Senior Honors Essay and Thesis


Guidelines and Expectations

What is the honors program?

To be considered for honors in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, students are required to complete and defend a senior essay or thesis. Program honors are awarded on the basis of excellence in all courses applied to the major, as well as all courses taken in the program, including the senior essay or thesis, as determined by the program faculty. We encourage rising seniors who are majoring in women’s, gender, & sexuality studies and have a GPA of 3.5 or better in WGS courses to consider an honors degree. Students with a GPA below 3.5 should consult their adviser and the WGS chair to determine whether undertaking an honors essay or thesis is advisable.  

Completion of a senior essay:

  1. Select a general topic for a one-semester essay.  Ideally this would be done the second semester of your junior year.
  2. Discuss your topic with one or more potential faculty advisors, until you have a definite and explicit commitment from a faculty member who agrees to advise you.  For an essay, you’ll need one main advisor from the core WGS faculty, and a second reader from the core or affiliate faculty.  If you are having trouble finding an advisor, or are not sure where to start, you should meet with the Undergraduate Advising Head, or the Department Chair, who can help you.
  3. In consultation with your advisor, draft a proposal (about two pages): outline your topic, methods, sources, texts you plan to examine, questions you will ask and your likely conclusions. It is a good idea to have the proposal completed and approved by your adviser by beginning of the semester in which you will complete the essay.
  4. Sign up for WMGS 99a for a fall essay, or 99b for a spring essay.
  5. Research and write your essay.  Determine a schedule for this step in consultation with your essay advisor. Most essays are about 30-50 pages long, and should be completed by early April.  We encourage you to have a full rough draft onf the essay by a month before the final deadline/defense date.
  6. Set a defense date with your two readers, and defend your essay by mid-April. See the sidebar for the defense form.

Completion of a senior thesis:

  1. Select a general topic for a two-semester thesis.  Ideally this would be done the second semester of your junior year.
  2. Discuss your topic with one or more potential faculty advisors, until you have a definite and explicit commitment from a faculty member who agrees to advise you.  For a thesis, you’ll need one main advisor from the core WGS faculty, a second reader from the core or affiliate faculty, and a third reader from the Brandeis faculty.  If you are having trouble finding an advisor, or are not sure where to start, you should meet with the Undergraduate Advising Head or Department Chair who can help you.
  3. In consultation with your advisor, draft a proposal (about two pages): outline your topic, methods, sources, texts you plan to examine, questions you will ask and your likely conclusions. It is a good idea to have the proposal completed and approved by your advisor by the beginning of the semester in which you will begin writing the thesis.
  4. Sign up for WMGS 99a in the fall, and 99b in the spring.
  5. Research and write your thesis.  Determine a schedule for this step in consultation with your thesis advisor. Most theses are about 60-90 pages long, and should be completed by early April.  It is a good idea to have one solid chapter written by the end of the fall semester and to plan to write one chapter every two weeks in the spring semester.  We encourage you to have a complete rough draft of the thesis completed by a month before the deadline/defense date.
  6. Set a defense date with your three readers, and defend your essay by mid-April. See the sidebar for the defense form.
  7. Deposit your thesis with the university library.

Students are encouraged to revise the essay or thesis based on the comments of their core faculty readers and submit the revised copy to be considered for the Giller-Sagan Prize at the end of the spring term. Both essays and theses require a defense. Two WMGS core faculty, or one core and one affiliate, must sign off on the completed essay or thesis. Students must receive a “C” or higher on their senior thesis for credit towards the major.

Double-counting

Students pursuing honors in another department or program may petition to submit this thesis as a WGS thesis if the project has a significant focus on women and/or gender. Students should contact the WGS Program Office to submit this petition.  At least one reader from the WGS core faculty is required in order to count the project for honors in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Defense and decision on level of honors of thesis

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 research (it is not a test of general WGS knowledge). Typically, students 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. Students 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 student questions about his/her research and to converse with the student about the contents.

The defense must take place before the WGS degree meeting, which is typically the Monday before graduation. At the defense, the thesis or essay is awarded highest honors, high honors, honors, or no honors.  The level of honors is indicated on the thesis defense form and signed by all members of the committee, although it will not be communicated to the student. The student will be informed of the final level of program honors


Evaluation of the essay or thesis

Evaluations take place at several points in the honors thesis process:

  • WMGS 99a and/or b: The adviser of the student’s project section will grade the student.
  • Honors thesis/oral defense: The defense committee, made up of the adviser, and a second reader determines a recommendation for honors at the time of the defense. The committee will base this recommendation upon both the written project and the oral defense.
  • Program Honors: Determination of program honors is a decision of the WGS core faculty and is dependent not only on the level of honors earned for the thesis but also on the student’s academic record in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. The level of program honors awarded will be highest honors, high honors, honors, or no honors.