Button to scroll to the top of the page.

Check back on September 1 for the fully revised Health Science Scholars Handbook!



Welcome to Health Science Scholars! This Handbook has been prepared as an introduction to the program. You will learn about important people, activities, policies, dates… in fact, much more than you can remember, so bookmark it.

Please take the time to learn about us. You may find that HSS is the most important facet of your university experience. The other honors students you meet may very likely be your friends for life. Through our network of contacts, you will also meet faculty, research supervisors, and health professionals who will be important mentors for you during your careers at UT-Austin and beyond.

Lastly, please notice the wide range of activities the program offers: mentoring, sports, social events, lectures, and much more. You have a unique opportunity to have a hand in making Health Science Scholars all that you want it to be. Without question, performing well in your classes is of paramount importance. However, there is so much more to a university education than what happens in classes. You may look back later and say this was the most enriching period of your life — make up your mind now to get as much as you can from it.


TO sig
Dr. Terry O’Halloran
Director, Health Science Scholars 

Faculty Steering Committee


Under the leadership of Dr. Terry O’Halloran, Associate Professor of Molecular Biosciences, members of the faculty steering committee determine program policy, review applications, and serve as informal mentors to Health Science Scholars.

Members are:

Karen Browning
Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences

Ruth Buskirk
Distinguished Senior Lecturer, Biology Instructional Office

Shannon Cavanagh
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

Clarence Chan
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences

Arturo De Lozanne
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences

Johann Eberhart
Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences

Karen Fingerman
Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences

Brad Love
Associate Professor, Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations

George Pollak
Professor, Department of Neuroscience

Inder Saxena
Lecturer, Biology Instructional Office

Dee Silverthorn
Professor of Medical Physiology, Dell Medical School

Jason Upton
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Biosciences 

2017-18 Student Leadership

The Health Science Scholars (HSS) Council aims to enhance the HSS student experience. Our four committees host social events, a mentorship program, Friday Lunch speakers, the Distinguished Lecture Series, and volunteer opportunities. We help connect HSS members to clinical and non-clinical activities, health professionals, and our alumni network to guide our students through their pre-health years in college. It is HSS Council’s goal to create a welcoming, supportive, and educational environment for our members. Elected officers are chosen by each class to represent their interests on our 12-member Council. The 2017-2018 Chair is Jessica Tom.


Tom Jessica

Jessica Tom is a fifth-year public health and Plan II double major from Austin. Her thesis explores the effects of a physician’s communication skills on treatment adherence in non-verbal patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Outside of Health Science Scholars, Jessica is involved with a non-profit literacy organization called Reading Aces, volunteers with the UT Informal Classes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and works as an undergraduate teaching assistant for microbiology. In her free time, she enjoys cooking for friends, tending to her plants, live music, and reading. After college, Jessica hopes to attend medical school and stay involved with public policy.

Nina Dasari is a second-year Biology major and Business minor from Austin, Texas. She is a part of the Special Projects Committee on council. Ultimately, Nina hopes to attend medical school. Outside of Health Science Scholars, Nina is involved with volunteering at the local hospital and research with the FRI stream Antibiotics. In her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking around Austin, playing with her puppy, painting, playing the piano, and traveling!





Cyrus Daruwalla is a senior pre-med Biochemistry major, minoring in philosophy and government. He is considering doing his thesis on opioid clinical trials with a focus on medical ethics and government policy. His interests in medicine also include social epidemiology and patient-interaction skills. He is a member of a doctor shadowing program, the engineering chamber orchestra, and volunteers with adults with disabilities. Outside of academics, Cyrus enjoys stuffing his face with sushi, binge-watching shows, and listening to live music. 


Ly Anh

Anh Ly is a third-year chemistry major from Austin, Texas. In addition to her major, Anh plans to pursue the Social Inequality, Health & Policy Certificate. Outside of HSS, she is involved with the Natural Sciences Council, conducts bio-inorganic chemistry research in the Rose Research Group, and works as an organic chemistry teaching assistant. During her free time, Anh enjoys volunteering, gardening, and spending time with her family. 




Punjabi Shireen

Shireen Punjabi is a second-year Neuroscience major from Frisco, Texas. She loves working with children, and plans to attend medical school and ultimately pursue a specialty in pediatrics. Outside of Health Science Scholars, Shireen dances for UT Saaya (a Bollywood-fusion dance team), volunteers with Reading Aces, and enjoys cross-stitching, reading, and spending time with friends.




Lauren Rahman is a second-year Biochemistry major pursuing a certificate in the Business of Health Care. She currently does research in the Antibiotics FRI stream. When she isn't being a nerd, she enjoys taking naps, exploring Austin with friends, watching The Bachelorette, and attempting to work out everyday. She looks forward to being part of the Social Committee and planning fun events for the HSS community!


Jarrett Headshot 
Jarrett Rong is a second-year Biology major from Memphis, Tennessee. At UT, Jarrett is a part of the Natural Sciences Council and a part of the Functional Genomics FRI lab. Outside of school, he enjoys playing sports, listening to music, and cooking. As a part of the HSS council, Jarrett is a member of the volunteer committee, and he hopes to enjoy fun and enriching volunteer events with his fellow HSSers!


Srinivasan Tarika
 Srinivasan is a third-year double major in Biochemistry and Philosophy also pursuing a minor in Hindi. An undergraduate researcher in the Gray Lab at Dell Medical School, her research focuses on the genetic regulation of idiopathic scoliosis in zebrafish. However, her passion project stemmed from her domestic and international observerships in clinical medicine; she plans to investigate truth-telling patterns and the role of dishonesty in physician communication. Tarika is involved in Learn To Be, a non-profit online tutoring organization for underprivileged youth, and Chinmaya Mission Austin, where she teaches children’s classes on Hindu philosophy. When given the time, she enjoys music, long road trips, and Austin’s vibrant coffee scene. In the summer of 2018, Tarika will bike from Austin to Anchorage, AK with Texas 4000 for Cancer.



Caitlin Stanley is a senior pursuing a BSA in Neuroscience with a minor in French and a Business Foundations Certificate. Originally from El Paso, TX, she is interested in how the functions and potential of the human mind contribute to behaviors such as addiction. Her Senior Capstone therefore investigates the relationship between addiction in families and child development. In addition, her Mexican-American background has made her interested in global cultures and health. For this reason, she has studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she learned about the many ways in which resource-poor communities thrive to provide quality healthcare. Overall, Caitlin feels that HSS has has become her family, and she hopes to share any advice with other HSS students during her last year. 

Admission Criteria

 Application to HSS is separate from, and in addition to, application to the University. Application materials and information about deadlines are available under the How to Apply menu for prospective students. Students may enter the program as freshmen or as college transfers prior to their fourth long semester.

Factors in the admission decision are the student’s high school and/or college grades, class rank, the rigor of the courses the student has taken, the quality of the required application essays, a strong recommendation from a math or science instructor, standardized test scores, and the student’s interest in science, health and service as demonstrated by extracurricular activities. Admission is highly selective.


Program Requirements

Health Science Scholars complete a Bachelor of Science and Arts degree plan in a department within the College of Natural Sciences. The BSA combines a science emphasis with sufficient electives to create a truly cross-disciplinary undergraduate curriculum. Students can augment their science coursework with study in the humanities, communication, business, education, social sciences, or the arts. They can also use their elective hours to pursue research for course credit in or outside their major. After graduation, the student’s transcript will reflect receipt of a BSA-Honors degree if the student has completed the curricular and extracurricular requirements of HSS.

Curricular requirements

All students must complete

  • UGS 303 / Originality in the Arts and Sciences, a first-semester Signature course. Students admitted to HSS after their first semester may substitute a different Signature course.

  • NSC 110H / HSS First-Year Seminar (fall and spring, year 1). Students admitted to HSS after their first year are exempted from this requirement.

  • six credit hours in honors-level coursework in one or more sciences

  • NSC 110H / CNS Honors Seminars (fall, year 2; fall and spring, year 3)

  • NSC 109 / Planning Your Capstone Project (spring, year 2)

  • a Capstone project, which consists of two elements:

    • a substantive health- or service-related learning project — a practicum, internship, or extended volunteering stint of no fewer than 200 hours — or 200+ hours of laboratory research undertaken in the third year; and

    • an honors thesis, written in the student's final year, that emerges from their third-year project.

See below for course descriptions and a typical timeline.

Extracurricular requirements

All students must

  • contribute at least 3 hours of logged community service each semester in their first year and 6 hours each semester in their second

  • participate in at least one HSS-sanctioned service event each semester of their first and second years.

You can read more about the service requirements here.

Students are also required to graduate with a cumulative 3.5 grade point average to receive the BSA-Honors degree.

Placement credit

In general, HSS does not accept placement credit for science courses that are required for a CNS degree. The CNS honors courses challenge our very best students. These courses are integral to the experience of an honors education. Beyond this, medical schools in Texas recommend that their applicants not claim placement credit for biology, chemistry, and physics.

Students may use AP tests to receive credit for lower-division mathematics and physics courses if they wish to be placed in higher-level math or physics. But all students should first discuss this with their advisor before claiming the credit.

HSS does accept placement credit for history, government, social sciences, fine arts, foreign languages, English composition (RHE 306), and the core Humanities requirement (E 316L, 316M, 316N, or 316P). These are the only exceptions to the placement credit rule. Even here, however, whether students should or should not claim a particular credit can be complicated. Many placement tests do not translate as credit for non-elective UT-Austin courses. Again, students should speak with their advisor before claiming credit.

Honors coursework

Health Science Scholars take coursework designed for honors students. Some of these courses are honors versions of courses that are part of the BSA degree plan; others are seminars that count as electives and are required for completing the program.

The following is a typical course timeline, with Honors- and HSS-specific coursework included. Many HSS students elect to take courses during at least one summer, but completing the BSA-Honors degree by itself in four years does not require this. Remember that the pre-health professions path you choose involves courses in addition to degree and HSS requirements, and because there are eight of these, we’ve not listed them here. (By the way, the Health Professions Office maintains a tremendously helpful and user-friendly website that almost certainly contains answers to whatever questions occur about readying yourself for professional school.)

"BSA degree coursework" below refers to either or both major and non-major courses. 

Year 1

  • BSA degree coursework (fall and spring)
  • UGS 303 / Originality in the Arts and Sciences (fall)
  • NSC 109 Originality in Scientific Research (fall)
  • NSC 110H / HSS First-Year Seminar (fall and spring)

Year 2

Year 3

  • BSA degree coursework (fall and spring)
  • NSC 110H Honors Seminar (fall and spring)
  • HSS Thesis Planning Workshops (fall and spring)

Year 4

  • BSA degree coursework (fall and spring)
  • NSC 109 / HSS Thesis Preparation Seminar (fall)
  • One of the following:
    • Option 1: Departmental research/thesis seminars (fall and spring)
    • Option 2: NSC 371 / HSS Capstone Thesis Seminar (spring)

Course descriptions

  • UGS 303 / Originality in the Arts and Sciences
    Students in HSS, Dean's Scholars, and Polymathic Scholars are automatically admitted to the Freshmen Research Initiative, and this course, restricted to students in these programs, satisfies the research methods course requirement for the FRI. As its name implies, the course prepares students to undertake original research in both the hard sciences and the humanities. The final project is a competition that requires students, working in teams, to develop an idea for a grant, consult with relevant faculty on constraints, cost projections, and current research in the field, and deliver their proposal to the class. 

  • NSC 110 / HSS First-Year Seminar
    Throughout their first year, HSS students participate in a seminar lead by the program's faculty director that acclimates them to the rigors of a demanding college curriculum, exposes them to guest speakers from the health care professions, and introduces them to some of the College's faculty in an informal setting.

  • NSC 110H / CNS Honors Seminars
    One of the advantages of being a CNS honors student is having access to these unique small seminars, which connect students with the university’s best teachers and top researchers. The format of NSC 110H seminars is simple: Faculty select a topic they're passionate about, lead discussions organized around a few readings, and let each student lead part of a class on one of the readings. The seminars foster the honors community by bringing together students in each program and fomenting lively, productive exchanges. 

  • NSC 109 / Planning Your Capstone Project
    The culmination of the HSS curriculum is a two-year research and writing project. Starting in their third year, students spend at least one year in either laboratory research or a practicum related to health, health care, or community service. Both experiences become the foundation of a senior-year Capstone Thesis that itself takes a year to develop and write. The preliminary planning begins in this second-year spring semester course, which is organized around two simple questions: What do you want to do for your Capstone experience, and what do you want your Capstone experience to do for you?  Students write reflective essays, interview faculty and community professionals, read and respond to great writers' thoughts on great writing, conduct independent research, and develop a plan for the work they'll undertake in their third year.

  • HSS Thesis Planning Workshops: These workshops are required for all Health Science Scholars who plan to write their theses in the following academic year. Students take several one-hour workshops to support their progress toward successful completion of their theses.
  • NSC 109 / HSS Thesis Preparation Seminar 
    Taken in the fall semester of the student's last year, this seminar walks students through a series of steps intended to guide them toward successful completion of a substantial honors thesis. Most of the planning and last-stage research occurs in the fall; most of the writing occurs in the spring. 

  • NSC 371 / HSS Capstone Thesis Seminar 
    While working individually with a faculty mentor with expertise in their area of study, students simultaneously enroll in this course in their final semester. Students complete a series of assignments designed to keep them on track. The goal is timely completion of a substantial, honors-quality thesis. They also present their findings at one of several campus events during Research Week in April.

Degree Plans

Health Science Scholars complete the BSA-Honors degree. Requirements specific to HSS can be found in the Program Requirements section above. Following are BSA degree plans for each CNS major that offers a BSA, organized by Undergraduate Catalog year. Students are assigned by default to the current Catalog when they enter UT-Austin but may elect to change to a later Catalog. Students should consult their advisor if they are considering changing Catalogs.

2016-2018 CATALOG

2014-2016 CATALOG


The HSS Honors Thesis



College honors programs generally culminate in a significant academic project in addition to the student’s coursework for his or her major. The Health Science Scholars Capstone thesis satisfies this tradition in the spirit of the honors program, which encourages students to forge connections between experiential learning endeavors and academic scholarship, typically—though not always—related to health, broadly defined. Capstone projects may also open opportunities for acknowledgement through awards or publication, and they add depth to applications to professional schools, graduate schools, or jobs after graduation. Most importantly, however, graduates often tell us that the Capstone thesis is the most rewarding academic accomplishment of their undergraduate career.

The Capstone project satisfies the College of Natural Sciences’ honors program thesis requirement for Health Science Scholars.


All Health Science Scholars complete a Capstone experience and a written research thesis. The Capstone experience should begin no later than early fall of the third year. Typically, formulating and writing the research thesis begins no later than fall of the fourth year. The Capstone experience/thesis requirement for HSS can be satisfied in two distinctly different ways—read more about Option 1 and Option 2 below. Keep in mind that, if they have the time and energy, students can pursue activities associated with both options: they can pursue research in a lab connected to their major as well as pursue internship, practicum, or service experiences.

HSS students are responsible for finding their Capstone experience and securing a position in a lab or with an organization. They propose their plans in writing in NSC 109: Planning Your Capstone Project by the end of their second year. The seminar is designed to assist them with this process. Their Capstone experience is expected to involve a time commitment of no less than 200 hours, though most students exceed this expectation.

Students must register their Capstone experience with the Director of CNS Honors & Scholarships (Madison Searle) by securing their lab mentor's or supervisor's signature no later than October 31 in the fall semester of their third year. Students will also attend a series of workshops in their third year to help them stay on track with planning for their thesis.

Any change in Capstone plans must be approved by HSS faculty Director, Dr. Terry O'Halloran. Changes in the senior year will only rarely be approved by the faculty Director, and only with evidence that the student has a strong foundation and strong mentorship already in place. 

In the next sections, read about the two tracks—Option 1 or Option 2— that HSS students may pursue for their Capstone experience, and what distinguishes these two tracks from one another.


Completing the requirements for departmental honors in your major can satisfy the HSS program Capstone experience/research thesis requirement. It is crucial that students understand departmental honors requirements if they are to make an informed decision about whether or not the Option 1 path is best for them. Requirements for graduating with departmental honors depend on the discipline (e.g., biology vs. neuroscience vs. chemistry), but all departmental honors distinctions require that students conduct original research with a faculty member, usually in a laboratory setting. Students must find their own faculty mentor (the lab’s Principal Investigator, or P.I.) and a lab to work in, and submit a proposal describing their plans to the instructor of NSC 109: Planning Your Capstone Project.

The research students do that satisfies departmental honors requirements also satisfies the HSS Capstone experience requirement. As noted above, students are expected to be involved with their thesis mentor and lab by fall of their third year.

HSS students are also expected to develop an individual project connected to their lab’s work—a project for which they have primary responsibility in the lab. Students must work with their mentor(s) in the lab to identify the goals and scope of this project in coordination with the needs of the lab as a whole. Many students have a network of mentors in their lab environments; however, the P.I. must approve the individual project, which will eventually lead to the thesis.

Option 1 Faculty Mentor/P.I.

Typically, the faculty mentor must be a UT faculty member with an active research program. Exceptions must be approved in writing by the HSS faculty Director. Students should remember that the most important considerations to keep in mind when searching for a lab and a mentor are (a) whether the P.I.’s research area interests them; (b) how they feel about the kinds of tasks, activities, duties, or responsibilities that will likely characterize their involvement in the lab; and (c) whether their major department requires their mentor to be affiliated with that department (in other words, whether a Biochemistry major must work with a Biochemistry professor or perhaps has the flexibility to work with a Biology or Chemistry professor).

Beginning no later than the spring of their second year, students must research possible labs by talking to fellow students and professors with whom they’ve had classes and by consulting UT’s Eureka database and departmental webpages. Almost all of UT’s department webpages summarize each faculty member’s research and interests; many departments also provide links to faculty members’ lab and/or personal academic websites. A student’s thesis project will necessarily be closely related to ongoing work in the lab, so we recommend they read about the lab before reaching out to the P.I. For their Capstone projects, students should find labs beyond their initial FRI experiences.

Before committing to a Capstone experience, we advise students to meet with several professors representing different labs. In introductory emails and meetings, students should show that they are acquainted with, and interested in, the professor's work. Students should be prepared to share their related interests. Even professors who cannot supervise additional students may help them think through their research interests and identify leads to follow. Students should bear in mind that it can take months to line up a mentor and a position in a lab.

Option 1 Capstone Thesis

A student’s research (i.e., “Capstone experience”) in the lab forms the basis for their thesis.  A thesis is typically a substantial piece of written work that conforms to discipline-specific conventions of scholarship. The thesis often takes the form of an empirical journal article that students are expected to submit for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Although specific thesis requirements vary by department, completion of any CNS department’s thesis requirement for departmental honors also satisfies the HSS program thesis requirement. Students must understand their major’s thesis guidelines so that they know the appropriate scope and timing for their project. These guidelines also are important because students often need to take certain courses that students who are not pursuing departmental honors do not need to take. 

Students should work directly with authorized departmental honors representatives in their major area to stay up-to-date regarding departmental honors thesis expectations, requirements, and deadlines. If you have trouble identifying your departmental honors representative, contact your advisor, Mark Hemenway, for assistance.


The HSS Capstone experience requirement can also be satisfied by following any one of several paths beyond the student's major. Students may participate in a practicum, internship, or project rooted in health sciences, health policy, or service; or they may conduct research in a lab outside their major. For example, students may line up a position doing intake interviews at a neighborhood primary care clinic or helping organize events and activities for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Or the Capstone experience for Option 2 could take the form of a substantial, long-term project, developed under the supervision of the student’s faculty mentor, with a clearly defined outcome. For instance, a student might spend a whole semester developing a healthcare-related app for a mobile phone.

Option 2 is also well-suited for a student who wants to perform an original data-collection project in the field or in a lab, but whose major department will not recognize this research project and/or faculty mentor to satisfy the requirements for departmental honors.

Whatever the case, students must have a mentor or supervisor associated with their Capstone experience. Each student is responsible for identifying this person. During the fall semester of their third year, students will be asked to register their Capstone experience and supervisor online with the Director of CNS Honors & Scholarships.

Students who wish to pursue the practicum/internship/project option need to familiarize themselves with the thesis guidelines provided below. They should do this during their second year, because it can take a lot of time to find an experience of interest. In addition, students must build in enough time to find a faculty mentor to guide their thesis work. The student’s Capstone experience supervisor is not necessarily going to be available or appropriate to supervise the student’s thesis, as thesis mentors must be UT faculty members with an active research program. Students therefore have some extra planning to do for Option 2. (For Option 1, the same faculty member (the principal investigator for the student's lab) usually serves as the Capstone experience and thesis supervisor.)

Option 2 Timeline

Students pursuing the Option 2 track for HSS usually identify their Capstone experiences in the spring of their second year with support through NSC 109. In their third year, they take a series of one-hour workshops designed to help them start planning for their theses, including brainstorming possible topics and finding faculty mentors for their theses. At the same time, they are usually becoming fully immersed in their Capstone experiences—whether that means beginning an internship, starting their volunteer work with a service organization, or developing an individual project in a lab outside their major. Students who plan to conduct primary research, such as interviews or surveys, should initiate this process in the third year as well, and will need to identify a faculty mentor—usually their thesis mentor—early on to guide this process. Ideally, students will have logged most or all of their required 200 hours before beginning their final year in the program so that they may draw upon a broad range of experiences as they narrow their thesis topics.

Option 2 students formally embark upon the thesis process in the fall of their final year, when they enroll in NSC 109: HSS Capstone Thesis Preparation Seminar. (NSC 109 will be replaced by NSC 323 beginning in the fall of 2019.) This seminar supports the thesis research process. Working with one or more faculty mentors as well as peers during class meetings, students consider appropriate thesis topics, write a short thesis proposal, and develop an initial plan for drafting the thesis. The Thesis Preparation Seminar typically meets one hour per week, allowing extra time for independent reading and research.

HSS students do the bulk of their writing and complete the thesis during the spring of their final year in the program, when they enroll in NSC 371: Capstone Thesis Seminar. This seminar structures the writing process, supports the development of a public thesis presentation, and offers students opportunities to receive feedback on their work-in-progress. The course syllabus includes a series of deadlines for incremental assignments and drafts of the thesis. NSC 371 typically meets two hours per week, allowing extra time for independent research and writing.

3rd Year

 Fall 4th Year (NSC 109)

 Spring 4th Year (NSC 371)

Capstone experience & Workshops

 Finalize thesis mentor

 Continue research

Talk with mentors

 Narrow topic

 Draft and revise thesis

Brainstorm topics

 Secondary research

 Give thesis presentation

Begin primary research if applicable

 Proposal & outline

 Explore publication

Option 2 Thesis Topic Selection

Your Capstone thesis must be connected to or inspired by your HSS Capstone experience, and should emerge out of expertise you develop through secondary research. For instance, during an internship at a health clinic, a student might have noticed that men and women seemed to report symptoms differently. For her thesis, she might synthesize and analyze the scholarly literature relevant to this topic. As with departmental honors theses, the practicum/internship/project-inspired thesis must be a substantial piece of written work. Thesis guidelines are presented below. (These specifications apply only to Option 2. Students who pursue a departmental honors thesis should follow the department’s specifications, provided through departmental representatives.)

Although Option 2 thesis topics vary widely, every thesis is expected to pose a question (or a set of interrelated questions) and present evidence appropriate to the discipline(s) involved to develop an argumentative answer to that question.

If you are pursuing your Capstone experience in a lab, your P.I. may already have helped you to develop a focused problem to investigate and a set of protocols for how to tackle your research question. However, most Option 2 students will need to identify a narrower thesis topic related to the broad interests that their Capstone experience has inspired.

For most Option 2 students, developing a topic takes time. To explore possible academic topics related to your Capstone experience, we encourage you to talk with professors, supervisors and colleagues at your experience site, classmates, mentors, and advisors and to read independently and extensively.

As you consider topics, think not only about questions you want to investigate and things you are curious about, but also about goals you may have for your Capstone work. Most students develop topics that may be readily explored through secondary research. Theses based on secondary research may involve the systematic review and synthesis, analysis, and interpretation of existing sources of evidence, such as peer-reviewed journal articles, data sets, government reports, and scholarly books. Though students pursing secondary research may not collect original data, they do present original arguments based on their own analysis and new ways of looking at existing data. Your own conclusions, based on research and evidence, are central to the secondary research thesis.

Some students may wish to collect original data and base their thesis on primary research. This research often involves designing a study and collecting data through surveys, interviews, lab work, or research in the field or in an archive. As is the case for secondary research, the student’s faculty mentor(s) should be involved in choices about how to approach the project. Primary research is usually begun no later than the student’s third year.

If you plan to collect primary data using humans, animals, or potentially dangerous materials for your thesis, you must apply for and receive the university’s approval, even for a simple survey of fellow students. Your faculty mentor will need to sponsor your application, and official approval must be granted before you may begin data collection. Gaining approval can take several months, depending on the proposed project and other factors outside of your control (such as the caseload and meeting schedule of the review board). Any student who is interested in original data collection should refer to the website of the Office of Research Support and Compliance and talk with an ORSC advisor related to their area of study for the project. For more information, visit https://research.utexas.edu/ors/

HSS students are also encouraged to consider primary research projects based on analysis of archival records at UT or elsewhere. Archival materials take many forms, from historical photographs to personal letters to government records. Though archival research is typically complex and time-consuming, it offers rich opportunities for truly original work. At UT, archivists are often excited to help students brainstorm how their holdings may be used in new and unique ways.

Thus, as you consider possible thesis topics, also think about the methods with which you hope to gain experience through your Capstone work, whether it is based on primary research, archival research, or secondary research.

Option 2 Faculty Mentors

Students typically seek guidance from one or more faculty mentors as they develop and refine a thesis topic related to their Capstone experience. Though you are encouraged to talk with multiple faculty members about your ideas, you will choose one primary mentor who is willing to formally supervise your thesis. Two important considerations for students to keep in mind when searching for a primary mentor are whether (a) he or she has expertise in their thesis topic area; and (b) has time to mentor them. Only then can a mentor really help a student conduct research, critically evaluate data and sources, and think productively about a topic.

Your primary thesis mentor—not necessarily the Capstone experience supervisor—should be a UT-Austin faculty member with expertise in at least one area related to the academic questions you want to explore for your thesis. Mentors generally must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members in an academic department at UT Austin. If you aren’t sure whether or not a faculty member is tenure-track, look him or her up in the UT Directory and look for job titles of Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor. Graduate students are not eligible to serve as primary thesis mentors, but may provide secondary mentorship with the consent of the primary mentor. Lecturers, clinical faculty, and faculty at Dell Medical School who do not have joint appointments with an academic department will usually serve as secondary mentors or as co-mentors with a tenure-track academic faculty member. However, exceptions are sometimes granted for exceptionally qualified mentors of different backgrounds; students seeking an exception to work with a non-tenure-track faculty mentor must seek written approval from the CNS Honors Director, Madison Searle.

To find a suitable mentor, you will need to do some research. You should talk with your professors, TAs, advisors, and fellow students about your ideas for your project; search UT’s Eureka database; explore departmental websites; and read professors’ published papers to identify faculty whose interests overlap, at least partially, with your interests connected to your Capstone experience. Even mentors who cannot supervise your thesis may be willing to help you identify other appropriate faculty to serve in this capacity—so don’t hesitate to ask them for advice and recommendations!

You are responsible for initiating contact with faculty members who might be potential mentors and for asking one of them to supervise your work. Some faculty members may not be able or willing to supervise your thesis, so start this process early and get to know several professors with interests related to yours. One of the Thesis Planning workshops you attend in your third year will address strategies for finding and approaching possible mentors. You will be expected to have a faculty mentor who has agreed to supervise your thesis no later than the beginning of your final year. When you ask a faculty member to serve as your mentor, be sure to provide this professor with the HSS Guidelines for Faculty Mentors. In the fall of your final year, you will submit a Thesis Registration Form, which your mentor signs in acknowledgment of his/her commitment to supervising your work. You will not be permitted to take the required thesis-writing seminar, NSC 371, without a signed Thesis Registration Form.

Briefly, the role of a faculty mentor is to guide your research, critique your ideas and drafts, and participate in evaluating your final thesis. You are expected to meet with your mentor regularly; meeting at least once per month in the fall and at least twice per month in the spring of your thesis year is recommended. Make sure that you and your mentor share clear expectations regarding topic, disciplinary conventions, and meeting times. Some faculty mentors may require students to demonstrate evidence of progress beyond the deadlines outlined in the NSC 109 and 371 syllabi.

The Option 2 Capstone Thesis

The Capstone thesis is a substantial scholarly work that represents the pinnacle of your academic achievement at the undergraduate level. As noted above, each thesis is unique, and develops out of each student’s individual Capstone experience and secondary research. However, the guidelines below apply generally to all Option 2 Capstone theses. If you have concerns about whether your project will meet the expectations outlined below, consult with the NSC 371 instructor before beginning your work.

Thesis Standards
Different disciplines have different standards. Consider standards of evidence, for example; numeric data and inferential statistical analyses back up many sociology professors’ arguments about the nature of poverty in America. However, archived photographs of the poor—combined with subjective interpretations of their meaning—constitute evidence for many American Studies professors. Different disciplines also have different conventions for appropriate methodologies, writing style, citation, formatting, structure, and argumentation. You will work with your faculty mentor(s) to determine the appropriate standards specific to investigating and writing about your topic.

The thesis must be a persuasive, evidence-based paper that answers a genuine research question (or set of interrelated questions) at least loosely related to your Capstone experience. Research questions should address complex problems that cannot be resolved by a simple, binary response or accepted facts. Your research question should position you to offer an answer that adds something unique to scholarly conversations on your topic. Though you will certainly include brief summaries of some of the most influential work that has already been published in your field, your analysis will reveal new ways of understanding this work. The answer to your question(s) should take the form of an argument—an original claim with supporting reasoning and evidence, communication of research findings, acknowledgement of alternative viewpoints, and a cogent conclusion.

Your thesis should reflect conventions typical of the main discipline(s) in which your topic is situated. You and your faculty mentor should agree on what methods you will employ and how to communicate them accurately and effectively. For instance, if you are synthesizing a large, complex body of literature on a topic, you need to develop and implement clear decision rules for when to include or exclude sources to answer your research question(s). These decisions must be made apparent to your readers so that they know how you arrived at your answer.

Write this paper for well-educated, intelligent people who are not necessarily experts in your particular topic area. Your immediate audience will be your peers in Health Science Scholars,  your mentors, and Honors faculty and staff. Therefore, if you need to use technical terminology in your work, strive to define this discipline-specific jargon. You should include enough background in your introductory material to ground a non-specialist in the field and help this reader understand the significance of your argument.

Students who hope to publish their work in a discipline-specific journal will revise their paper for a more specialized audience after submitting the thesis to fulfill requirements for HSS. Because the purpose and conventions of a Health Science Scholars thesis differ from those of a published article, substantial revision prior to publication is typical.  

Please keep in mind that HSS theses cannot be kept confidential. In addition to sharing your work with fellow students, you are expected to attempt to publish your thesis by submitting it (or a revised version of it) to an approved peer-reviewed publication. Thus, you should write about topics and ideas you are willing to share with others.

Our length guideline is 30-40 pages—or about 8,000-12,000 words—of double-spaced body text, plus the cover page, abstract, references, and any figures, tables, or appendices you choose to include. You and your mentor(s) may need to discuss whether the length of the thesis should be adjusted in order to adequately address your research question. The thesis seminar instructor should be involved in any such conversation.

If you are writing a combined thesis for HSS and another honors program, expect length guidelines to increase. Coordinate with both programs before the end of your third year to allow time for negotiation.

Citations and References
You must cite your sources of information and give credit for ideas and phrases that are not your own. Citations should follow standard guidelines appropriate to your discipline—for instance, APA or AMA. Most students use a citation style involving in-text parenthetical citations and a complete references list; however, some styles use footnotes or endnotes for citations. Talk to your faculty mentor about preferred citation styles in your discipline.

The appropriate number and type of citations depends on your topic and your research question(s). Your goal should be to conduct a complete, unbiased search for sources. As a general observation, most successful HSS Option 2 theses engage a minimum of 25 scholarly sources.

Your thesis should meet the following formatting requirements:

  • Am HSS signature page as the cover sheet
  • Neatly laser-printed (preferably printed on both sides of the page to conserve paper)
  • Numbered pages
  • One-inch margins, double spacing, and 12-point standard serif font (Times New Roman is preferred)
  • Additional formatting appropriate to the field (consult your thesis supervisor)
  • Careful proofreading. A thesis with more than a few errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation is not acceptable.

Additional formatting guidelines will be provided through the NSC 371 thesis seminar and discussion of disciplinary considerations with your faculty mentor.

Thesis Submission
You will write your thesis and take the NSC 371: Capstone Thesis Seminar concurrently. Though much of your writing will be done independently, weekly seminar meetings will help you stay on track with thesis deadlines and requirements. The syllabus will provide more information about what to submit and when. Typically, the final thesis is due the week after classes end in May.

You will be expected to submit a digital copy of your thesis through the course Canvas site as well as an original, signed hard copy submitted to the thesis seminar instructor or the Honors office. It is not necessary to have your thesis professionally bound.

The grade for your thesis is assigned as part of your grade for NSC 371: Capstone Thesis Seminar. The thesis grade represents a significant part of your grade for the course, but your demonstration of consistent progress through incremental assignments, your Capstone presentation, and your participation in class activities also contribute to your grade for the course. Details on specific grading policies may be found in the syllabus for NSC 371.

Your thesis will be evaluated independently by your faculty mentor and a member of the Honors faculty, typically the NSC 371 instructor. Your mentor will submit his/her grade recommendation form directly to the NSC 371 instructor; this grade is averaged with the Honors faculty member’s evaluation. This grading process is designed to ensure that students’ work is reviewed by professors with expertise in the relevant fields of study while also maintaining consistency of evaluation across the breadth of the program.

Here are the criteria that your mentor will be provided as the standard, overarching approach to grading a Health Science


Scholars thesis:

  • A grade of A (exemplary) on the final thesis should be assigned for thorough research, familiarity with authoritative sources and methods of the discipline, a well-reasoned analysis of the research methods and sources used, direct application of the research to the argument being made, a cogent conclusion based on the research, and superior written presentation of the thesis argument.
  • A grade of B (better than required) should be assigned for a thesis that demonstrates all of the above, but may use fewer or less appropriate research sources and methods, and sufficient (rather than superior) written presentation.
  • A grade of C (as required but no better) will indicate a basic grasp of the data and appropriate sources, limited application of the research towards the argument being made, and merely acceptable written style.
  • A grade of D (barely passable) indicates minimally acceptable research findings in addition to poor analysis and writing standards.
  • A grade of F is appropriate where the thesis represents a crudely thrown-together or last-minute effort or even evidence of unoriginal work. 

It is your responsibility to communicate with your mentor about expectations, deadlines, and feedback. If you feel you are not communicating effectively with your mentor, you should address this issue with him/her and/or your NSC 371 instructor as early as possible.

Additional Information
Sample theses are available for review. If you have further questions about the Capstone thesis, you may contact Dr. Rebecca Wilcox at (512) 232-5930 or rebecca.wilcox@austin.utexas.edu. You may also contact the main CNS Honors & Scholarships office in PAI 5.37.



Honor Code

“The core values of The University of Texas at Austin are learning, discovery, freedom, leadership, individual opportunity, and responsibility. Each member of the university is expected to uphold these values through integrity, honesty, trust, fairness, and respect toward peers and community.”

This Code of Conduct was created by University of Texas at Austin students, staff, and faculty and was adopted by the university in 2004.