Assessment Criteria for Honours

Literature review

A major written assignment of approximately 3,000 words on the topic of the student's project work will be selected in consultation with the Honours supervisor. The aim is to familiarise students with library usage and to develop a critical approach to assessing published literature in the area relevant to the research project. Some basic references may be supplied, but students will be expected to survey the relevant literature independently.

A second important aim is for the student to develop appropriate writing skills. Supervisors will therefore read and comment on drafts of the literature review. In their assessment, supervisors will be looking for evidence of thorough scrutiny of the relevant literature and appropriate presentation of the material. Attention should be paid to such things as linking the observations cited and the conclusions drawn to the type of experiment performed; avoiding undue conciseness on the one hand or verbosity on the other; accuracy, grammar, logical flow of ideas; discrimination between conflicting points of view; and so on. Figures and tables may be appropriate inclusions, but large extracts of reviews should not be included verbatim. The literature review should be a discriminating perusal of what is known, rather than a recounting (without personal appraisal) of simply what has been done by others. Students will be awarded a grade of A, B, C, D or E, and a critique will be provided by the supervisor.

Practice Thesis

The learning goal for this assignment is to teach students to extract data from laboratory notebooks and prepare a scientific document. The report should be 2,000 words or fewer. The text should include a brief introduction and three or four figures and/or tables must be included.

The focus should be on the presentation and discussion of your data. Assessors will expect figures, tables and text to be presented professionally and at the standard of an acceptable scientific journal. Assessors will expect students to present examples of results, NOT all results.

This report will be graded A,B,C,D or E by your Assessment Committee. To arrive at this grade, the members of your Assessment Committee will meet with you for one hour to discuss your practice thesis. Although the practice thesis forms the basis of this portion of the continuous assessment, the Assessment Committee will review and provide feedback on overall progress to date. To aid this discussion, please bring the following to the meeting; (1) a dot point summary of all of your results to date, and (2) your lab notebooks. This meeting will also introduce the student to the format used for the final oral interview. The practice thesis grade will be submitted to the Biosciences Student Office.

Note that the grade from the practice thesis should not be used to predict the final outcome of the thesis. The practice thesis is a training activity and it is not meant to contain all results obtained to date. In most cases, new results will be added to the final thesis, which can alter the previous interpretation of incomplete data.

The practice thesis serves as a major component of the student's training for writing the final thesis. Detailed feedback concerning the expectations for preparation of the final thesis needs to be provided at this time.

final seminar

Each student will present a seminar on outcomes of his/her research project towards the end of their project. This component is worth 10% of the final mark, so an appropriate amount of time should be spent in preparation. In consultation with the supervisor, students should prepare a 15-20 minute PowerPoint presentation, allowing 3-5 minutes for questions. Students should allow enough time to organise a draft presentation, practice presenting the talk in consultation with their supervisor), re-draft a final presentation, and practice the final version. This process is likely to take at least two weeks (noting that different people work at different rates).

Each student is expected to be available 8:30am to 5pm on the designated seminar dates (click here for your cohort's seminar dates). Individual dates and times will be allocated approximately 2 weeks prior the seminars. Please be aware that allocated times are non-negotiable; changes to the schedule will not be made due to other personal commitments.

final thesis

This is the major part of the Honours year (accounting for 90% of the final mark). The thesis should follow the format for a Masters or PhD thesis, but it will be shorter. There must be a title page, a table of contents, a list of figures and tables, and an abstract. These all must precede the main body of text. The main body must be comprised of sections, including an Introduction, Methods and Materials, Results, and Discussion.

Figures, tables, references and abbreviations should follow the general form of a scientific paper written for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Bacteriology, or the Journal of Immunology. It is difficult to give concise guidelines concerning the length of each section of an individual thesis because projects vary in complexity and scope.

Unlike traditional Masters or PhD theses, the Introduction should NOT be a lengthy literature review. Rather, the key background citations should be discussed to define the problem being examined and place it in the context of published work in the area. The Introduction should end with a brief statement of the aims and hypothesis of the current work. The length and content of Methods and Materials, and the Results sections should be consistent with a thesis format.

There are a number of past Honours theses available for perusal in the School. Please remember that in some cases word limits may not have applied to prior theses. On the rare occasions that material needed for a complete understanding or evaluation of the work does not fit well into the thesis, it may be included as an Appendix, although this should not usually be necessary.

Terms and concepts used without definition should be those that would be understood by a trained scientist working on any topic within BABS. If use of a term is very specialised, some explanation will be necessary.

Assistance with thesis writing
Supervisors may give help without limit at all stages prior to the student starting the writing of the thesis. The level of help will depend on the student's requests and the supervisor's initiative. Supervisors or their designate are allowed to read theses drafts and to make comments on writing style and format.

Submission of the thesis
Students must submit 4 bound copies of their thesis to the Biosciences Student office by noon on the designated due date (click here for your cohort's due date). Theses submitted after 12:00 noon will be distributed to assessors with a letter from the Student office noting the time of submission and indicating that the final grade will be adjusted (downward) to compensate for late submission. Due to the large number of theses being submitted, the Student office will not process any submissions after 4:00pm. Theses submitted between 4:00pm and the closing of the Biosciences Student office (approximately 4:30pm) will attract an automatic deduction of 5 points from the final grade; those submitted after the office has closed will attract an automatic deduction of 10 points from the final grade. Since each submission must be logged in the Biosciences Student Office, theses will only be accepted during business hours when the Biosciences Student Office is attended. Theses submitted after 12:00 noon on the next business day will not be assessed.

Students may submit temporary-bound copies of their thesis for assessment; however, they are required to provide at least two hard-bound (PhD style) copies of the final version of the thesis. One copy is for the School's library and one for their supervisor. They must also provide a PDF copy on CD for the School’s electronic library. The hardbound versions may be submitted after students have had their final interview and made any necessary changes.

All students are required to provide their supervisor with all research notes and data related to the Honours project. This is required to comply with the strict UNSW and grant reporting policy that stipulates that all data generated remains with the supervisor. Supervisors will contact the Honours Coordinator and BABS Student Advisor to confirm that this has been done.

The student’s Honours grade will not be released until the supervisor has confirmed that all data has been relinquished and hard-bound and electronic copies of the thesis have been submitted.

final interview

Students will be interviewed by the Assessment Committee for around 90 minutes to evaluate the extent of the student’s knowledge and to confirm that the student can articulate clearly on the contents of their thesis. Students are assessed based on their ability to understand and convey the significance of their findings, knowledge of the methods they employed, interpretation of results, knowledge of the relevant literature, background understanding of the field and an ability to answer scientific questions in general. Of the total thesis mark, 10% is based on this oral interview.

honours grading

The grades awarded in Honours are:

  • Honours Class I (85 or higher)
  • Honours Class II Division 1 (75-84)
  • Honours Class II Division 2 (65-74)
  • Honours Class III (50-64)

As a guide to your expectations for your Honours grade, consider your overall WAM and your third-year average for Science subjects. If your third year average is at a credit level and you have maintained this level of performance throughout your three years of study, it would be reasonable to expect to achieve a distinction level in Honours (75-84) provided that you work hard and maintain a high standard in all aspects of your work.

The expectation for this level of achievement is derived from the nature of our program and the type of students who attempt the Honours year. The program is meant to provide a forum in which keen students can receive individual hands-on training in scientific research. Most students are motivated to perform at a higher level than previous years of study; however, there is absolutely no guarantee that this will occur. Achievement requires hard work and dedicated study on the part of the student. Some students may excel to higher levels than expected, and others may not.

Students who complete all aspects of the course on time, write a thesis that is acceptable, and can successfully defend their thesis in the final oral interview may expect to attain an Honours Class II Division 1. It should be noted that Honours Class II Division 1 is recognised as a great achievement. All supervisors have students who have been awarded this level in previous years. Many have careers in science and some have gone on to postgraduate degrees. 

If the thesis is flawless, there is evidence of critical analysis/creative thinking throughout, and the student demonstrates a broad understanding of the field of research, then the student may attain First Class Honours. 

Remember that someone will get the highest grade and someone will get the lowest grade. However, all Honours students who try hard are valued highly by their supervisor and the School of BABS, and this fact will be communicated to potential employers if requested.