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.

Completion of a senior essay:
Students interested in writing a senior essay must complete either WMGS 99a (fall) or WMGS 99b (spring). Students who complete the essay option cannot count either WMGS 99a or b toward the nine courses required for the major.

Completion of a senior thesis:
Students interested in writing a senior thesis must complete WMGS 99a in the fall and WMGS 99b in the spring. Students who complete the thesis option (WMGS 99a and b) may receive one course credit towards the nine courses required for the major.

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.

Who should pursue Honors in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies?

The senior honors track is for the student particularly motivated to work in depth on a specific topic. The student must be highly disciplined, motivated, organized, and self-directed:  keep in mind that most students do not write theses. We encourage rising seniors who are majoring in women’s and gender studies and have a GPA of 3.5 or better in women’s and gender studies 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.  

Applying to the honors program

Eligible students must, on their own initiative, conceive of a research project and seek out a WGS faculty member who agrees to advise the project. For theses, ideally this process begins by the end of the junior year or during the summer before the senior year. A student may contact the Undergraduate Advising Head (UAH) for help in selecting and approaching a possible faculty adviser.  Thesis students must register for WMGS 99a in the fall, and WMGS 99b in the spring.  Essay students can register either for WMGS 99a in the fall, or WMGS 99b in the spring, depending on when they wish to write their essay.

Essay and Thesis Readers

In consultation with the primary adviser, students must choose one additional reader for their essay or thesis. At least one and preferably both of the readers should be core faculty members in WGS (core faculty members are listed on our website).


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 and Gender 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.