Thesis Guidelines

Do I Want to Write a Senior Thesis?

Only you can answer this question--if you have always wanted to investigate a particular topic related to German studies in more depth, perhaps offer a new way of looking at an author's works, or explore how an author was influenced by theoretical writings or the times in which s/he lived, then writing a thesis is for you!  Even if you do not have a clear-cut topic, you may want to discuss your ideas with the German studies faculty. It is to your benefit to choose a topic carefully. We encourage you (especially German studies majors) to seriously consider thesis work since it is a wonderful way to learn how to work on a major project by conducting extensive, independent research on a topic of your own choosing.  This is an extremely valuable learning experience.

Important: Your work will be labeled initially as "independent study"--the project doesn't become a thesis until it is approved by the department (see #6 under What Do I Do during My Senior Year?).  You must sign up for independent study (German 395 for 4 credits) in the fall of your senior year.  See How Do I Get Started? for more information about a thesis vs. an independent study project.

A thesis in German studies must be written in German.  If you are double majoring in German studies and another subject, it is also possible to write an interdepartmental thesis in English which connects the two disciplines.  You would then have two thesis advisors/directors, one from German studies and one from the other department or program in which you are majoring.

If you decide that you definitely want to write a thesis after reading this introduction, then read on!  Below you'll find guidelines that will take you through the process from start to finish.

How Do I Get Started?

You may start thinking about your topic as early as your sophomore year.  However, you should definitely be giving serious thought to a topic by the spring semester of your junior year.  This is especially important for those students who are studying abroad (in Germany or elsewhere).  In fact, if you are abroad during your junior year, it may well be that you discover an author or a topic of great interest to you.  You should take this opportunity to learn more about the author and explore the topic in greater depth by using the university library abroad to do some preliminary research and reading.  Also, speak with your professors there about the feasibility of doing more extensive research in preparation for writing a thesis when you return to campus.  Don't forget to contact your major advisor at MHC via email to discuss your preliminary ideas with him/her. 

Here is what you should also be doing during your junior year and in the summer before your senior year:

1. Sign up for 4 credits of independent study (German 395) during preregistration (spring of your junior year), or as soon as you return to MHC in the fall of your senior year.  Of course, as mentioned above, you should have already communicated with a faculty member(s) in the department about possibly writing a thesis. 

2. Find a thesis advisor/director:
You may ask any member of the German studies department to be your thesis advisor/director.  Ideally, the faculty member should have some expertise in your topic area.

3. Settle on a topic for your thesis:
At this point your topic can be quite general. You may find that you'll need to limit the topic, or focus on a particular issue related to the topic as your work progresses during senior year. 

Of course, #1, #2, and #3 may also be taken care of after you arrive back on campus to begin your senior year.  However, if you are seriously contemplating applying for one of the postgraduate fellowships (Fulbright, DAAD, etc.), then you should be aware that the application deadline for these fellowships is late September.  Therefore, it is only to your benefit to get the work connected with your thesis taken care of before you return to campus.  You may even want to continue your exploration of the thesis topic after graduation.  You could even base your fellowship proposal on your thesis abstract (see #2 in What Do I Do During My Senior Year?).

What Do I Do during My Senior Year?

1. Register for German 395 (independent study):
If you haven't yet registered for 4 credits of independent study (German 395), settled on a topic for your thesis, or found an advisor/director for your thesis (see How Do I Get Started?), you should do so as soon as possible after you return to campus in the fall.

2. Write a thesis abstract (2-3 pages) which:

  • describes your topic and how you plan to treat it in your thesis.
  • offers a tentative outline of how you plan to proceed (e.g., chapter titles).
  • includes a preliminary bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

The thesis abstract must be submitted to the German Studies Department by END OF SEPTEMBER.  You may write the abstract even if you don't yet have a thesis advisor, although we recommend that you approach someone to serve in this capacity before you begin writing the abstract.  In any case, you should at least consult with a member of the department (ideally your thesis advisor) before you hand in your abstract.

3. Schedule meetings with your thesis advisor:
The role of your thesis advisor (director) is to aid and advise you as you conduct research and prepare to write your thesis.  Remember that you are doing independent work, which means you won't be meeting with your advisor every week.  Depending on the nature of your topic, you and your advisor may initially decide to meet once a month or perhaps even less often.  Meetings will become more frequent as the year progresses.

4. Choose the other members of your thesis committee:
According to legislation, your thesis committee must consist "of at least three members: two or more members of the department in which the thesis work has been done, including the director of the project and, ordinarily, the chair of the department, as well as a member of another department at Mount Holyoke or an examiner from outside the College."  It is the tradition of the German Studies Department to invite all four department members to serve on thesis committees.

In consultation with your thesis advisor, identify a faculty member outside of the department whom you will ask to serve on your thesis committee--this faculty member must be able to read German.  It is to your benefit to constitute your committee as soon as possible after your thesis abstract has been approved by the department. 

Do not hesitate to contact the other members of your thesis committee, especially the faculty member from outside the department, as s/he can often offer another another perspective on your thesis topic.  In fact, ALL members of your committee, not just your thesis advisor, are more than willing to provide you with feedback at any time during the year.  You should definitely keep them "in the loop" and seek their advice BEFORE you hand in the first draft of your thesis!  Note that this committee will also conduct the Honors Examination (see #6 below) required of all candidates for honors.

5. Researching and writing the thesis:
The bulk of first semester should be spent researching your thesis topic (i.e., reading books and articles, etc.).

Very Important:
Make an appointment with one of the research librarians as soon after the start of fall semester as possible.  The librarians can be of great help to you!  By the end of fall semester you should be ready to write an annotated outline (with chapter titles) that will guide you as you begin writing.  Discuss the outline with your advisor before you leave campus for break.  Plan to get as much writing as possible done during January Term.  Some students find it more productive to write individual chapters first and postpone writing the introduction and conclusion until the body of the thesis is done. Again, remember that you must write the thesis in German.

6. German Studies Department's "Honors Agreement":
In March or early April the German Studies Department, in consultation with your thesis advisor, will review your work and decide if you are a candidate for honors.  If your work receives a favorable review, you will receive a letter from the department in early April asking you to confirm that you will be submitting the first complete draft of your thesis to your thesis committee by April 30th (see Departmental Deadlines and College Regulations). You should sign this letter and return it to your thesis advisor.

7. Honors Examination (or "defense"):
Legislation states that "a candidate for an honors degree by thesis or project shall take a special honors examination [...] designed to test her command of the special subject of her honors work and her ability to see its significance as part of the field.  The length of the [oral] honors examination shall be no more than one hour [...] and shall be given no later than 10 days before Commencement."

You are responsible for determining the date and time for this oral examination or "defense" of your thesis.  Most students prefer to schedule a defense during one of the two reading days prior to exam period.  Since schedules fill up very fast at this time of the year, we recommend that you schedule your honors examination by mid-April at the latest.  After consulting with your thesis advisor, you should contact the other members of your thesis committee and settle on a date and time for the oral examination.  It may be wise to select several different dates and times so that committee members will have some choice.  The examination or defense will be conducted in German.  The department normally asks you to give a brief overview of your thesis and explain how you became interested in your topic. This is followed by a series of questions posed by committee members.  If the committee member from outside of German studies does not speak German well, then s/he will ask questions in English.  However, you must answer in German.  If a committee member has difficulty understanding your response to a question, then you may briefly use English to clarify or explain the point you are making.  After you complete the examination, you be asked to wait outside the room.  Committee members will consult and, after a short time, call you back and tell you whether or not they are recommending that you be awarded honors in German studies based on your thesis and oral examination. If you are recommended for honors, your committee will also decide what level of honors to recommend to the Academic Administrative Board.  You will receive a letter from the AAB before graduation informing you of the level of honors you have earned.

Departmental Deadlines and College Regulations

Senior Year Deadlines

By the End of "ADD PERIOD in September"
Make sure that you have signed up for 4 credits of independent study (German 395).  Your thesis advisor (or the chair of the department if you don't yet have a thesis advisor).

End of September
Submit your thesis abstract to the department for approval.  You can give it to your thesis advisor or send it as an email attachment to: German Studies (for more details, see What Happens during My Senior Year?).

Early April
The first complete draft of your thesis should be submitted to your thesis advisor.

April 30th
Final draft of thesis due.  Copies must be given to all members of your thesis committee.  The copies need not be bound.

During Reading Days or Exam Period
Honors examination (or "defense") of your thesis takes place. You will be notified immediately following the defense whether you have been awarded honors ( for more details, see #6 under What Do I Do during My Senior Year?).

By July 1st at the Latest
Submit the final copy of your thesis to the library.  Although July 1st is the official deadline, we strongly recommend that you prepare the final copy of your thesis and submit it to the library before you leave campus.  This copy should incorporate any additional suggestions made by your thesis committee. You should also give the German Studies Department, your thesis advisor, and the other members of the thesis committee a copy of your thesis in final form (these copies don't have to be bound).