Senior Theses

Planning and Initiating a Senior Thesis
Any senior major in the department may elect to do a Senior Thesis. The interested student should consult with his or her major advisor and/or the Department Chair concerning possible topics and faculty expertise in the department. It is then up to the student to contact appropriate faculty, to ask one of them to act as his or her “thesis advisor,” and to plan the timing and relevant course preparation for the thesis course.

Registering for Senior Thesis
At the time the student registers for SOC 399 or ANTH 399, she or he must have a short description of the work to be undertaken in the thesis, and this must be signed by the student’s thesis advisor. Without such evidence of forethought and approval, the Chair will not allow registration in the course.

Evaluation and Grading Procedures

Students should be aware that evaluation of Senior Theses is handled somewhat differently from papers written in other courses. In particular:

1. The only formal requirement in the course is the thesis itself (i.e., there are no exams, short papers, or critiques of readings). Although a given thesis advisor may request that sections of the thesis be turned in at various times during the semester or ask for other short assignments, it is only the final draft of the thesis that determines the course grade.

2. Three faculty (the thesis advisor and two other faculty) read any given Senior Thesis and together determine its grade. To ensure fairness, the Department Chair and one other faculty member read all theses done in a given year. In case the Chair or designated departmental thesis reader are themselves the thesis advisor, a third faculty reader will be selected by the Chair. To graduate with honors, a student must submit a thesis that the committee judges is worthy of honors (has received a grade of "A") and must have a major GPA of 3.5. The grade of “A” is reserved for those theses that are sufficiently meritorious to qualify for departmental honors. Conversely, grades of “A-” and lower will be given to those theses that do not qualify for departmental honors. This grading policy applies equally to all theses, whether students meet the major GPA requirement of 3.5 for departmental honors or not.

3. The final draft of a Senior Thesis is due the first day of the final exam period of the semester in which the 399 course is taken. This allows sufficient time for proper evaluation by the faculty.

These special rules emphasize the faculty’s view that writing a Senior Thesis should be a special experience for students – the capstone of their undergraduate education. Note, too, that all of the department’s majors have the option of doing a Senior Thesis, whether they are eligible for departmental honors or not.

Writing Your Senior Thesis
Criteria for a good thesis include the following:

Coherence. The thesis should fit together into a coherent whole, with an introduction, which sets forth the purpose of the research, a review of theoretical issues and prior research, statement of method of data collection results and conclusion. These parts should be interconnected; e.g. the data collection should follow from the purpose and literature review, the conclusion should follow from the results and show how they are linked to prior research and to the stated hypotheses.

Originality. The thesis can be based on your own data collection or on a review of library/archival materials or analysis of existing data sets. It is not essential that you collect new data; it is essential that you analyze the material you collect in an original way.

Critical mastery of literature. You should demonstrate that you not only have reviewed the existing literature, but that you understand the debates within that literature and can critique the authors appropriately.

Central argument. The thesis should set forth a key proposition or set of propositions that you wish to evaluate, based on the literature review. This central argument is what holds the thesis together and determines what kinds of data you collect and how you analyze them. It is an important part of what makes the thesis coherent, and it should be obvious in the introduction and in the conclusion, where you may show that it has been supported by your investigation, or refuted by it.