HUM 4903H, 4970H: Honors in the Major Directed Reading & Thesis

This is a resource page for HIM Directed Readings and Theses. This outlines my requirements and expectations for students involved in the thesis writing process. An Honors in the Major experience is intended for excellent students who want a challenge, and who (in many cases) are planning to go to graduate or professional school. It is an intensive year-long process in which the professor and student work through a set of concepts and literature, with a view to producing an extensive final product, a thesis.

You need to understand that no faculty member is obligated to take on Honors in the Major students. We do it because we like to work with smart, motivated students, and because we want to support the program that we work in. The Honors College provides a small ($250) stipend to faculty members who see a student all the way through to a successful defense. This is no incentive at all, especially not compared to the work that this takes, and the ratio of students who fail to complete the process to the ones who do.

I will generally not take students on for this process unless I have seen them in class, and know the kind of work they do.

HIM Directed Readings

The purpose of the directed reading term is to develop a central question that will form the basis for your thesis. To this end, we will be considering a body of literature appropriate to the area you are researching.

You can expect the format of the directed reading to be as follows. We will begin by identifying the area of interest, and determine which books would be best to start with. We will not necessarily chart out the entire term’s reading list at the beginning, because sometimes partway through it becomes apparent that we should go one direction rather than another. Each meeting (usually every week or two), you will come in having read the relevant papers or books, prepared to talk about them. That means you will need to know the argument being made, understand the context in which the writer is writing, and be able to say something about how the work might relate to your overall project. You will lead the discussion. I will not lecture to one person, and if you haven’t done the reading, you’ll have to go and do that. There’s no point in meeting if you aren’t prepared.

You will need to provide notes on your reading to me. As well, at some point in the term, you will need to produce an extensive annotated bibliography. And, at each meeting, I will ask you to reformulate the central question of the thesis. You will have to analyze the question you are asking (down to the level of the words and phrases in it), to become completely familiar with it. The question will change as we do the readings, as you come to know more about the area. At some point partway through the term, I will also start asking for an outline for how you will answer the question. The goal, by the end of the reading period, will be for you to have a clear central question, a command of a relevant body of literature, and an outline that will allow you to answer the question. If all this is in order, you will be ready to start the writing process.

HIM Thesis Writing Process

Students often think that they have an entire term to write their thesis. This is not true. The last possible defense date, as given by the Honors College, is usually several weeks before the last day of classes. Plus, there is the requirement to see someone about the formatting of the thesis. It is usually advisable to begin writing the thesis at the end of the previous term, to ensure that there is sufficient time for revision.

An honors thesis is not a master’s thesis or a Ph.D. dissertation. That means that we are not looking for a 100-300 page document (although, in fact, we’ve had them). 50-60 pages is a reasonable length. The important thing is the quality. There must be a clear argument and a structure that supports it. There must be evidence of mastery of the relevant source documents and literature. And, there must be evidence of real insight to an issue. The point is not to produce a publishable document (as might be the case with a graduate thesis), but you do need to produce something that demonstrates a high level of writing, thinking and research. You can ask to see theses done by previous HIM students, if you want something to aim for. Or, you can go to the Honors College, which should have all of these theses available.

By the time you start the thesis writing term, you should have a very clear idea of what you are doing. Major changes in focus for the paper are strongly discouraged at this point, and would have to be passed through the thesis advisor. Now is the time to execute the plan you spent the first term formulating. You need not start at the very beginning and start writing. It might be that starting in the middle with something that you are especially familiar with would be better. But it is important to start right away. The thesis advisor should see some of your work within the first couple of weeks of the term. You should aim to have an entire draft done about two months after the beginning of term.

You will have already settled on a committee, which must have at least three people on it (more are permitted, with your advisor’s permission). One of those members must be from outside of the department. And, all of the members must be tenure-line faculty, that is, either assistant, associate, or full professors. Instructors are not allowed to be one of the mandatory three people. They can be an extra member, though, if it seems appropriate.

What is NOT acceptable for a thesis:
Work that has already been submitted elsewhere for a grade. You can work on a topic that has interested you in another course (in fact, that’s usually where the best topics come from), but you cannot submit work that has already received a grade elsewhere (that includes classes outside of our program or department). I must be notified about any work that has appeared in another paper, even if it is only a few sentences or a paragraph long.

Previously published work. You can, however, talk to me about this, and we might be able to incorporate it, if it has not previously appeared in a course. If it has, see the earlier provision.

Last minute or substandard work. I will not hesitate to cancel a defense date, if a thesis is not ready to be defended. If you fail to get me your work in a timely fashion, so that I can comment on it and you can make revisions, do not expect me to allow the process to continue. An honors thesis is the highest level of work we expect from undergraduates. It is not like any other paper you’ve done. If you are not prepared for this commitment, do not sign up in the first place. There is a reason for this – it is not only your credibility that is on the line, but your advisor’s. Allowing a student who has not produced a reasonably solid thesis into a defense looks bad for the advisor. I am not willing to do that for a student who has not done what is needed.

All the relevant provisions of my document called The Fine Print apply to this course, as any other. By “relevant”, I mean that some of the provisions deal with tests (there are none in this course) and other features of a normal classroom situation that do not apply here. But the comments about paper submission, academic integrity, and so forth are all relevant.

For information and forms, see the Burnett Honors College HIM website.

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