University of Vermont

The Honors College

From a Glimmer to a Project: the Honors College Thesis Proposal Course

The ins and outs of the literature review; the conundrum for the creative writer of how to describe his "methodology"; the Biology major who wonders if she can do research with a physician in the College of Medicine for her thesis in the College of Arts and Sciences; the French major who needs some research money to get to France to access an archive; the question of how to approach a faculty member to ask if they will commit to supervise the most important academic work of your undergraduate career. These are the sorts of things that come up in HCOL 101, the thesis preparation course that Honors College students take in their Junior year. Required for students in the College of Arts and Sciences and Education and Social Services, the course is also highly recommended for students in the other schools and colleges. HCOL 101 is one of the numerous ways we do advising in the Honors College, and for many students it is the difference between moving into the Senior Honors Thesis with fear and loathing, and moving into that project with confidence and enthusiasm. On the very first day of the class, for instance, students discover that, contrary to popular belief, the undergraduate thesis is not typically a 100+-page document (45 pages is more like it!). In fact, a great deal of this course is dedicated to de-mystifying a process steeped in "urban legend."

The course meets four times in the first part of the semester to map out the path to the Honors Thesis. As well as discussions with the HCOL staff member teaching the course about how to construct a formal research proposal, students are introduced the Coordinator of Undergraduate Research, Ann Kroll Lerner, who talks about mentors and about money; the Honors College liaison librarian, Pat Mardeusz (fondly known as the "Information Goddess"), who introduces them to the mind-boggling resources at the library and the amazing librarian who can help them; Nancy Stalnaker, from the Institutional Review Board, who provides information on how to get approval for research involving vertebrates (including humans!); and the faculty Honors College liaisons in their respective colleges or schools, who meet with them to talk about the specifics of the thesis process in their corner of the campus. One of the highlights of the first four weeks of the course is the panel of Seniors who visit in Week 4, living proof that you can survive the proposal process and go on to great things in the thesis itself. Seniors share a bit of their research story and then answer questions from the juniors.

After week four, the students are on their own for several weeks to find mentors, read a lot, and write a "pre-proposal" with the help of their faculty mentors. They then meet again after mid-semester, and, in groups of five or six, conduct a formal peer review of each other's proposals - a part of the course that students uniformly appreciate. After the peer review, and some comments from the Honors College staff member teaching the course (as well as, of course, the rigorous review of the proposal from their faculty mentor), students submit their proposals to their respective colleges and wait for news. And that news is almost always good (sometimes the committee wants a little clarification, but rarely does a proposal get rejected that's been through the process of HCOL 101).

And then the fun begins . . . (and yes, it really is fun!).

Last modified March 29 2012 11:46 AM