All Honors College students in the College of Arts and Sciences must complete a College Honors Project during their senior year in order to graduate as a Honors College Scholar. Most often, this project is a written thesis, although for students in the arts (studio art, creative writing, theatre, or music) it could take the form of a creative project (such as a video or a musical performance).
As a rule, the thesis will be written under the supervision of your major department or program. Students with dual majors may write their theses under the supervision of either major, or both. In special cases, students may turn to faculty outside their majors for supervision, and even outside the College of Arts and Sciences (as when Biology students work under the supervision of faculty in the School of Medicine).
The honors thesis is the single biggest hurdle to graduating as a Honors College Scholar. We are confident, however, that by following these guidelines carefully, you can graduate with this highest Honors standing. Not only will you graduate with Honors; you will have a lasting reminder of your college years -- a bound thesis that is entirely your own work.
What is a thesis?
To get an idea of what a thesis is, we might begin by noting that the Greek work thesis means placing or layingdown in the sense of taking a position or proposing something. A thesis presents your position on some topic in your field of study, and it therefore includes argument (presenting evidence) and, where appropriate, critical examination of opposed positions on that topic. Unlike the typical research paper, then, the thesis will present and defend a view that is distinctively you own.
At an even more general level, we could say that an Honors Thesis is an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on research that brings to a conclusion your undergraduate experience. Though it is the biggest thing you will do as an undergraduate, you shouldn't think of it as an overwhelming project. You will most likely find it to be the most exciting, fulfilling and rewarding experience of your undergraduate career.
Whom can I turn to for help?
The first step in writing a thesis is to contact your academic advisor, or any other potential thesis advisor, early in your junior year to discuss your ideas and interests. Needless to say, any faculty member in your department might also provide suggestions on securing a thesis advisor. .
How do I select a topic for my thesis?
Selecting a topic is one of the most important steps in the thesis writing process. Though different fields define and identify topics in different ways, the process usually involves some of the following steps:
- In your course work at UVM, you are bound to be struck by themes and ideas that especially capture your interest. If you keep a journal or notebook, you might jot down ideas that excite your curiosity. Your aim in the end is to identify a topic that seems interesting enough to pursue in detail for one whole year. Think of the thesis is your chance to explore in depth some subject you find exciting or perplexing.
- As you take courses and meet with faculty in your department, you will most likely strike up conversations with teachers whose work you find especially interesting. THESE CONNECTIONS ARE YOUR BEST LEADS IN SEEKING A THESIS TOPIC. If you have not become close to a faculty member by your junior year, you should actively take steps to get to know one as soon as possible. Teachers generally know what topics are worth exploring in your field of study.
- Your readings and studies will lead you to see that there are hotly debated questions in your field. Two camps of scholars or researchers may disagree on some topic, and you may find that you side with one group, or that you would like to find out who is right. A review of the articles and books discussing this topic will give you clues as to what sorts of position you might take. Here, the reference librarian will be your best friend in searching the literature on your topic.
How do I find an honors advisor?
Most of you will write your thesis under the supervision of an advisor from your major department. The advisor will help you prepare your honors proposal, guide you in bibliographic work, meet with you to discuss your drafts during the senior year, help you find two other faculty members for your thesis committee, and ask questions during your oral defense of your thesis. In the sciences, your advisor may be part of an existing research team, and so can assign you a question to answer in his or her research program.
As soon as you have a rough idea of the area your thesis will cover, you should ask your academic advisor for help in finding a thesis advisor. If you already have some idea of who you would like to have as an advisor, you might drop in and talk to that person during his or her office hours. Faculty are usually glad to talk to students who are contemplating advanced work of this sort. Don't hesitate to knock on doors or e-mail faculty members.
Students who will be abroad part of all of their junior year should make contacts before they leave, or contact advisors by mail or e-mail.
What does a thesis look like?
Different departments have different standards and requirements for theses. Honors Theses range from 30 pages to 80 pages or more, though most are between 40 and 60 pages. Normally, there will be a few chapters (between four and six). Your advisor can give you an idea of how these are laid out in your department. The Committee on Honors and Individual Studies can also provide guidelines to help you with your final product.
What is the process?
- Not later than the second semester of your junior year, you should contact your advisor and, with his or her help, identify potential advisors for your project.
- Meet with your prospective advisor and agree on a topic for your thesis. During this time you will work out a rough outline for your thesis, and, with the help of the Reference Librarian (librarian contact for Honors College students is Patricia Mardeusz, 656-5718, firstname.lastname@example.org) get a good, initial bibliography of works on your subject for consultation during the summer. Many faculty members are away or are involved in research during the summer, so you can't expect to be in touch with them during this time.
- During your senior year, you will take 6 credits of Honors work in your department under the supervision of your advisor. Typically, these 6 credits are distributed evenly between the first and second semesters, i.e., 3 credits each semester. However, if, for reasons owing to a student's schedule (the student is already registered for, say, 16 credits), a student wishes to do so, College Honors credit may be variably distributed across the two semesters, i.e., 2 credits the first semester and 4 the next (1 and 5, 4 and 2, or 2 and 4). Please note that this is an "accounting" issue only; students are expected to do an equal amount of work both semesters regardless of how the credit is distributed.
- When you enroll for fall courses, sign up for your thesis credits of Honors Work for your department listed under the Honors course listings (For example, German lists German 228 and 229 as Honors/German courses). In addition, Honors College students in the College of Arts and Sciences will register for HON 201, a required zero credit seminar meeting once a month for all Honors College thesis writers.
- During the summer you should read through the literature listed in your bibliography, take notes, work toward drawing up an outline, and draft the proposal.
- As soon as possible in September of your senior year, give a copy of your draft of the proposal to your advisor. This proposal will probably need several revisions before it is submitted to the College of Arts and Sciences Committee on Honors.
- By the deadline for submission of the proposal (usually the end of September), you should send five copies of the completed application and proposal to the College of Arts and Sciences Deans Office. If you have questions about completing the proposal, you may contact members of that committee for help.
- With your advisor you should make up a schedule for doing research, writing drafts of chapters, rewriting, and finalizing parts of the thesis, so that you don't end up having a rush of work to do at the end of your senior year. Once the schedule is written up, stick to it!
- During your senior year, your advisor will help you find two additional faculty members to serve on your thesis committee: one from outside your major (who serves as the Chair of your committee), the other typically from within your major department. Keep in touch with these committee members and, if they wish, show them drafts of your work during the year. Do not dump a thesis on them at the last moment and expect them to be supportive!
- The College Honors websites has a list of Important Dates. Keep track of these deadlines and follow them.
What do I get from all this?
Aside from the satisfaction of completing a significant work of your own, you will graduate with College Honors and (providing you have completed all other HCOL requirements) you will be recognized at graduation as a Honors College Scholar, one of the most prestigious academic titles offered by the University of Vermont. Should you ever wish to continue your studies in some graduate or professional program, this award will clearly identify you as one of the very best students at UVM.