Thesis/Graduation Requirements

In order to fulfill the honors thesis/graduation requirement in your senior year of the major, the POLS Honors Program provides two equally rigorous and intellectually stimulating options. Honors students may engage in original research under the close supervision of a faculty thesis adviser and the POLS Honors Director, or they may explore subject areas of their choice through graduate-level coursework with a variety of faculty members. Questions about these options are answered below and include the following:

Please read through the material below. If you have a question which is not addressed by it or the “Course Requirements” page, please do not hesitate to contact one of the POLS honors advisers for assistance.

What are the thesis/graduation requirements for POLS Honors?

Of the courses you take to fulfill your POLS major, 4 POLS courses (12 credits) must be designated as Honors (core honors courses, conversions, or graduate courses), with no final grade lower than a “B-“. Two of the POLS courses you take to fulfill Honors must also fulfill the thesis/graduation requirement in your senior year.

To fulfill this requirement, you can either write a thesis or take 2 POLS graduate courses. Either option takes care of 2 (6 credits) of the required 4 (12 credits) POLS courses you will need to graduate with honors in the major. The thesis option will also fulfill your W in the major requirement and provides another 3 POLS but not Honors credit. On the major plan of study, the courses used to fulfill the thesis/graduation requirement are counted in Section C (the non-distribution part of the major requirements).

Courses used to attain sophomore honors cannot be used to fulfill these requirements. Graduate courses that count toward the Honors degree may not be used toward a graduate degree. Graduate-level independent study courses cannot be used to fulfill the thesis/graduation requirement.

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What is a POLS thesis? What does POLS graduate course work involve?

Both options give you 6 POLS Honors credits. The thesis option provides an additional 3 POLS (but not Honors) credit and it takes care of your W in the major. Both options require permission numbers from the respective instructor(s). Both options are, in different ways, academically rigorous and demanding but also rewarding and worthwhile.

A Thesis involves the research and writing of a lengthy paper in which you develop an original argument within the context of the scholarly literature about your topic. You will learn how to correctly conduct social scientific research, collect data appropriate to your topic, develop a literature review and research design, and write drafts of your thesis during your senior year. There is no set page limit for a thesis; a thesis can range from 40 to 100 pages depending on the topic, argument, research design, and preferences of your thesis adviser.

To pursue the thesis option, you will need to find a thesis adviser and determine a general topic no later than the second semester of your junior year. The POLS Honors Director serves as your second thesis adviser and instructor for the thesis courses you will take in your senior year. You will write a first draft of the thesis by December, a final draft by the end of March, and in April you will orally defend your thesis.

You will be expected to attend the “Thesis Workshop Dinner” in the spring of your junior year, develop a working annotated bibliography for your thesis over the summer between your junior and senior years, attend the annual POLS Honors professional conference field trip in the Fall, and participate in the Spring Frontiers of Undergraduate Research. Many of these activities are paid for by the Alan R. Bennett POLS Honors Fund (including fall luncheons with faculty advisers & the POLS Honors Director).

Graduate courses have workloads with reading, writing, & research that vary according the instructor’s preferences. Most graduate courses meet once a week for several hours and require you to read a book a week or equivalent numbers of articles/book chapters. Some graduate courses require a series of short-papers, with a longer paper at the end. Others require a research paper on a topic related to the course. Graduate courses are relatively small in comparison to undergraduate courses and the discourse in a graduate course will be at an advanced analytical level.

The expectations for writing quality and presentation are also advanced and undergraduates are expected to perform to the level demanded of the instructor. At the end of your senior year you will hand in a final paper from each of your courses which will, collectively, constitute your thesis project.

You will be expected to attend the annual POLS Honors professional conference field trip in the Fall and will be encouraged (but not required) to participate in the Spring Frontiers of Undergraduate Research. These activities are paid for by the Alan R. Bennett POLS Honors Fund (luncheons with course instructors & the POLS Honors Director might be arranged on a case by case basis).

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What are the pros & cons of writing a thesis vs. taking graduate courses to fulfill the POLS thesis/graduation requirement?

Both options provide a challenging and rewarding Honors experience. The choice between them depends on your situation and what you would like to get out of your POLS Honors experience.

Practical Matters:

While both options give you 6 POLS Honors credit, the thesis option gives you an additional 3 POLS (but not Honors) credits. It also fulfills your W in the major.

Both options are by permission only and require permission numbers from the instructor. For the thesis option, you will need to obtain permission from the POLS Honors Director and will enroll in POLS 4997WH & 4994 in the Fall (these meet concurrently) & in POLS 4997WH in the Spring. A permission number for the Spring POLS4997W is not provided until after your thesis adviser and POLS Honors Director have assessed your first draft and determined that you have performed adequately in the fall courses.

Note that because POLS 4994 must be taken at the beginning of the thesis process and is only offered in the fall, if you wish to choose the thesis option but graduate in less than four years you would need to begin the thesis class sequence in your junior year.

For the graduate course option, you will need to obtain permission numbers directly from the instructors of record. While most POLS faculty are happy to have Honors undergraduates in their graduate courses, they are under no obligation to provide permission numbers. The advanced or specialized nature of a particular graduate seminar may also make it inappropriate to use for the Honors thesis/graduation requirement. Questions you have on specific graduate courses should be directed to the instructor of record.

In terms of scheduling, the fall thesis course (4994 & 4997WH) is scheduled during a regular undergraduate course period; the spring thesis course (4997WH) is a supervised independent study and does not meet. Graduate course work in POLS does not conform to undergraduate course schedules; courses meet in the afternoons in 2-3 hour blocks beginning at 1:30.

Graduate or Law School Applications:

Both options are good preparation for graduate or law school, but in different ways. A thesis prepares you for the rigors and expectations of independent research. Graduate course work prepares you for the rigors and expectations of coursework at an advanced, professional level. Doing well in either track will look good on graduate or law school applications (while doing poorly in either track, but particularly in graduate course work, will have the opposite effect).

Faculty Interaction, Depth vs. Breadth, Guidance:

The thesis provides an opportunity for one-on-one interaction with faculty members (supported with Bennett luncheons) and allows you to devote your full attention to a topic, becoming an expert on it. Thesis advisers do not have to be POLS faculty and can be drawn from any discipline. There is more structured guidance during the thesis process, with course work and specific deadlines set throughout the year.

Graduate course work provides the opportunity to learn from two different POLS faculty members with expertise in two different topics, thus allowing for variation of interest. There is less one-on-one interaction with faculty members than with the thesis option and graduate courses taken to fulfill the thesis/graduation requirement must be in POLS. Guidance with regards to writing and research will vary according to instructors and is typically less structured than the thesis option.

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If I choose the thesis option, how do I find a thesis adviser and/or choose a topic?

There are a number of factors to consider in finding a thesis adviser or choosing a topic.

Thesis Adviser: If you already have a close working relationship with a faculty member (whether in POLS or another discipline), ask them to serve as your thesis adviser and discuss possible topics with them. The same is true for a faculty member whom you may have had for an interesting class, but don’t know very well yet. Most POLS faculty have specific areas of research which means they work on different empirical topics and can provide good thesis advice on a wide-range of subjects.

If you don’t have a particular professor in mind but do have a topic you’re interested in, look through faculty webpages at the Department’s website or contact the POLS Honors Director, Professor Jennifer Sterling-Folker, to obtain a POLS Faculty Research Bio sheet. The sheet is also circulated with the thesis applications. From this you will get some good ideas on the kinds of themes POLS faculty work on and who might be appropriate to your topic or interests. If there are a few that might seem appropriate, feel free to “interview” some of them to see if they are a fit with your project and personality. Many faculty enjoy working with Honors students even if they don’t know you, so don’t be afraid to approach them (and if they are too busy, don’t take it personally). If you would like more guidance on how to find a thesis adviser, don’t hesitate to contact one of the POLS Honors advisers.

Thesis Topic: If you are not sure what kind of topic to write about, discuss this and some ideas you might have with possible thesis advisers and/or one of the POLS Honors advisers. Many topics will be appropriate to a political science thesis. The key to a successful thesis is to narrow the topic’s focus and developing an argument in the context of the scholarly, peer-reviewed literature about the topic.

While your thesis adviser will guide you in this process, you should start looking at the academic literature on topics you are considering as soon as possible. This will give you a feel for what kinds of argument and research you can build from. Google Scholar is one of the best search engines to use for this kind of initial exploration. The “Thesis Workshop Dinner” held for thesis students during the second semester of your junior year will also give you some guidance on how to begin narrowing a topic and developing an argument about it. The most essential element of an academic argument is to build from what has already been researched and argued by scholars about the topic.

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If I choose the graduate course option, how do I know what courses will be offered or which faculty are teaching them?

Unlike the undergraduate course schedule, there are fewer courses offered at the graduate-level each semester and what is offered varies widely. Usually at least one graduate course in every subfield is offered each semester, although the specific focus of a graduate course is typically based on the particular research interests of the faculty instructor. While the POLS department prepares its graduate course schedule a year in advance, changes in faculty research, teaching and service commitments means there may be unexpected changes to the graduate course schedule. For these reasons, if you wish to pursue the graduate course option, you will need to be flexible about the kinds of topics you’d like to explore at the graduate level.

A tentative schedule of graduate courses for the coming academic year is sent with the “Thesis/Graduation Requirement Applications” to juniors each spring. However changes to the graduate course listing or your own schedule may necessitate looking up the schedule of graduate classes for the upcoming semester. There are two ways to do so:

Use the “Dynamic Class Search” in Student Administration and refine your search according to POLS graduate-level courses in the upcoming semester. Please remember that graduate-level independent studies cannot be used to fulfill the thesis/graduation requirement. Thus you need to scroll to the bottom of the course list (past the long list of POLS5000s) to find the graduate seminars being offered.

Alternatively, the schedule of POLS graduate courses for the upcoming semester is usually posted at the POLS Department’s “Graduate Program” website under the link “Courses” (click on the pdf at the top of courses list). If there is a discrepancy between this list and Student Administration, you can assume the latter is more up-to-date. A fuller description of each graduate course may be found at the end of the “Course Guide” which is on the POLS Department website under the “Undergraduate Program” advising tab.

Once you have the schedule of classes and know which graduate courses you may be interested in taking, email the faculty instructor of record and ask for a permission number to take their course. Be sure to identify yourself as a POLS Honors student who wishes to use the course to fulfill the POLS thesis/graduation requirement. Remember that while most POLS faculty are happy to have Honors undergraduates in their graduate courses, they are under no obligation to provide permission numbers and some graduate courses are inappropriate for use as a thesis/graduation requirement (such as independent studies or advanced methods).

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