Senior Honors Thesis Guidelines

Why Write a Senior Honors Thesis?

HSSP Majors are invited to develop and conduct an independent study involving original work in close consultation with a faculty advisor, culminating in a Senior Honors thesis. Undertaking a thesis is a unique opportunity for you to develop and hone your intellectual ability to conceptualize, implement and complete an original health-related, field-based research project. It provides a venue to engage in an extended conversation with faculty on a topic of your choosing.

Ideally, undertaking a thesis results in a product that can be useful in showcasing your abilities as you go forward in your professional journeys. Successful completion of a thesis allows students to graduate HSSP with honors, distinguishing themselves as exceptional scholars.

1. Criteria for a Thesis

To write a thesis, you must have at least a 3.25 overall GPA or a 3.5 GPA in your HSSP courses, and obtain the approval of the HSSP Chair.

2. The Basics

A thesis is to be written in a scholarly manner and should address a particular problem or question relevant to HSSP as well as have a theoretical underpinning. It is critical that all three elements of HSSP (i.e., science, society and policy) be represented in the thesis.

If your thesis involves primary data collection as a major portion of your methods, it may count as fulfilling the HSSP “Hands on Experience” (HOE) requirement. Examples of research methods appropriate to HSSP Theses include laboratory-based analyses, surveys, qualitative interviews, ethnography, historical/archival research, and secondary analysis of large quantitative datasets. Check with the HSSP Honors Coordinator, Professor Thomas if you are unsure whether your project would satisfy the “hands-on experience” (HOE) requirement.

Joint theses that count for multiple majors are sometimes possible depending on the department involved and might require separate “99” requirements and advisors. Consult with the HSSP Chair, HSSP Undergraduate Advising Head, or Honors Coordinator if you have questions.

3. Finding a Thesis Advisor

Your thesis advisor must be an HSSP faculty member (exceptions may be made in special circumstances). You will also form a review Committee of three faculty members, including your thesis advisor. You are strongly encouraged to find a thesis advisor early in the second semester of your junior year.

It is very helpful to prepare and submit a one or two-page concept paper to a potential advisor; include:

  1. The HSSP topic you are interested in.

  2. Why it is important, from a science, society and policy point of view.

  3. The questions that you will examine in your research.

  4. The research methods and data that you would like to use to answer these questions.

  5. A brief review of relevant literature.

4. Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research (IRB)

When conducting research with human subjects, you must submit a protocol to Brandeis University’s IRB. You and your thesis advisor should submit your application as soon as you have agreed on a topic and a study design, since it can take 2-3 months to prepare, submit, revise and receive final approval for an application. You can not collect any data for your thesis prior to IRB approval, unless it is part of another project that is already IRB approved. For more information regarding human subject, research see the IRB website

5. Thesis Timeline for 2023-2024

6. The Thesis Review Committee

Typically, students work with the thesis advisor to identify two other faculty members to serve as readers on the review committee. One of these two other members must also be HSSP faculty. The committee must be approved by the Chair of HSSP. Decisions about committee membership should be made as early as possible.

7. Thesis Defense

Towards the end of the second semester, you will defend your thesis to the committee in an oral hearing. This is typically done in April or early May.

  • You must schedule the oral hearing for a time convenient for all three committee members, leaving time after the hearing to make any required revisions before graduation.

    • Hearings are different but usually last about an hour. You will present your work for about 15-20 minutes, followed by a discussion for about 30-45 minutes.

    • This oral defense is a public occasion, and others may attend (such as interested juniors).

  • Arrange for a hearing location.

  • Print a thesis sign-off form (Google Doc) or obtain it from the HSSP Honors Coordinator to bring to the hearing.
    Note: Once your thesis advisor and other committee members have signed it after your successful defense, your thesis advisor will return it to Ms. Kathryn Howell, the Program Administrator.

  • At the end of this hearing, your committee will ask you and any others in the room to step outside.  The committee will then determine the level of honors (honors, high honors, or highest honors).

8. Wrapping Up

Before departing campus you are required to:

  • Distribute copies of your thesis, as follows:

  1. Deliver one hard copy of your thesis, including a Senior Honors Thesis Release Form (pdf), with the University library.

    Note: The library requires this copy to be clean, unstapled, and unbound so that they can bind it themselves. The final page of this document is the signed Release Form necessary for your thesis to be included in the Brandeis archives.
  2. Deliver one hard copy to HSSP Honors Coordinator, Prof. Thomas’ office in Heller-Schneider 215.

  3. Email an electronic PDF copy to Ms. Kathryn Howell, the HSSP Department Administrator. 

  • If you conducted human subjects research, you must terminate your protocol with the IRB Office.

9. Resources

Majors contemplating writing a thesis are advised to look through successful theses of the past, which can be found in the Archives & Special Collections section in the library.

Note: Theses from 2013-present can be found online