CNS Honors Center

The CNS Honors Center was created in 2013 to support the educational aspirations of some of the country’s most promising science students at one of the world’s leading research universities. The Center’s mission is to expand the College’s capacity to recruit extraordinary students—and foster extraordinary student achievements—through a diverse portfolio of world-class honors programs. Dean’s Scholars (DS), Health Science Scholars (HSS), and Polymathic Scholars (PS) have been designed to appeal to students with different aptitudes and goals. Each, however, gives talented and motivated students unprecedented access to rigorous courses, authentic research opportunities, outstanding faculty, innovative degree plans, dedicated advising, and community-building event programming. The programs are designed to increase individual student attention and promote exploration of academic, cultural, and social interests through small intellectual communities of scholars. Collectively DS, HSS, and PS serve about 600 students.

Web Sara Corson 4733Sara Corson | Director
Sara oversees CNS Honors & Scholarships in its day-to-day operations including honors student programming and curriculum, honors program admissions and recruitment, faculty involvement and mentorship, and alumni support. She holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Virginia.


m hemenwayMark Hemenway | Academic Advisor
Mark is the academic advisor for students in Dean’s Scholars and Health Science Scholars. He enjoys having the opportunity to work with honors students from Orientation through graduation and is a good place to start with any questions related to UT. Mark is a recent recipient of the James W. Vick Award for academic advising.


r wilcoxRebecca Wilcox | Thesis instruction, Academic Advising
Rebecca teaches the Capstone thesis seminars and preparatory thesis workshops for Polymathic Scholars and Health Science Scholars. She also assists with recruitment and administration for DS, HSS, and PS. Previously, she coordinated UT-Austin’s Office of Undergraduate Research and taught English and writing at West Texas A&M University. She holds a Ph.D. in English from UT-Austin.

Selection Criteria

The Polymathic Scholars program is highly selective, admitting about fifty first-year students each year. A small number of openings are also reserved for second-year students who have distinguished themselves in their first year of college, whether at UT-Austin or another institution. The program looks for students with a high level of academic and community accomplishment and a strong interest in science, as well as an aptitude for and achievement in one or more areas outside the sciences. Polymathic Scholars typically achieve high class rankings, but admission is not based solely on these criteria. Equally important in the selection process is evidence of an applicant’s work ethic and thoughtful ownership of intellectual and creative pursuits both within and beyond the sciences.

Program Requirements

Overview. Polymathic Scholars (PS) are advised in the Honors Center throughout their undergraduate years at UT.

Registration. PS students must schedule an appointment with their academic advisor before course registration each semester. At this advising session, students will review degree plans to assess what degree requirements have been completed and which ones are still needed. Advisors will contact students at least two weeks prior to registration for the next semester.

Overview. Nearly all Polymathic 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. After graduation, the student’s transcript will reflect receipt of a BSA degree with honors if the student completes PS in good standing. Like all UT students, Polymathic Scholars must also complete “common core” requirements to obtain their degree from UT.

Placement or exam credit. In general, placement or exam credit is not accepted in lieu of science courses that are required for a degree plan. The CNS honors courses offer instruction that challenges our very best students while providing an in-depth background in each discipline. These courses are integral to the experience of an honors education, and placement or standardized tests typically cannot be substituted. Some students may be able to use AP exam scores to receive credit for lower-division mathematics and physics courses if they wish to be placed in higher level math or physics. The Polymathic Scholars program does accept exam credit in other Core areas such as history, government, rhetoric, English, the social sciences, fine arts, etc. These are the only exceptions to the placement-credit rule. Your academic advisor can provide more information about claiming credit based on test scores and/or previously completed college-level coursework.

Overview. Polymaths 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.

Polymathic Scholars Coursework Timeline

Year 1 (5 to 8 credit hours)

  • UGS 303: Originality in the Arts and Sciences (Fall)
  • NSC 110H: PS First-Year Seminar (Fall and Spring)
  • Optional: Freshman Research Initiative lab credit (Spring)

Year 2 (5 to 8 credit hours)

  • NSC 109, Topic 4: Polymathic Capstone Field Invention (Fall)
  • NSC 110H: CNS Honors Seminar (Spring)
  • Capstone Field Course(s) (Spring)

Year 3 (8 to 11 credit hours)

  • NSC 110H: CNS Honors Seminar (Fall and Spring)
  • Complete Capstone Field Courses (Fall and Spring)
  • PS Thesis Planning Workshops (Fall and Spring)

Year 4 (6 credit hours)

  • NSC 323, Topic 1: PS Capstone Thesis Preparation Seminar (Fall)
  • NSC 371: Capstone Thesis Seminar (Spring)

NSC 110H/PS First-Year Seminar: Freshmen participate in a year-long first-year seminar led by Dr. Alex Huk, PS program faculty director. The goal of NSC 110H / PS First-Year Seminar is to introduce students not only to some of the university’s finest teachers and researchers, but also to the range of intellectual work on campus.

UGS 303 Originality in the Arts and Sciences: In their first semester, Polymaths enroll in this Signature course for CNS honors students that satisfies the research methods course requirement for the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI). In their second semester, Polymaths have the opportunity to initiate and engage in real-world research experience with faculty and graduate students through the FRI, which has many research streams in various science disciplines.

NSC 110H/CNS Honors Seminar: One of the major advantages of being a CNS honors student is having access to small seminars that connect students with some of the university’s best teachers and top researchers. These seminars help create the honors community of scholars and introduce students to acclaimed faculty in a small-group setting. Topics and instructors vary from semester to semester. Students choose a seminar to take in spring of their sophomore year and in fall and spring of their junior year.

PS Thesis Planning Workshops: These workshops are required for all Polymaths who plan to write their theses in the following academic year (typically third-year students who will write theses as seniors). Polymaths will take several one-hour workshops to support their progress toward successful completion of their theses. 

NSC Capstone Seminars: PS-specific seminars walk students through their Capstone experience.

  • NSC 109, Topic 4: Polymathic Capstone Field Invention: This second-year PS-specific seminar guides students through the process of figuring out what they would like to study, determining which academic disciplines are relevant, and writing a proposal for faculty review that defines and defends their aims and scope.
  • NSC 323, Topic 1: PS Capstone Thesis Preparation Seminar: In this fourth-year seminar, students develop a focus for their Capstone research. Students determine their research question and the scope of their project, conduct research, and begin work toward the thesis itself.
  • NSC 371, Capstone Thesis Seminar: Students are provided research and writing support while writing their honors thesis under the direction of one or more faculty supervisors.

Why research?
The world of academia is changing, and for the better. Evolving technologies and accelerated curricula afford high school students opportunities for intellectual growth that stand in stark contrast to the traditional classroom setting. College learning environments are evolving at an even faster rate, and the idea that a college degree is earned simply by passing exams in 40 lecture courses is subsiding at elite colleges and universities. Polymathic Scholars are expected to realize their full potential, not just by earning high marks in their classes, but by exploiting the greatest resource the University of Texas at Austin has to offer: the research prowess of its faculty.

The University of Texas at Austin is an exceptional research university. The College of Natural Sciences provides an academic home to some 400 or so tenure-track faculty, and many hundreds of other adjunct faculty, who achieved their standing in the scientific and academic community by demonstrating the ability to engage in independent, innovative scientific inquiry. Simply put, they are the people who discover new knowledge, and when UT students listen to a lecture or open a textbook, it is almost certain that what they are reading was discovered on a college campus. It is a priority of the Polymathic Scholars program that as soon as possible, students will find themselves working side by side with a professor and discovering new knowledge in a discipline of interest to them.

In order to become part of the research arena in the College of Natural Sciences, an array of special courses and programs have been developed to assist Polymaths. Each of these is described below. 

UGS 303, Originality in the Arts and Sciences. Polymaths’ accelerated involvement in research begins during a course taken in the fall of their first year. Through UGS 303, Originality in the Arts and Sciences, they will learn to frame important questions about the world and to answer them through principled research methods. While all honors students must take UGS 303, they will be free to choose the particular kind of research project they complete for this course. Dr. Arturo De Lozanne leads this course, along with a staff of teaching assistants who provide students with individualized attention.

Freshman Research Initiative. Polymaths are automatically admitted to the critically acclaimed Freshman Research Initiative. The FRI is a three-semester sequence that begins with a research methods course (UGS 303, Originality in the Arts and Sciences for honors students) and then places students in a spring semester research laboratory to learn the techniques employed in one of over twenty research streams. Typically, the laboratory placement partially satisfies a lab course requirement for each major degree plan, with more authentic research participation than non-FRI “off the shelf” lab courses.

In addition, FRI helps students find summer research internships and other independent inquiry experiences in the fall semester of their sophomore year. After that, many honors students choose to assume peer leadership roles within FRI, such as becoming an FRI mentor for new students or a research assistant. Many honors students also parlay their FRI research placements into long-term collaborations with senior researchers in a wide range of labs accross campus. Students who have questions about FRI should contact their academic advisor.

Research opportunities beyond FRI. We advise students to not limit their research experiences to those provided by FRI. We encourage students to utilize the university’s many online resources to find opportunities to collaborate with faculty (e.g., Eureka, faculty webpages, departmental webpages). Students should turn to others as well—their academic advisor, professors, fellow students, and Honors staff—to help them learn about ways to become part of the teams that make UT a top-ranked research university. In fact, several student-run organizations facilitate this search for research opportunities. SURGe—Science Undergraduate Research Group—is a good place to start.

There is no correct answer as to how to find “the right” faculty member(s) to work with. For some students, it is the simple consequence of a chance conversation with a professor after class. Others need to view it like applying for a job—they become knowledgeable about the professors whose work interests them, make appointments, and start knocking on doors. The good news is that the opportunities are plentiful and there will always be a place for students who make the effort.

Degree Plans

Nearly all Polymathic 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. After graduation, the student’s transcript will reflect receipt of a BSA degree with honors if the student completes PS in good standing. Like all UT students, Polymathic Scholars must also complete “common core” requirements to obtain their degree from UT.

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.”

The code above was created by University of Texas at Austin students, staff, and faculty and was adopted by the university in 2004.