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Program Guidelines

  1. Eligibility
  2. Defining an Honors Project and Finding an Advisor
  3. Project Proposal
  4. Course Credits
  5. Honors Designation
  6. Expectations of Originality and Independence


Students who will have completed at least 24 credits at Rutgers University by the end of their junior year and are in the upper 15% of their class in the fall term of their junior year are automatically eligible to participate in the George H. Cook Scholars Program. Students with grade-point averages above 3.000 who are not in the top 15% of their class may also participate if they are nominated by a SEBS faculty member who indicates their support by signing the student's Registration Form. Students with grade-point averages below 3.000 who wish to participate in the Program may petition the G.H. Cook Scholars Program Faculty Committee. This petition, submitted to the Program Director, must be supported by the faculty member who will advise the student in their honors project and include a statement of confidence in the student's ability to carry out honors-level work in the field of study, despite a below-honors grade-point average.

Defining an Honors Project and Finding an Advisor

The best source for defining the area in which you wish to work is your own experience as an undergraduate. What course(s) have you most enjoyed and wished to pursue further? Have you decided to follow a professional path different from the one you imagined at the outset of your major? The honors project provides an excellent mechanism either for advancing your expertise in a given field (from "biology" in general to "reproductive endocrinology" or "genetic engineering") or for giving that expertise a slightly different twist (from "environmental economics" to "environmental planning," from "computer science" to "chemical modeling").

For those who know what they might want to do, but don't know who at Rutgers works in that area, refer to the list of recent G.H. Cook Scholars projects. If you do know a faculty member with whom you would like to work, contact him/her immediately to discuss possible projects. This faculty member may not be able to take on your project, but may be able to suggest someone else with whom you may be able to pursue your specific area of inquiry.

The Project Advisor is responsible for supervising the project, endorsing it for "honors" consideration and submitting a grade for the work (as an honors thesis or independent study). Each G.H. Cook Scholar must also designate a faculty member to serve as an "outside" Reader. (Your Project Advisor should be able to suggest an appropriate colleague. Or you might ask a faculty member who is familiar with your work.) The Reader should be available for consultation throughout the course of your project and should, therefore, have sufficient expertise in the subject of your project. The Reader's evaluation of the merit of the project is reported directly to the Honors Committee. The Honors Committee has final authority over the designation of a project for George H. Cook Scholar honors and resolves any discrepancies in the various evaluations of the project.

If your Project Advisor belongs to a faculty other than SEBS's (e.g., SAS, SCILS, Pharmacy, Engineering, Rutgers Medical School), then in addition to the Reader you must also identify a faculty member of a SEBS department as a Co-Advisor, with whom you and your advisor can consult on meeting Program requirements.

Project Proposal

A research proposal, approved and signed by the Project Advisor(s), must be submitted to the Director by the end of April. Submit your report as a word or pdf file and your signed cover page as a pdf or jpg (photo) file.

The Project Proposal (2 to 3 pages, single-spaced) should include a Proposal Cover Page (Word file), signed by the Project Advisor, and the following sections:

  1. Introduction: state the problem, your hypotheses or goals, and specific aims, and summarize how you plan to achieve your objectives;
  2. Prior work: a summary of previous work and any other relevant background information; a description of the project and its significance;
  3. Research or Design Approach: an outline or discussion of the procedures to be followed;
  4. Bibliography: List all relevant articles, books, and other sources. The citation and bibliographical style must be uniform throughout the paper and conform to the predominant style of publications in the field. Bibliographical references must include:
    1. for articles: full names of author(s), title of article, title of journal, information on issue/date and inclusive pagination;
    2. for books: full names of author(s) and/or editor(s), title of chapter and/or book, edition number (if not the first), place/publisher/year of publication;
    3. for internet information: full addresses, including date of accession.

(The Reference Departments of the university libraries maintain collections of the style manuals for various disciplines, which should be consulted for stylistic details for citing Internet material and the more esoteric sources, e.g. government documents, interviews, pamphlets, maps, images, hearings, etc.)

Candidates whose projects require Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval (for projects involving human) or Animal Research Clearance (animal subjects) must apply for review at this time and receive approval prior to actually beginning the research. If IRB or ARC approval is required, a copy of the approval must be submitted to Janice Geiger (, the Program administrator.

Note that, in order to meet Proposal deadline, you should circulate a draft of your proposal to the Project Advisor(s) as soon as possible, to enable them to suggest revisions prior to their “signing on” to the project. Arrange, also, to meet with them to discuss the project, its progress, the proposal and whatever revisions their final approval of the proposal will require. Failure to submit the proposal by the deadline will result in your being de-registered from the Program.

Course Credits

Students must enroll in 11:554:487,488 GH Cook Honors Program for a total of 6 to 12 credits during their senior year. Projects consisting primarily of laboratory work require 3 to 4 hours of concentrated effort per credit per week. Thus a 6-credit project will require approximately 9 hours of research/week for two semesters. Research actually done in the summer can be "credited" for the fall. Candidates are also strongly urged to use the Winter Session as a time to stay on campus and focus on their research. The crunch, so far as writing the thesis is concerned (and some kinds of projects are primarily "in" the writing of them), comes in March-April, but so do the interviews for graduate school or jobs.

This is a good place to point out that professionals are, by definition, not paid by the hour. Midnight oil is the lubricant of scholarship: you stay at that bench or computer all night, if need be, to get the results your professionalism demands. On the other hand, if you registered for only 3 credits/semester and find that your project is consuming considerably more time, there is no reason you should not add credits for the work you are putting into it. Conversely, should you discover that you cannot afford the time demanded by a >3-credits/ semester project, you can adjust the credits or turn the project into a less demanding curricular independent study. Students with heavy course loads (>15 credits/term, in addition to the honors project) or work commitments (>15 hours/week) should probably not undertake an honors project, unless much of the research can be accomplished during the summer or winter recesses.

This is also a good place to point out that faculty members expect more in the way of "professionalism" and "initiative" of students working on an honors project than of students simply helping out with research in the lab. Conversion of a project to a curricular independent study is, then, a way of accounting for work that is respectable but not worthy of "honors." Students may elect to make this conversion themselves, when they feel they cannot or do not wish to expend the energy/time that is required by the project or Project Advisor.

Honors Designation

Students graduate from SEBS "with honors" on the basis of their final cumulative grade-point average, regardless of participation in the General (4-year) Honors or George H. Cook Scholars programs. Some major programs (mainly SAS) also graduate students with "Honors in [the major]", on the basis of participation in a departmental honors program. Since students do not normally participate in more than one senior thesis program, these departments award major honors to qualified SEBS students on the basis of a George H. Cook Scholars project undertaken in that department. The additional designation of a graduate as a George H. Cook Scholar is awarded to those who have successfully completed this two-semester, college-wide honors program.

Expectations of Originality and Independence

The requirement that proposed projects be original means that students are expected to define, themselves, the area in which they wish to conduct advanced research or scholarly/creative activity. They should have sufficient background in the discipline to be familiar with its methods of inquiry and discourse and to suggest the design of an appropriate scholarly or creative project. The Honors Program is not, in other words, a means for students to take up a field (like computer science or photography or quantum mechanics) with which they have little previous experience. Students are, however, encouraged to use the honors project as a way to apply acquired expertise to new areas or problems.

Although students should seek faculty guidance in the design of the project, they should neither expect nor allow an advisor to provide a scripted project for them to walk through. Taking initiative in the planning is a significant aspect of the program objectives. Faculty direction is intended only to help define an objective and scope appropriate for a project of 6-12 credits and to help students enlarge and refine their repertoire of techniques and expertise.

The requirement that the proposed projects be independent means that students may not collaborate on the same project. Though students frequently work on related projects in an ongoing departmental research effort, a George H. Cook Scholar should be working on a well-specified and individualized aspect of the study. Candidates whose research contributes significantly to a published paper, furthermore, should expect to be acknowledged in the authorship.

A George H. Cook Scholar should not become an unpaid assistant or technician for someone else's research. (One of the Honors Committee's charges is to prevent this from happening.) While such apprenticeships undoubtedly provide valuable learning experiences for students, other mechanisms in the SEBS curriculum are more clearly designed to provide them. Students who feel they have lost initiative and autonomy in their projects should discuss this matter with the Project Advisor or Reader, or a member of the Honors Committee.