Maura Farrelly, Program Chair and Undergraduate Advising Head
Students wishing to graduate with honors in American Studies must compose an honors thesis during their senior year. An honors thesis is a challenging enterprise to be undertaken only by the most ambitious and thoughtful students, but it is also an invigorating and rewarding intellectual experience.
As a work both of scholarship and interpretation, a thesis undertakes extensive research into a given subject and makes a critical argument about that subject. It aims to master the relevant background and thinking in an area of inquiry while making a fresh contribution to ongoing scholarship. Ideally, the thesis should serve as a capstone experience to your undergraduate education in American studies.
In your junior year and during the summer preceding your senior year, you should begin contemplating the possibility of doing a senior thesis. You should consider the following:
Do the obligations and requirements of your final year at Brandeis permit you to devote the time necessary for the project? Although students receive two full course credits for the thesis their senior year (signing up for AMST99d both fall and spring semesters), the time commitment and intellectual effort may be more than two typical courses.
Although you will be working closely with your adviser, the thesis is your project. You will be the initiator, designer, composer and final judge of the direction and shape of your thesis. It is essential that you possess the ability to work independently and to plan your time rigorously. Of course, your adviser and other professors in American Studies will be available for help, guidance and encouragement.
You should consider whether the skills tested and acquired in writing a senior thesis will be of practical use in your chosen career path or fulfill your own sense of personal accomplishment. These skills include the ability to manage time independently, to master a complex body of information, to present your findings and make your arguments lucidly and forcefully and to defend your position articulately in a one-hour oral examination.
Perhaps most important to the ultimate success of your thesis, you should consider whether it addresses a subject you have genuine interest in and enthusiasm about. Does the subject engage you emotionally as well as intellectually? Does it address a question you need answered? Is the subject something you truly want to live with and be made to think about for the better part of an entire year?If a thesis is important to your sense of professional development or personal accomplishment, and if you have a subject you are curious and excited about, you should approach a professor in American Studies and express your desire to undertake an honors thesis.