Film studies majors may work on theses in their senior year if they feel they have adequate background for independent work. Students need a 3.3 GPA and must meet other requirements discussed in the Bulletin and Course Catalogue. To be considered for a degree with honors, the student must present a thesis completed during the year that will be evaluated by the honors committee to determine whether it will be awarded honors. Because the film major stresses film studies rather than film production, honors work in film production is not permitted.

Writing a Senior Thesis

A senior thesis can be both an enriching and frustrating experience. You will get the chance to explore an intellectual question of your own design. The question can be one that has always interested and intrigued you. It can be a question that you have wanted to study but haven't yet had the opportunity. You will spend more than a year defining and answering your question.

Working on your thesis will likely be the most challenging experience you have had, and may well be the most rewarding. You will learn what it is to commit yourself to a major project and bring it to completion. Your work will be valuable whatever you do after graduation and it will introduce you to one major aspect of work as a film studies scholar. Lastly, it may help you decide whether you want to continue your study of film in graduate school.

To increase the chance that this experience will be enriching and to reduce the chance that it will be frustrating, the film studies program has prepared a schedule of the process of developing a thesis. Look this schedule over, and if you think you may want to undertake a thesis, please come and talk to a professor in the film studies program as soon as possible.

Junior Year -- Spring Semester

In the spring of your junior year you have three tasks. You should:

1. Choose a topic. At this point your topic can be quite general. If you want to write a thesis but you are having trouble coming up with a topic, here are some suggestions.

  • Look back at projects you have done for other classes. Was there a subject you liked? If so, go to the teacher who assigned it and discuss how it might be expanded into an independent study in your senior year.
  • Ask yourself, "What first got me interested in film studies?", "What question do I regularly argue about with my classmates or roommates?" These questions are potential thesis questions.
  • Look at all the classes you have taken, including those not in film studies. Is there a theme that ties them together? There may be an interesting topic to be found that incorporates this theme.
  • It is very important that you pick a good topic. You are going to work on it for a whole year. A question that you really care about will sustain your effort. If your topic does not inspire or consume you, it will be hard to keep yourself working.

2. Find an advisor. You can ask any member of the film studies program to advise you on your thesis. However, the professor you choose may believe that another member of the department is more qualified to direct your thesis, and may direct you to that person.

3. If you are interested in writing a thesis, compose a two to three page prospectus for an independent study project that could be of thesis quality and scope. The prospectus should:

  • set forth the question you seek to address,
  • describe how you will explore the question,
  • include a bibliography, filmography, and timeline
  • be submitted by the end of April. (See Time Table.)

Junior Year -- Summer Recess

In the summer of your senior year, you should begin preparation. Hint: write a summary or a reaction paper for each article, book, or film you study while you are thinking about and developing your project.

Senior Year -- Fall Semester

In the fall of your senior year you should:

1. Begin meeting with your advisor once a week. Keep in mind that this is an independent project. Your advisor's job is to aid you in your study of the question you have chosen. His/her job isn't to teach you about that topic. Thus your advisor will make some recommendations about what you should read. But you will have to find many of the texts that are relevant to your topic on your own. If you have chosen a good question, your advisor won't know the answer to it. Be prepared to instruct your advisor. Your meetings with your advisor will be very important to your progress; you should plan each one carefully. Don't just come in and expect your advisor to have a lesson plan. This is your project. Have a game plan for your conferences.

2. Narrow the focus. The odds are that the topic you began with in the spring of your junior year was too broad. One of your jobs in the fall will be to choose some subset of your interests on which you will concentrate.

3. Begin actual work on the project.

4. By the Monday after Thanksgiving break, submit for program review a self-assessment that covers:

  • the subject you are addressing
  • the motivation for and importance of your study
  • a survey of the literature
  • the status of the project to date and timetable for the spring

In turn, the faculty will assess the project and decide whether you may proceed for another semester.

Senior Year -- Spring Semester

In the spring of your senior year, you should:

1. Complete the project.

2. Discuss with your advisor whether the project should be considered for Honors. If so, choose the second and third members of your committee.

3. Prepare your final draft. This is due on May 1st.

4. Defend your thesis. The members of your thesis committee will ask you questions about your thesis. These questions will hopefully generate a conversation between you and your committee that will last no more than one hour. Immediately upon completion of the defense, the members of the committee will meet to decide whether to recommend you for graduation with honors. (If they decide that your thesis does not qualify for honors, then it will be an independent study.) If the thesis does qualify for honors, your committee will also decide what level of honors to recommend to the Academic Advisory Board. The full film studies program decides in a later meeting whether to support the recommendation of the committee. In most cases, the program's recommendation will follow that of your committee. The Academic Advisory Board makes the final decision about what level of honors you will receive at graduation.


Junior Year:

  • April -- Submit the thesis proposal to the program for approval. You will be notified before the end of the semester whether or not your proposal has been accepted.

Senior Year:

  • Monday after Thanksgiving Break -- Submit all papers to the department, along with a cover letter summarizing your progress. You will be notified before the end of the semester whether you have made sufficient progress to continue.

May 1:

  • Final draft of thesis due. Copies must be given to all three members of your committee.

During Exam Period:

  • Defend your thesis. You will be notified immediately following the defense whether you have passed.

One Caveat:

If you are working on a topic within a field in which you have never taken a class, you will have to do a substantial amount of work during the summer before your senior year. While it is possible to complete a fine thesis on a topic in a field in which you have not taken the necessary courses, the department does not recommend that you do so. It often involves more work than can feasibly be done in one year. To avoid this problem, plan ahead. During January term of your junior year (or earlier) begin thinking about your topic. Then look at all the film studies courses offered at the five colleges and see whether there are any courses that might prepare you for writing the best thesis you can. Take one or more such courses. Such a course might also be offered in your senior year. If so, take it. The more ways you approach your question, the better your thesis will be.