Special Topics and Honours
By the end of first year, students should begin to think seriously about the possibility of undertaking Special Topics, which are individually-designed, research-focused courses for second and third year students, and Honours, a fourth year in which the student undertakes a 10-month research project and writes a thesis under supervision. Special Topics provide an ideal introduction to independent research, and are recommended for students interested in undertaking Honours.
Special Topics courses take the place of conventional lecture courses and count towards the various majors offered by the Research School of Biology. Because they are designed for the individual student, they can take many forms. For example:
- Participation in a research project.
- Guided reading projects in an area of biology of interest to the student.
- An intensive training program that is designed to provide students with particular skills not available through the conventional curriculum e.g. botanical internship.
If you are planning on doing Honours a special topics course can give you an excellent introduction to independent research and prepare you well for the Honours year.
Students can enrol in one of these courses. Permission to enrol in BIOL3208 is easier to get than that for BIOL3209. Students will be expected to have better marks for BIOL3209; permission to enrol in BIOL3209 requires a High Distinction average.
Under special conditions, a student can enrol in two 6-point Special Topics courses. The two courses have to be run by different supervisors and they have to fall in different semesters. If a student does two 6-point Special Topics courses, then they cannot do a 12-point Special Topics course.
The second constraint is finding a supervisor. These are one-on-one courses, designed for individual students. This makes them very work-intensive for supervisors, and most academics are willing to take on only one or two students in a year.
Apart from the expectation that students will be in third year, there are no further constraints. Timing of research-based courses will often depend on the organism under study, and some topics will require intense, full-time involvement, so they are best undertaken over summer. Special Topics courses are arranged between the student and the supervisor on a one-on-one basis. They can take any form that is mutually agreed on, and approved by the Head of Biology Teaching and Learning.
View a list of biology research projects available to undergraduate students here.
An important first step is to email the researcher you are interested in working with to ask if they are offering special topics projects in the upcoming semester(s).
If you don't find the topic or researcher you'd like to work with – contact any member of ANU staff directly.
A student may elect to proceed to an Honours year through any of the programs offered through RSB, in an area of his/her interest. In order to do this, students must have a minimum of credit performance in 6 Group B or Group C units related to the Honours topic, but more stringent entry requirements may be imposed by the School. The Honours course includes a research project, assessable written material (including a thesis), and workshops on experimental design, data handling and communication.
On to Courses Available and the Biology Majors Planner
Read more about Honours in Biology