An Introduction to Dean’s Scholars
The Dean’s Scholars Honors Program is the oldest honors program in UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences. As other programs have been added to the college, Dean’s Scholars placed greater emphasis on research as an integral part of an undergraduate education. As a consequence, for many students, Dean’s Scholars is the first step toward a career in academia. Nevertheless, Dean’s Scholars have also gone onto a wide variety of careers, ranging from Teach for America to Silicon Valley. In all cases, a Dean’s Scholars education equips students to change the world through their unique pursuit of greater knowledge.
While called an honors program and distinguished by its academic requirements, Dean’s Scholars remains focused on its founding purpose: building a community. Amidst the pressures of a rigorous undergraduate education, Dean’s Scholars works to bring together the best and brightest students in the college. While Dean’s Scholars do study together and challenge one another, they also have plenty of fun together. Home-cooked dinners, semesterly field trips, and nearly weekly events constitute the core of the Dean’s Scholars community! Students in the Dean’s Scholars Program often find that their undergraduate experience has been defined by their friends in the program as much as their lessons in the classroom.
Dean’s Scholars have a diverse set of interests, which are reflected in the Dean’s Scholars degree plans. The center of every degree plan is the DS breadth requirement. These are a set of honors science courses you take in fields outside of your major. The breadth requirement allows Dean’s Scholars to discover other areas of science they are interested in and gives each student a well-rounded base knowledge. As most honors students have done so, these courses assume you have taken the AP course in the subject, so don’t worry that you’ll be doing a repeat of a course you already took in high school.
The degree plans also provide more elective hours than normal degree plans, allowing you to pursue exactly what interests you! For example, many Dean’s Scholars use the extra elective hours to pursue a certificate, a minor, a second major, take more classes in their field of study, or just explore what interests them! The final component of the Dean’s Scholars degree is an honors thesis, which serves to showcase the dedication each student has for their research. These degree plans are only available to Dean’s Scholars! If you would like to learn more, you can view the degree plans on the College of Natural Sciences list of honors degree plans.
SPECIAL ACADEMIC ADVISOR
Part of being a Dean’s Scholar includes the resource of having an honors academic advisor and a departmental faculty advisor! Students meet with the honors advisor, Mark Hemenway, who is well-versed in all things DS, and who sometimes has the power to get you into popular classes! Additionally, Dean’s Scholars have the unique opportunity to meet with a faculty advisor from within their department. The faculty advisor can help in questions ranging from classes to research to programs outside of UT! Having an advisor well-versed in the Dean’s Scholars’ requirements goes a long way toward ensuring that you are able to customize your education to suit your unique needs. *Note: If you are extremely confused about what you’ll take your freshman year or anything schedule related, don’t panic! Mark will help you figure EVERYTHING out at orientation.
Want to further expand your knowledge in different fields of study? Perfect! Dean’s Scholars are required to enroll in exclusive honors seminars that allow you to interact with top faculty in a small classroom setting. Topics vary wildly from discussing politics, infectious diseases, social entrepreneurship, and even learning to play the banjo! The goal of these seminars is for you to expand your knowledge, work on your presentation skills, and communicate ideas with others.
Though some Dean’s Scholars have performed research prior to arriving at UT Austin, most have not. Being a Dean’s Scholar can open up opportunities to work in a lab earlier than non-honors students. As a freshman, Dean’s Scholars are given the opportunity to join the Freshman Research Initiate to begin their research careers. Moreover, Dean’s Scholars are recognized by faculty as hard-working students that are eager to learn and join a lab. Many scholars are working in the best labs around campus and taking advantage of the university’s world class resources, ranging from McDonald Observatory to the Texas Advanced Computing Center. With Dean’s Scholars, you are able to join of cohort of the some of the university’s best undergraduate researchers!
All Dean’s Scholars are automatically admitted into the Freshman Research Initiative, also known as FRI. This program allows first-year students to learn valuable research skills in one of 30 streams through projects that have the potential to yield publishable research. Research streams span many areas of science, including chemistry, biochemistry, ecology, nanotechnology, molecular biology, physics, astronomy and computer science. Many of the streams are interdisciplinary, and within any given stream, Dean’s Scholars work with the Research Educator (RE), who is the professor teaching the course.
Selecting an FRI stream starts in your first semester at UT. You’ll be enrolled in a research methods course called Originality in Arts and Sciences, where you complete independent projects and begin learning more about the research process. During this semester is when streams host open houses where you can visit the lab and talk to current students, mentors, or the research educator to learn more about the stream. Dean’s Scholars hosts an event where we gather upperclassmen who have taken each stream as well, so any freshman can ask us questions. Then comes the stream sort phase, where you rank and explain your top five stream choices and the FRI program sorts everyone accordingly. You can choose any stream you want during the stream sort phase, even if it doesn’t align with your major! Fortunately, most Dean’s Scholars get their first choice, so don’t stress about this part!
Your second semester is when FRI begins. If you enjoy your research and want to continue, you have the opportunity to continue the following fall semester on an independent project. Interested students may also apply to stay over the summer after freshman year for a paid research fellowship! And if you choose to, you may continue further as a mentor for the future years of freshman. For more information, check out the FRI website.
In the world of research, communication is key to getting your findings out to the world. Dean’s Scholars recognized this and established ResULTS (the Research and Undergraduate Learning Talk Series)! ResULTS is a monthly event that allows undergraduates to listen to their peers discuss their cutting-edge research in various fields of study (all while enjoying a slice of pizza). UT is a school where it is relatively easy to find research. However, it’s easy to get so engrossed in your own research and classes that you lose track of the other exciting things being discovered on campus. What better way to catch up than to hear your friends’ research talks, start a conversation with someone who is doing research in a field you would like to join, and maybe give a talk of your own? ResULTS is the place to do that! ResULTS truly gives you the impression, “What starts here changes the world!”
As the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program puts a focus on research, many student participate in summer research in and out of UT Austin. Summer programs are beneficial because you get to learn new lab techniques, network with people across the school or country, all while discovering a new field of study! Many freshman participate in the Freshman Research Initiative Fellowship after their first year, but many also find other research programs. Many DSers participate in summer programs such as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE), and other research programs across the United States and Europe. Dean’s Scholars in recent years have worked at German universities, natural history museums, and universities across the United States. You can also apply to receive funding to continue your research here on campus over the summer.