Honors Thesis

Why Write a Senior Thesis?

Each year a small number of academically outstanding students choose to undertake honors work in African and Afro-American Studies.  Candidates for honors in AAAS build upon the knowledge learned and skills developed in their previous coursework crafting their own analytical perspectives and interpretations of knowledge.  This experience can be richly rewarding:  it provides students an opportunity to work closely with a faculty advisor, to think critically and deeply about a significant intellectual problem of their own selection, and to grow as a researcher, analyst, writer and critical thinker.  However, writing a successful honors thesis requires planning, hard work and dedication

Each year seniors must decide whether to write a senior thesis. It is, of course, a major undertaking, and a significant investment of time and energy that culminates in a major piece of writing (typically 60 to 80 pages).  It is well-suited for highly motivated and self-starting students.

Here are some of the reasons why students consider doing a senior thesis:

 1.   It provides an essential experience for those planning to do graduate work, especially in AAAS.  It helps them to discover how scholars conduct research and transform that raw information into a coherent story and analysis.

 2.   You can explore, in great depth, a subject that is of great interest to you, but only tangentially (if at all) broached in the general curriculum.

3.   If your research requires the use of non-English sources, you can improve your foreign language reading skills to the level expected in graduate work.

4.   The thesis is a major writing experience: With the help of your advisor, you will learn how to structure a large piece of writing and, in the process of writing, have an opportunity to refine your style and to internalize the conventions and mechanics of academic prose.

 5.  You can graduate, depending on your success in the thesis, with honors, high honors, or highest honors in African and Afro-American Studies, which will be acknowledged at Commencement.

Students who intend to write an honors thesis should seek out a thesis advisor (a AAAS faculty member in the specialty of interest to you) and apply during the spring semester of their junior year. Those accepted to the honors program are strongly advised to complete a part of their research during the summer before their senior year.  Doing so increases the time that can be devoted to writing during the academic year and makes the whole process less stressful and more rewarding. 

Candidates who need to travel in order to conduct their research should investigate funding options as soon as possible. The Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences offers limited funds (up to $150) to seniors writing senior theses (application attached p 14).  Detailed information can be found at: http://www.brandeis.edu/das/programs/thesis/index.html.

Library & Technology Services has created a guide to help you along the path to completion including how to construct a thesis, a list of suggested research databases, how to use InterLibrary Loan, simplifying citations with RefWorks, helpful advice and tips to keep you unstuck, uploading to the Archives, and publishing choices. Details are at http://brandeis.libguides.com/thesis.


To be eligible for honors in AAAS, students must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher in courses applied to the major.  Exceptions to this rule will be made only under exceptional circumstances.  They must also have completed six courses of the nine that are required for all majors to graduate.

Note:  Students with a grade point average 3.8 can graduate with Summa Cum Laude only if they have received departmental honors, i.e., an accepted Senior Honors Thesis. 

Procedure for Application

A-    Selecting a Thesis Advisor: 

If you are eligible and wish to apply for admission into the honors program in AAAS, you choose a faculty advisor willing to supervise your work.  This should be a professor who knows your work and with whom you have taken at least one course in a subject area related to your proposed thesis.  Most faculty members decline to accept students whom they have not taught in their classes.  You are encouraged to approach potential advisors to whom you must submit a preliminary proposal and who must approve your formal application to the department for honors work before the end of the spring semester of your junior year.  It is the student’s responsibility to identify advisors from the AAAS Department faculty who will be in residence during their senior year.  This requires planning and early consultation.

B-    Preparing a Formal Thesis Proposal: 

 If a faculty advisor agrees to supervise your work, the next step is to prepare a formal proposal of the work plan.  The proposal should not be longer than three pages in length and must clearly define the problem you plan to research, explain the significance of that problem in terms understandable to the non-specialist, and describe the sources and methods you plan to use in solving it.  You must include a brief bibliography essential to your research project.  The proposal should be prepared in close consultation with your advisor and must be approved by the department.

C-    Submitting your Application: 

You must submit the following materials to the AAAS Department by early September of your senior year:

a- Course Change (Add/Drop) Form for “AAAS 99d”

b- Your research proposal and bibliography.

c- A copy of your transcript. 

Students who choose to do a dual-honors thesis with another department must inform their AAAS advisor and the Undergraduate Advising Head (UAH) in writing, enroll in that department’s 99d course, fill out the “Dual Senior Thesis with AAAS” form, and satisfy the requirements of both departments.

By accepting admission into the honors program in AAAS, students agree to complete their own research and writing in a timely manner and to participate actively in the intellectual life of the program.

Writing the Proposal

All forms of writing in the AAAS require you to consider a question, develop an original answer, and support it using specific evidence, but an honors thesis requires you to take two additional steps:  you must define the question to be answered and locate the body of primary and secondary sources from which your answers will be drawn.  Ideally, the thesis should serve as a capstone experience to your undergraduate education in African and Afro-American Studies.

To a great extent, the success of your thesis will depend on the care with which you take to frame the research question.  At the outset of a new project, many scholars find it useful to frame their ideas in the form of a research proposal or prospectus that can be modified in response to constructive criticism.  The proposal should be about three pages long and must address with clarity and coherence the following questions:

a-      What is the specific interpretive problem you intend to address in your thesis?

b-      What makes the problem interesting to you and significant to other scholars?  How does it relate to existing scholarship in the field of your research interest?

c-      What methods and sources will you use to analyze and solve the problems that you have identified?  In what ways does it relate to current scholarship in your field of research?

d-     Do you have adequate skills (language skills, research experience, background training, and relevant course work) to do your proposed research project?

Evaluation of Honors Thesis

There are several stages in the honors thesis process when evaluations are made.

A-    Thesis Defense Committee

The defense committee, made up of the advisor, a second reader from the African and Afro-American Studies Department, and a third reader from AAAS or another department makes a recommendation for honors at the time of defense.  The committee bases its recommendation on the quality of the written thesis and the oral defense.

B-    Oral Defense

An oral defense of the essay or thesis is required, with both readers present. The defense usually lasts about one hour and is confined to the honors The candidate should open the oral defense with a brief summary of the central argument(s) of the project, along with a discussion of anything they wish the committee to know. Candidates may comment, for instance, on the discovery process that led them to write the essay or thesis to begin with; on certain field-related or theoretical difficulties they encountered along the way; or on unresolved issues or questions that they did not discuss in the written document. The discussion that follows will allow faculty a chance to ask the candidate questions about his/her research and to converse with the candidate about the contents.

C-    Thesis Honors

After the defense, the candidate should then leave, while the three readers confer on the outcome: (“Highest Honors,” “High Honors,” “Honors,” or “No Honors”). The student then returns to the room, is given a frank appraisal of the work by the committee, and receives suggestions for improving it before depositing it in the Library. To facilitate this, the three members of the student's committee are urged to make extensive comments on spelling, style, content, methodology, bibliography, and the like on the text of the thesis before returning it to the student. The Thesis Defense form must then be signed by all three members of the committee. The committee may also determine that the thesis is not eligible for honors, in which case the student does not graduate with honors, but does receive course credit, assuming the thesis receives a passing grade.

D-    Departmental Honors

Departmental honors are determined on the level of honors recommended by the committee and the departmental grade point average.  Therefore, the final decision on departmental honors will not be made until the grades for the final semester are submitted and the AAAS department holds its meeting to vote and approve all graduating students.  The possible levels of honors are:  honors, high honors, and highest honors. Departmental Honors are not allowed to be revealed to students until two days after voting meeting at the earliest (usually the Thursday before Commencement).