Southwestern

Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Political Science

The Honors Thesis

Each fall semester, the political science department meets to determine whether there are any exceptionally capable, well-qualified, passionate, and promising political science majors in their junior year to whom we wish to extend an invitation to Honors. If they successfully write a research proposal that is approved by the department and advance to candidacy, this student will write an Honors Thesis in place of the Capstone seminar. The Honors candidate will take up an intensive year-long program of independent, original, research in close consultation with a faculty member who is an expert in that specific area of study. Upon successful completion and defense of the Honors Thesis, the student will graduate with the distinction of Honors in Political Science.

What are the criteria for an invitation to Honors?

* Proven potential and demonstrated passion for independent research: We look for a student who has shown the capability and commitment to spend a year doing independent research that culminates in a graduate-student level paper.
 

* Proven potential and demonstrated passion for independent research: We look for a student who has shown the capability and commitment to spend a year doing independent research that culminates in a graduate-student level paper.

* Someone who has an interest in pursuing a graduate degree: The Honors Thesis is excellent preparation for graduate-level research and the value added of doing an Honors Thesis is a deep and intense form of preparation for further graduate study. This is not to say that plans to enter graduate programs are a necessity: someone who is interested in an important research puzzle but has no immediate plans for going to graduate or professional programs could still be a worthy candidate.

* GPA in the Major and overall GPA: The university sets an overall GPA of 3.4 for Honors. But please note that GPA alone does not guarantee an invitation.

* A student who is well-rounded in the major: Given that the invitation must be unanimous among the five full time faculty members in the department, ideally we are looking for a student whom many of us have had an opportunity to see excel in our courses. 

What is the Time-Line For All This?

Stage One: Identifying a Faculty Advisor and Submitting a Research Proposal:

Invitations to be considered for Honors are extended in the fall semester of the junior year. If you accept this invitation, you will first work with an advising faculty member in the political science department to write an in-depth research proposal outlining your puzzle and project. This research proposal must be unanimously approved by the entire department.

You must enroll in a one credit course to work on your Honors Thesis proposal during the spring semester of your junior year (course number: PSC 32-951 INDEPENDENT STUDY).

Please note: Students who accept the invitation to draft a research proposal also have to be aware that the topics and puzzles they can study are, to some extent, limited by the areas of expertise of the five core members of our faculty. The Honors Thesis experience works best when the student’s research interests overlap with the areas of expertise of their primary faculty advisor. In other words, we cannot accommodate any and all research agendas: you should carefully consider the research specializations of the faculty in beginning to think about the topic of your own research proposal for Honors.

Stage Two: Honors Thesis Candidacy

Upon departmental approval of the research proposal during the spring of your junior year, you will advance to Honors Thesis candidacy for your senior year.

* During each semester of your senior year, you must enroll in a 4 credit Honors Thesis research course. Note: you must be able to do this even if you are working on your Honors Thesis while studying abroad during the fall semester of your senior year. The university requires that all students graduating with Honors have been enrolled in the 4 credit Honors course for two full semesters (Course number: PSC 32-984 HONORS).

* You will also assemble a committee in your area of study. There ultimately need to be three members on the committee: a primary advisor within the department with whom you work from the start to craft your research proposal, a second member from within the department, and one outside reader from another department. Both of these secondary members will read your drafts and give you feedback on your project, but you will work most closely with your primary advisor.

* You must present your Honors Thesis at an academic conference or at SU’s Student Works symposium. You can discuss appropriate conference venues with your faculty advisor for the Honors thesis. You should also be aware of the deadline for submitting an abstract for the Student Works Symposium.

* Your entire committee of three faculty members will determine whether your final project meets our criteria for graduating with Honors in Political Science. Not all completed projects do.

Please note: This is a very serious commitment of time and energy, both on the part of the student and the faculty. Even if an invitation is extended to you, many students do not take up the offer. This is perfectly fine: it is still a compliment to you to have been invited. In addition, many students write a research proposal that is not ultimately approved by the department: these students simply go on to enroll in Capstone. Other students choose to exit even after their research proposal is successfully approved, because they reevaluate their priorities or their commitments and passions. It is important that invited students are honest with themselves about their own desire to undertake this level of intense independent research. 

How is the Honors Thesis different from Capstone?

The Capstone experience and the Honors Thesis bear many similar features, as both represent the culmination of your studies in political science and give you the opportunity to draw together all the skills you have gained from your work in the major to do deep and sophisticated research into a particular topic over a sustained length of time. Both the Capstone and the Honors Thesis ask students to carry out research in a way that accords with the norms and practices of political science and to practice an advanced mode of critical political analysis. But the timeframe and standards for Capstone and the Honors Thesis are different. Capstone is a requirement for all majors and transpires over the course of one semester. For Capstone, we expect students to demonstrate the highest levels of undergraduate excellence at our university and in our department. The Honors Thesis takes place over the course of an entire year and is only extended upon the unanimous invitation of the department. The expectations for the Honors Thesis are more commensurate with a graduate school level and the final essay should be similar to what one would expect from a first or second year student in a doctoral program in political science.