Honors Senior Project
The Honors Thesis: General Guidelines
Every graduate of the Honors College completes an Honors Thesis, usually over two terms during the senior year. Typically, students successfully submit and defend a thesis that reflects creative- or research-based project based in one or multiple disciplines.
The Honors College has structured its curriculum and programming to help students establish necessary research contacts, to find a research project, and to find a mentor. In particular, students will begin exploring research options in HON 101 during their first year, find a likely mentor and begin to consider projects in HON 201 during their second year, develop a fully executed mentor/mentee contract prior to the start of HON 301, and write a prospectus in HON 301, typically during their third year. The Honors College holds events to help students meet possible faculty mentors and to network with students and faculty; urges students to attend lectures and special events across the University; and supports student applications for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), research support, and conference travel.
During the research and writing of the thesis, students work with a three-person committee, consisting of a mentor and two readers (commonly called committee members) to create knowledge and culture in their major or minor, or in another other discipline in which they have demonstrated expertise. Projects usually follow the guidelines for departmental honors in the thesis discipline.
Through these projects, students may earn up to six (6) hours or credit toward their degree requirements. To receive Honors College credit, each Honors Thesis includes substantial written scholarship, reflection, and, if disciplinarily applicable, creative works—with appropriate literature review and/or reflection—that meet the requirements of the represented discipline(s) as well as the Honors College. Each student participates in a presentation and dialogue with the committee known as the “defense.” In this meeting, the student defends the thesis according to Honors College and Departmental requirements. Seniors also present their work at the Honors College Senior Showcase.
Each project must have a mentor and two readers, otherwise known as committee members, forming a full thesis committee of three individuals.
- Mentor: the mentor is usually a full-time, undergraduate faculty member in the discipline
of study, and expert in the field of the thesis. Typically, the mentor has a terminal
degree (eg. PhD, MFA) in the discipline. In fields that include professional licensure,
the mentor must have an unencumbered license.
Mentors provide the primary guidance for the student by supervising the prospectus, project goals, ongoing research progress, and write-up of the thesis. Students may develop their own independent project, or participate in an existing research project, field of study, or laboratory of the mentor, but the student must have their own identifiable and substantial research project within the mentor’s area of expertise. Mentoring requires regular meetings with the student and participation in the thesis defense. Typically, the mentor is the instructor of record for the 6 credits of thesis work, and thus submits the grade. If the 6 credits are taken over two terms, the mentor will establish clear guidelines for a grade to be assigned each term—students must not be given an incomplete or place-holding grade for the first term of work.
- Readers/Committee Members: readers/committee members add another layer of insight to the thesis project, and
typically are in fields related to the thesis. At least one of the readers should
be a member of the faculty or academic staff of the University, with an appropriate
terminal degree. The other reader on the thesis committee may be from outside the
University, as long as they have the requisite professional, academic, or research
The mentor and the student will work together to identify the two readers/additional committee members, generally from within the discipline(s) of the thesis or related disciplines. The mentor will be the primary advisor for the project, but the readers/committee members will provide input at crucial points in the process, such as assisting with literature, methods, the review of drafts, offering suggestions or required changes (in consultation with the mentor), and participating in the thesis defense. The full committee is approved by the Dean of the Honors College in consultation with the departments represented in the student project.
Readers/committee members offer additional guidance for the thesis, and may offer expertise not provided by the mentor. Readers/committee members also provide second verification of the student research and thesis expertise. This occurs throughout the process of research and writing, but appears primarily through two major points of feedback for the student. First, all thesis committee members, including readers, evaluate the project and offer constructive and substantive feedback that furthers the student’s expertise and presentation of his/her/their work. This reading happens at least one time before the defense. Second, committee members attend the defense and ask questions relevant to the project, including its aims, procedures, conclusions, presentation, and/or future directions.
Together the full committee—mentor and two readers/committee members—work together to make sure the student achieves expertise in their project and understands how it fits into the larger scholarly body of work surrounding the topic. This also will ensure that the student is ready to defend.
The defense is an opportunity to probe the student learning experience, suggest further areas for growth, and to validate the work of the student—through questions that challenge at an appropriate level, but also affirm hard and creative work. Performance at the defense is usually part of the student’s final grade for the second term of their thesis coursework.
A defense is not an argument, but instead is an opportunity to be sure that the student has achieved expertise, and understands the field as well as the project.
Every defense lasts for approximately 60 to 75 minutes, and includes four elements
- student presentation of his/her/their work (20 to 35 minutes)
- discussion and probing questions from committee members (15 to 30 minutes)
- closed-door executive discussion among the committee members (10 to 15 minutes)
- private conference with the committee members and the student (10 to 15 minutes)
The presentation of student work may proceed as a public presentation, or as a closed-door event with guests invited by the student and the committee. The Honors College must have a representative present. Committee members will receive first priority in questions, and should probe the aims, procedures, conclusions, presentation, and/or future directions that are relevant to student work. These questions are typically open-ended, and ask that the student think critically about their work. Guests may also ask questions, if time allows.
It is important that the student, and not the mentor, respond to the questions and thereby illustrate their expertise, understanding, competence, and accomplishments.
After the question period, the defense must include a closed-door executive session to evaluate the student performance, to determine what adjustments are required in the final product, and to determine if the student passes, passes with restrictions, or fails. After the executive session, the student rejoins the committee members to hear the result. Typically, the committee does request changes, though—rarely—the thesis may pass without changes.
The final thesis is a formal, single-authored paper in which the student presents substantial original research and analysis, or a substantial creative work. As a two-term, six credit project, the thesis should reflect intensive research and/or creative endeavor, including relevant background and literature review, and the effort to write the thesis in professional, formal terms.
Thesis formatting follows the guidelines provided by the Graduate School at the University of South Alabama. The thesis will include a cover page signed by the mentor, the committee, and the Dean of the Honors College.
While length varies by discipline, most thesis projects will include about five pages of front matter (title page, copyright page, acknowledgements, dedication, and table of contents), thirty to fifty double-spaced body pages of text, and five pages of back matter (such as bibliography).