Good Senior Project Essay

Coordinator: Dr. Larsen

The senior paper is an opportunity for you to demonstrate the expertise you have gained in a sub-discipline of biology. It is also a chance for you to show that you have mastered some of the techniques used by professional biologists in conducting research and communicating their results to other biologists. Plan to do your best work on it.

Deadlines for 2017-2018

  • Fall Semester 2017:
    • Friday, Sept. 22 — submit paper topic form to your advisor
    • Friday, Oct. 27 — last day to withdraw from Senior Project without record
    • Monday, Nov. 20 - last day to withdraw from Senior Project with a "W"
    • Tuesday, Nov. 21 — completed paper due no later than 5:00 pm to Michellein the Biology Office, SHL 231. You must withdraw from Bio 490 by Nov 20th if you will not complete the project fall semester.
    • Thurs, Nov 30 - 9:40 am required Two-Minute Talk, location TBA
  • January Term 2018:
    • If you complete your paper during J-term, it is due no later than 5:00 pm to Michellein the Biology Office, SHL 231 on the last day of J-term.
  • Spring Semester 2018:
    • Friday, March 2 — submit paper topic form to your advisor
    • Tuesday, Apr 10 — last day to withdraw from Senior Project without record
    • Monday, Apr 30 - last day to withdraw from Senior Project with a "W"
    • Monday, May 7 — completed paper due no later than 5:00 pm to Michellein the Biology Office, SHL 231.
    • Thurs, May 17 - 9:40 am required Two-Minute Talk, location TBA

Topic Advisors

To achieve an equitable distribution of senior paper work among the biology faculty, you will be assigned to a topic advisor based on your responses to the survey sent out by the biology department during the spring. Requests will be accommodated if at all possible.  If you wish to switch to another advisor, you may do so only if another student assigned to that advisor agrees to switch with you; and you must inform the Coordinator of the switch. Your topic advisor will work with you on matters of both substance and style — e.g., choosing and focusing your topic, and citing references. You should consult with your topic advisor early in the semester so that you can submit a completed topic form to them by the deadline date. The topic advisor may have additional specific requirements of you during the writing process, and s/he will be the grader for your senior paper.

Senior Project Topic Submission Form

Choosing a Topic

In 3+ years of study, you each will have developed specific interests within the broad field of biology. Choose a senior paper topic that you already know a lot about, or one that you really want to know a lot about. 

Sample of Past Senior Project Topics

You should have relevant course background for the topic you choose. Focus your topic. A good senior paper can be done in 12–15 double-spaced pages. Of course, your paper must be long enough to thoroughly cover the topic, so this is an incentive to choose and narrow your topic carefully. The Biology Department prefers that you choose a topic that is discipline-based rather than an applied topic. For example, rather than writing a broad "book report" style paper on a particular disease, write about its physiology, immunology, or demographic aspects. Or, rather than writing a paper on "the wolf", write about some specific aspect of its behavior, ecology, or physiology (e.g., "the significance of copulation ties in canids", or "the ontogeny of vocalizations in Canis lupus"). Use care in composing a title for your paper — you may want to use it on your resume!

You may present a review of the literature, or you may combine original research and literature review. If, during your college years, you have authored or coauthored a research paper published in an appropriate refereed journal, you may submit a reprint of the publication for your senior paper. Consult with the coordinator regarding procedures to follow.

Plagiarism and Attribution

Use special care in crediting ideas in order to avoid plagiarism and the automatic 'F' grade that goes with it. Senior papers must be your own original work and the material must be a new endeavor on your part. Rewriting an old paper is not acceptable. Shared work is not acceptable for credit in Bio 490, except in the case of a published paper.

Information and ideas that are not attributed to another are assumed to be yours (or of the general domain of knowledge). Therefore you must cite authorities. To not give credit is plagiarism and fraud, the worst sin for a scholar. Be sure to cite the source of Figures and Tables in their titles, unless the figure or table is your own original work. Use original references if possible (i.e., avoid citing general or review texts that borrow data from other publications; if you did not see the original, then so indicate — consult your advisor on how to do this).


  • Most senior papers in biology will include the following sections:
    • Abstract
    • Introduction
    • Review of literature (this may be replaced by separate Methods and Results sections if you present original research)
    • Discussion
    • Literature cited

  • Probably the most standard citation style in biology papers is the one you learned in Biology 151–152. Guidelines and examples are given in this resource on writing scientific papers in biology.
  • As a reminder, the following are standard conventions in biological writing:
    • Use the metric system.
    • Use the 24-hr clock (e.g., 17:30 rather than 5:30 P.M.).
    • Use the military/European/scientific calendar (e.g., 10 September 2017).
    • Do not use footnotes.
    • Give the complete scientific name of a species the first time that organism is mentioned.
  • The Biology Department makes the following style specifications for senior papers:
    • The paper should be typed double-spaced, with high quality, legible print.
    • Use white paper.
    • Figures and tables photocopied/scanned from other sources must be legible.
    • Photocopies and photographs should be printed on the page (not attached with tape, glue, staples, etc.).
    • A standard title page must be used.
    • Staple the paper in the upper left corner; a binder is not necessary.


Methods for conducting library research in the biological sciences will be presented to you as a group early in the semester by the biology library liason, Preus Library.

Two-Minute Talks

All students completing senior project/paper in biology will deliver a 2-minute talk related to their work. The talk will be given during a biology department colloquium session late in the semester in which you are registered for senior project. This brief oral presentation will allow you to convey your topic question/problem and the most relevant findings or conclusions to peers and faculty. Check Katie for examples of two-minute talks.  The grading rubric can be found here.

All students at Luther College must complete a project during their senior year. An independently-undertaken major project, completed over the course of several months with minimal supervision, is among the most significant and meaningful accomplishments of a college career.  It provides a clear demonstration of skills and mental acuity to both potential employers and graduate schools.

Paper Option

This paper should be the capstone of your education, where you take the methods, skills and knowledge you gained from history classes and put them into practice independently. Choose a topic that excites you and is narrow enough to explore thoroughly. We want you to engage primary sources and existing historiography to develop an innovative argument. Please consult the senior paper option page for requirements.

Lesson Plan Option

The senior paper lesson plan option is intended to be a cumulative experience for students which allows them to put into practice the basic objectives of the history program as a whole. Those electing to do the lesson plan option apply their research by producing original plans for introducing the subject matter in a middle school or secondary classroom. This assignment aims specifically to encourage independent research which synthesizes ideas based on secondary and primary sources, makes judgments about sources and historical interpretations, and produces original lesson plans. Please consult the senior project lesson plan page for requirements (in effect from Spring 2016).

Note: The rules and procedures for dropping HIST 490 are the same as for other courses. However, ​you will not receive a diploma and officially graduate until you have successfully completed a senior project.


  • You are responsible for identifying a faculty advisor who will help you choose and focus your research.
  • It is very important to choose an advisor the semester before you plan to do your senior project. At the very latest, you should talk to your advisor the first week of the semester you are doing your senior project.
  • Your selected project advisor must have agreed to advise you before you begin your senior project.
  • The project advisor will, in consultation with the student, establish all subsequent guidelines such as due dates for drafts, bibliography, discussion meetings or other criteria with the exception of the deadlines detailed below.

Important Dates

Semester before:

  • Communicate with an advisor during the semester before the semester in which you will do the senior project.

First week:

  • Choose a project advisor by the first week of the semester in which you will do the senior project.With your project advisor, establish a calendar for your research process. Establish dedicated time during your weekly schedule for working on the project.

Throughout the semester:

  • Consult the appropriate rubric as you develop your project:
    1. Paper Option
    2. Lesson Plan Option
  • Submit the Senior Project Topic Form to the History department head by 5:00pm on​ the deadline for adding a full-semester course (usually the second Friday of the semester).

​ For Fall 2017, the deadline is September 8. For Spring 2018, the deadline is February 16. ​

Final Steps:

  • First draft: Turn in your rough draft to your project advisor by the deadline you arrange with your advisor. We recommend that be at least two weeks before the due date for the final paper. Depending on your level of commitment earlier in the semester, you may need to do SUBSTANTIAL revision at this point to make the paper passable. It is important to give your project advisor enough time to respond and give yourself enough time to revise based on their comments.
  • Final Paper: Submit the final paper to the History department head by the date set by the History Department. For Fall 2017, the due date is November 21; for Spring 2018, the due date is May 2. By 4:00pm on that date, you must turn in one complete copy of your paper and two copies of your cover page to the History department head.
  • Presentation: Present the paper to faculty and students on the last Tuesday of each semester or at the Student Research Symposium held after you submit the paper to the History department head. You will need to bring to your presentation a form from the Speech & Debate Center, indicating that you have workshopped a draft of your presentation. The presentation is worth 10 percent of the senior paper grade. Please see this rubric for how each presentation will be evaluated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I use a paper from a previous history class, like my 485 paper?
A: Students can choose to substantially revise a previous paper written for History 485 or another history class. This includes using new sources, introducing a new thesis, and increasing the length of the previous paper.

Q: Can I write my senior paper and my 485 paper in the same semester?
A: Taking 490 and 485 in the same semester is STRONGLY discouraged. Consult your academic advisor on how to arrange your classes before your senior year to avoid the need to take them both in the same semester. If you find yourself in this situation, then you should speak immediately with your 485 professor and the history professor with whom you intend to write your senior project.

Q: How do I decide on a topic?
A: Choice of topic is up to the student’s interests regarding time period and area of the world, but you must consider the specialties of the advisor with whom you are working, the resources of the library, and what it is possible to get on interlibrary loan given constraints of time.

Q: What if I am a double major? Do I have to do my senior project in history?
A: You may choose to do your senior project in either major. The History Department does not require that you complete the senior project in our discipline. You should check what the rules are in your other discipline, as some majors do require a senior project in their discipline.​


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *