please send an electronic copy of your presentation slides to the Science Librarian for archival storage and program assessment.

The Final Written Component: The seminar group's final paper will start with a 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 an introduction stating the context of the topic and the goals for the paper, the body of the paper, and a finishing conclusion which includes an assessment of where the field is going. Subheadings are encouraged throughout the paper.

It is important that your voice be clear. Your words should both summarize information and show your ability to synthesize and combine information from multiple sources. You should provide your perspective on the information. Your paper should not just report the known; it should also critique the research that has been published in the field and describe experiments the field still needs.

Each individual's paper must be at least 10 double-spaced pages with 11-12 pt. font and normal margins. Each paper must have at least 20 cited sources. Literature sources must be cited parenthetically in the body of the paper and listed in the Literature Cited section at the end. Reliable websites can be primary sources.  See BioCite (

The final paper, submitted to the faculty adviser, is due by 4 p.m. on the last day of class. The faculty adviser will determine if the final written paper is acceptable.

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.

A checklist for a Fall senior seminar course

Spring of junior year

  • Decide on group members (3-4 students is best) and a senior seminar topic
  • Find an adviser from Biology Department faculty
  • Submit your Initial Proposal to your adviser via electronic copy before noon on Monday of the last week of classes

Initial Proposal

  • Title of the seminar (topic)
  • Names of students in the group and name of the faculty adviser
  • Brief paragraph on the topic (overview)
  • Title of each subtopic, brief description and name of the student responsible
  • Five references, including 2-3 from the past 1-3 years (all using the same format; see formats in separate document)

Fall of senior year

  • The Full Proposal is due at 4pm on the Friday of the first full week of classes
  • Meet with adviser before Full Proposal’s due date
  • Meet with the Science Librarian during the second full week of classes
  • Meet with your group each week and discuss papers
  • Meet with the adviser the week before mid-semester break
  • Schedule the final oral presentation (about one month before classes end)
  • Schedule a practice presentation of your oral presentation to your adviser and one other faculty member one week before your final oral presentation
  • Reserve a room for this practice presentation for at least two hours
  • Bring two hard copies of your presentation slides (4-6 slides per page) to the practice presentation
  • Make the final oral presentation
  • Submit an electronic copy of the final presentation slides to the Science Librarian (for archival and assessment purposes)
  • Submit the final written report to your adviser on the last day of classes

Full Proposal

  • Title (topic)
  • Names of students in the group and name of the faculty adviser
  • Day, time and place of weekly meetings
  • Overview of course topic
  • Detailed description of subtopics
  • Revised bibliography with 10 references for each subtopic (all using the same format)
  • Other resources to be used (books, guest speakers, field trips, etc.)
  • Attendance requirement policy (no more than two absences)
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