The Degree with Honors

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 (the Senior Thesis seminar) in the Fall, and thesis work in 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. We consider such factors as demonstrated research and writing skills, evidenced by work submitted along with the application, and the student’s cumulative GPA in Political Science (generally 3.5 or above, though this is not a rigid requirement). 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 preferably in the fall and well in advance of the application deadline in the Spring semester. As students are developing their topics, they should also consider scheduling a research appointment with the Political Science librarian. The librarian can help you locate and assess material to include in a comprehensive literature review of your topic as well as discussing other resources, including citation software and subject specific databases, which may be helpful as you plan for your thesis.

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 head of the Honors Program (Professor Mahon for 22-23) in mid-April  (exact deadlines vary from year to year). Early in the spring, the department will offer workshops that help you think about how to formulate a good research question and how to write a proposal.  If you are a prospective thesis writer, we strongly recommend that you attend the workshops. 

Note for Off-cycle students:

Off-cycle majors are welcome to write theses, but must follow the traditional fall-spring schedule so that they may participate in the Honors Seminar (see below) with other thesis writers.  Majors who are in their first semester of their junior year in the spring should apply that semester and, if accepted, write their theses in the second semester of junior year and first semester of senior year.    

Your application to write an honors thesis must include:

  • A proposal of roughly 5 pages, which outlines what you hope to do.
  • Two or three additional pages explaining what drew you to that topic and what background you have in it. This could be papers you’ve written, courses taken inside or outside the department, in  some cases even an internship or job. You are welcome to be personal here about your intellectual interests and journey, if that will help you explain your commitment to the project. We strongly encourage you to select a topic for which you can show relevant preparation and understanding, as we will weight that in assessing proposals.
  • a copy of your transcript.
  • One or two examples of graded, research-based written work.

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 admissions to the fall thesis seminar. We will contact you in writing, letting you know of our decision. If it is positive, you should enroll in the PSCI 493 for the fall. A department member able to provide informed advice may reach out to discuss your plans for the summer and what readings, research activity, etc. might prove useful for your project.

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

The senior major, having applied for and been accepted into the honors program during the spring of the junior year will devote the following academic year to designing, researching, and writing a substantial and original work of scholarship, under the supervision of a faculty mentor to be assigned by the department. The final work will be submitted for evaluation by a committee chosen by the department. In the fall semester, thesis writers will participate in a seminar supervised by a faculty member or members in political science. The seminar will focus on a variety of readings and assignments designed to help students develop the skills to frame and execute a successful thesis. By the end of semester, each student will submit a substantial research proposal, including annotated bibliography, for the thesis work to be carried out in Winter Study and the spring semester. Those whose proposals are accepted will continue on as thesis students for the remainder of the academic year; if a proposal is not accepted, the student will finish their project as an independent study in winter study.

The Thesis

Those whose proposals are accepted at the end of the fall thesis seminar and who elect to continue, will devote winter study and the spring semester to carrying out all remaining necessary research and writing their thesis, under the supervision of a faculty advisor assigned by the department. Theses should be substantial and original works of scholarship on the model of an academic journal article (roughly 35 pages). The final work will be submitted for evaluation by a committee of faculty chosen by the department.

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, for those whose proposals are accepted at the end of the fall semester, the Department may also terminate a thesis at the end after Winter Study, by a majority vote of the advisor and the assigned readers, with the thesis seminar instructor 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 latter must agree to take over as its advisor. In cases where termination is not recommended, 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 493-099-498 (Thesis Seminar F, Independent Study, 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.