Senior Honors Thesis


Optional Senior Honors Thesis

An honors thesis is a highly challenging and rewarding undertaking. It allows a student to study a single topic in great depth and integrate knowledge gained in previous courses. A thesis requires a considerable commitment of time and attention and is normally undertaken by only a small number of graduating seniors. For the highly motivated student it does, however, provide a unique opportunity to conduct original research or explore new ways of thinking about a subject.

Eligibility and Enrollment

Thesis students must have a GPA of 3.5 in the courses counted towards the LALS major. Students interested in completing an honors thesis should approach a faculty member during the early spring of their junior year. Juniors who are studying abroad should contact faculty members by e-mail and obtain the agreement of the LALS faculty member to serve as principal supervisor of the thesis before classes begin in the fall of senior year. Thesis students will register for a LALS 99d each semester with the thesis advisor. In order to register, you need to complete an Add Form that includes your thesis advisor's signature, and then bring the form to the Registrar's office in Kutz. Students are not eligible for honors unless they complete both semesters of LALS 99d. Students who are double majoring have the option to write and defend a single joint honors thesis and thus to graduate with honors in both their majors. A LALS faculty member must in all cases be a member of the thesis committee, even when its primary home is the other department rather than LALS.


Thesis Schedule

Junior year
Early spring semester Seek a faculty advisor
Mid spring semester Option to apply for summer research funded by Jane's Travel Grant
Senior year
Fall add-drop period Enroll in LALS 99d
Late September Submit thesis proposal to advisor
Early December Submit first major installment of your work
Spring add-drop period Enroll in LALS 99d if progress is satisfactory
Late February Submit entire draft of thesis to advisor
Early March Confirm additional examining committee members. Work on suggested revisions.
Mid April (immediately after spring break) Submit final revised thesis to entire committee.
Last week of classes/Finals week Oral defense
Before commencement Deposit thesis with LALS and University Archives

Establishing a Committee

One of the student's primary thesis advisors must be a LALS faculty member. You should choose your advisor carefully, as you will work very closely with this person throughout the whole year. Together you will come up with a plan for completing the thesis, and ideally you will meet frequently to discuss and get feedback on your progress.

The best advisors tend to be those who are already familiar with your work and whose regional or subject expertise matches your topic. You should remember that faculty sometimes go on leave or are otherwise not available, so it is best to talk to faculty as early as possible about their ability to supervise a thesis. If you need assistance with finding an advisor, contact the LALS program chair.

In addition to your primary advisor, the examining committee for the thesis must include at least two other faculty members, at least one of whom teaches a LALS or LALS cross-listed course. While the composition of the committee is primarily up to you, it would be wise to consult with your advisor about the other members. You may decide to put your full committee together early in the thesis process or wait until you are close to completion. These additional committee members can be helpful resources for consultation purposes during various stages of the thesis process. Typically, they will not read your thesis work until the final draft, but individual cases will vary.

Information about LALS faculty expertise can be gained by looking at our web page, www.brandeis.edu/departments/lals/staff.html.

Thesis Proposal

By late September you should submit one copy of a thesis proposal to your thesis advisor. In all likelihood, some aspects of the plan that you develop in the proposal will change as you actually work on the thesis. But you will probably find the process of putting the proposal together useful for getting you started on the thesis. You should discuss the specifics of the proposal with your advisor, but it normally is a 3-5 page document that includes a provisional title for the thesis, a statement of the question or problem that will be your focus, a short literature review, a description of your research methods and form of analysis, and a preliminary bibliography of sources you intend to consult. A copy of the thesis prospectus should be sent to Adam Gamwell, MS 036.


Thesis Process

A finished thesis will typically run 75-125 pages. Since LALS is an interdisciplinary program, there will be a fair amount of variation in form and length among student theses. Be aware that over the course of each semester the thesis will probably take more time than you usually spend attending and preparing for another class. At the beginning of the fall semester, you should meet with your advisor to map out a schedule for completing the necessary work. Continuation on the thesis in the second semester of senior year is based on successful progress during the fall term. This will be determined by your thesis advisor and you. If you or your advisor determine not to continue with the thesis in the spring term, you must inform the Registrar that you are withdrawing from LALS 99d. You will then receive a letter grade for the fall term rather than the "satisfactory" grade that is usually reported at mid year.


Research on Human Subjects and the Institutional Review Board (IRB)

If the research for your thesis is based on interviews, participant observation, testimonials, or other forms of data collected from human subjects, the student first needs the approval from the Brandeis Committee for Protection of Human Subjects (BCPHS), also known as the Institutional Review Board or IRB. For further information on whether this is necessary, and how to complete the IRB application, see the BCPHS Web site. You can also consult with your thesis advisor. Please be aware that IRB is a time-consuming process; if your project requires such approval you will need to apply before you begin your research.

Oral Defense

Once the written thesis is completed, students prepare for an oral defense. You should arrange the defense by finding a time, usually during the last week of classes but no later than finals week, when your entire committee can meet. You need to give each committee member a completed copy of the thesis by mid-April. The defense is meant to be a conversation between you and the examining committee about the thesis. Committee members may ask questions about your methods, sources, findings, argument, or other matters connected to the thesis. The defense usually lasts an hour. The student should also notify the program administrator, Adam Gamwell, of the date and time of the defense so she can schedule the room and provide the committee with necessary forms.

Determination of Honors

LALS awards three categories of distinction:Honors, High Honors, and Highest Honors. While most thesis students will receive some level of honors, completion of a thesis is not in itself sufficient for honors. LALS departmental honors are based on the examining committee's assessment of the quality of the thesis and the record in courses for the LALS major. The thesis evaluation is based on several criteria, such as quality of research, persuasiveness of argument, clarify of writing, and attention to detail. After the oral defense, the examining committee makes its recommendation to the Program's core faculty committee. The committee then officially informs students about any honors received, usually during the week preceding commencement.

Format Requirements

Because LALS is an interdisciplinary major, there is no specific format that theses are required to follow. Students should keep in mind, however, that the thesis is a work of scholarship and therefore should be consistent and professional in its presentation. You may want to consult with your advisor about any preferences for disciplinary styles of citations and bibliography. Links to several citation style guides are available online.

Copies Submitted

When you are finished, a copy of the thesis needs to be submitted to the LALS administrator. In addition, you need to submit a clean, loose copy (do not staple, bind, or hole-punch) to the University Archives at Goldfarb Library. The University Archives also asks that you complete a Thesis Release form, which gives the library permission to photocopy your thesis for research purposes. An explanation of the University Archives' policies, along with a link to the Thesis Release form, can be found online.

Resources for Thesis Writers

Students can apply for funds to conduct field research for their thesis through the Jane's Travel Grant. For more information on this resource, go to http://www.brandeis.edu/departments/lals/janetravel.html. Limited financial assistance may also be available to thesis writers through the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences. There is no deadline for this funding, but applications are considered on a 'first come, first served' basis. For further information, see the DAS Web site.