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Writing a Senior Thesis

IMES Senior Honors Thesis Guidelines and Regulations

Who is eligible to write a senior honors thesis?

All IMES students who complete their junior year with a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or higher are eligible to enroll in IMES99, the IMES thesis course, during their senior year. All students who aspire to graduate with honors in IMES must register for IMES99a in the fall semester and IMES99b in the spring semester and complete their thesis project. Students must consult with their intended thesis advisor prior to making this decision.

How does the process work? 

  1. Selecting an advisor: All students enrolled in IMES99 must write their thesis with a faculty member that is affiliated with IMES. Please consult our website for the full list of affiliated faculty. This faculty member will serve as the student’s advisor, and must sign their IMES99 course instruction form in order for the student to write their thesis. All seniors enrolled in IMES99 must present their thesis advisor with a one to three-page proposal of the topic by early October. There is no standard format for this proposal.
  2. Credit and grading: IMES99a and IMES99b count as two separate courses toward the completion of an IMES major. Students will receive grades for each of these courses from their faculty advisor. The grades received for IMES99 are independent of the level of honors students may receive for the final product.
  3. Length of thesis: The final IMES 99 Senior Thesis is typically between 60-100 pages in length and must follow standard academic conventions (e.g., Chicago Manual of Style).
  4. Major deadlines: Students must submit completed draft of their thesis to their advisor at least 20 days before the start of the final exams period. All three members of the committee must receive the final draft of the thesis (in digital or hard copy) 14 days before the start date of the final examsThe oral defense will take place one week before final exams begin, or during finals period (the student will coordinate the date with their faculty advisor). This will give the student enough time to implement any revisions that might be requested by the defense committee and submit the final draft to the library and the IMES office before the graduation deadline. 
  5. Oral defense: A student may defend their thesis only with the approval of their thesis advisor. The defense typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes, and is chaired by the student’s thesis advisor. The other two members of the committee will be chosen in consultation with the thesis writer’s faculty advisor, typically in March. During the defense, the student will have the opportunity to answer the committee’s questions, discuss their research process, and explain their thinking. Upon completing the defense, the student will leave the room while the committee determines the level of honors they believe the thesis qualifies for (“Highest Honors,” “High Honors,” “Honors” or “No Honors”). The student will then return to the room to learn what level of honors they have earned and receive a frank appraisal of their work by the committee, including possibly suggestions for improving it before providing a final draft for the university archives. To facilitate this, the defense committee members are encouraged to make extensive comments on spelling, style, content, methodology, and bibliography of the thesis before returning it to the student. All three members of the committee must then sign the Thesis Defense form. 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, provided they receive passing grades for 99a and 99b.

Can a thesis be dropped?

In the event that the student is not making sufficient progress on the thesis, not meeting the assigned deadlines established with the thesis advisor, or decides that they no longer want to pursue an IMES Senior Thesis, then they may drop the course in accordance with the Registrar's drop deadlines, which can be found on their website. If the student fails to meet this deadline, then a grade will be assigned according to the student's work from the semester. 

Additional information and advice

Undertaking a senior thesis is a serious decision; it requires plenty of self-discipline and motivation. It is also exciting. Studying a topic of your interest and penning the conclusions is an opportunity to explore an issue you are passionate about and gain insight into graduate work and what Middle East scholars do. If you have found a topic that you are truly enthusiastic about and want to explore in greater depth, writing a thesis may be the right choice for you.

Planning and preparation:

We recommend that, during the spring semester of your junior year, you approach an IMES faculty whose area of research is related to the topic that you are interested in. After finding a faculty member that agrees to serve as your thesis advisor you may also want to consider devoting some time to exploring relevant literature for your thesis proposal, and possibly begin conducting your research over the summer between your junior and senior years. For funding opportunities, visit: http://www.brandeis.edu/crown/grants/index.html

What is a typical thesis timeline?

While each project is different, the following timeline should give a sense of what to expect:

Spring semester, junior year - the student should:

-       Think about topics of interest and determine whether they want to write a thesis about any of the considered topics

-       Approach potential faculty advisors to determine whether one is available to supervise their research

-       If appropriate, apply for funding and begin researching the topic

Fall semester, senior year - the student should:

-       Enroll in IMES99a

-       Schedule regular meetings with their advisor to discuss their project and monitor their progress

-       Submit their thesis proposal by early October

-       Complete the bulk of the research

-       Develop a table of contents

-       Submit at least one chapter of the thesis before finals begin

Spring semester, senior year - the student should:

-       Enroll in IMES99b

-       Continue to schedule regular appointments with the faculty advisor

-       Complete the bulk of the writing, while establishing regular chapter submission deadlines

-       March: determine who will be on the defense committee

-       Late March-Early April: Submit the final version of their thesis on the established deadline and schedule a defense  

-       April: Submit final version to the defense committee

-       Last week of class/beginning of finals period: complete oral defense

-       After the defense: submit a copy of the thesis to the IMES program director, and another copy with a release form to the library

 Does a senior thesis research need IRB approval?

IRB approval is required for projects involving observation or interview with human subjects. The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (Common Rule) defines human subjects as “…a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information.” Intervention means altering the living conditions of the individuals or performing any sort of physical procedure. An interaction can be an interview, questionnaire, observation, or measurement. Identifiable information is any sort of data that could potentially allow readers to infer the identity of your subject(s). A project examining why Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 based on international relations theory, for example, would NOT require IRB approval. A project describing the living conditions of an ethnic minority in Lebanon, based on interviews with locals, would. For more information, speak to your faculty advisor and visit: http://www.brandeis.edu/ora/compliance/irb/