The Degree with Honors in Political Science

The Department offers a thesis route to the degree with distinction (honors or highest honors) in Political Science. This involves an eleven-course major that includes PSCI 493 (Senior Thesis) in the Fall, W31 over Winter Study and PSCI 494 (Senior Thesis) in the Spring. We encourage applications from majors with a record of academic excellence in Political Science—and by this we mean not only to the student’s cumulative GPA in Political Science, generally 3.5 or above, but also demonstrated research and writing skills, evidenced by work submitted along with the thesis proposal. If your application is not accepted, you can still do substantial research work as an Individual Project (details below) or in an Independent Study course.

Application and Admission

Students contemplating pursuing the degree with honors in Political Science should start thinking about a thesis topic as early as possible and discuss their topics with faculty members in the Department well in advance of the application deadline in the Spring semester. Should you choose to pursue a thesis, you begin the process in the spring of your junior year by submitting a formal application. Proposals are due to the Department Chair in mid-April (exact deadlines vary from year to year).

Your application to write an honors thesis must include:

  • a cover letter briefly outlining what you hope to do and why you are qualified, referring to relevant course work;
  • a copy of your transcript;
  • one or two examples of graded, research-based written work; and
  • a three-page proposal.

The proposal should convey the following:

  • The question your thesis will answer or the problem it will address, along with some plausible explanations or resolutions;
  • Why this question or problem matters–what is at stake or of interest;
  • What sort of evidence (documents, critical works, statistics, interviews) would be relevant to knowing whether the possible explanations or resolutions are right or wrong;
  • What relevant evidence exists out in the world and how you would collect it.

The Department as a whole meets in the late spring to decide on the proposals and to assign advisors for each thesis. We will contact you in writing, letting you know of our decision. If it is positive, we will expect you to write to your prospective advisor discussing your plans for the summer.  Thesis students are strongly encouraged to use the summer before their senior year to cover a decent amount of their research (summer readings, literature reviews, fieldwork, etc).

See a sampling of previous senior honors theses.

Thesis Program

Students admitted into the thesis program should register for PSCI 493 (Senior Thesis Seminar) in the Fall, W31 over Winter Study and PSCI 494 (Senior Thesis Seminar) in the Spring. Remember that these seminars are in addition to the nine courses required for the major.

The Thesis Seminar

Thesis writers will not only work with their advisors but will also participate in a weekly honors seminar supervised by a faculty member in Political Science.  The seminar (which is one component of the 493-W31-494 designation and not a separate course) will provide a focused forum for the exchange of ideas among the honors students, who will regularly circulate sections of their theses-in-progress for peer review and critique. The faculty seminar leader’s primary role is one of coordination and guidance.

The Thesis

The senior major, having applied for and been accepted into the honors program during the second semester of the junior year, will devote the senior year to researching and writing a substantial and original work of scholarship (75 to 100 pages), under the supervision of a faculty advisor assigned by the department.  The final work will be submitted for evaluation by a committee made up of the advisor and two additional readers to be chosen by the department, in consultation with the advisor.

Early Termination and Failure of Theses

For a variety of reasons, theses do not always reach successful completion.  In most of these cases, the effort is abandoned by mutual agreement between student and advisor.  However, the Department may also terminate a thesis, at the end of Fall semester or after Winter Study, by a majority vote of the advisor and the two readers, with the thesis seminar coordinator participating but not voting.  In the case of a vote in which the advisor votes to terminate but both readers vote to continue the thesis, one of the the latter must agree to take over as its advisor.  In cases where termination is not recommended, especially at the end of Fall semester, the committee may decide to issue a formal warning to the student. In cases of termination, the student’s course registration is changed from PSCI 493-031-494  to PSCI 497-099-498 (Independent Study, F-WSP-S), as applicable.  Some completed theses also fail to achieve the designation of Honors.  In these cases, students do not graduate with distinction in the major.

Individual Project

Students interested in shorter independent research can consider doing an individual project instead of a thesis. The individual project differs from the thesis in that it is only half a year long (PSCI 495(F) and W32 or W32 and PSCI 496(S)), does not require your participation in the thesis seminar, and is graded by just your faculty supervisor rather than a committee of three.  An individual project would also substitute for the senior seminar in your subfield of specialization.  Accordingly, it has as prerequisites two elective courses in that subfield.