Politics Department Honors Program
The overriding consideration is that an honors essay be primarily analytical, not descriptive or reportorial. That is to say, a good honors essay exhibits the quality and active presence of the writer’s mind—your ability at reflective judgment and sustained analysis or argument—rather than simply your industriousness, your dexterity and physical endurance, at passively accumulating and then dutifully recording the materials of your chosen subject.
For honors, students must have at least a 3.0 GPA. College rules require that a student complete eight credits of independent work over two semesters. Usually, this means enrolling in Politics 395 for both the Fall and Spring semesters. When there are sufficient numbers of students choosing to pursue Honors, the department will offer a Fall semester Senior Research Colloquium (Politics 394). In that case, the credit requirements for Honors will be fulfilled by taking 394 in the Fall and 395 in the Spring.
For Politics majors, four credits of Politics 395 or 394 may be counted as one of the three 300-level courses required for the major. For non-majors, 300-level independent work in Politics may count toward the minor. Politics majors should be aware that they may do independent work in other departments and programs besides Politics.
Before You Begin
Pursuing an Honors Thesis is a substantial undertaking, requiring a great deal of independent work. Because of this, please consider very carefully your own preparation for the project. Have you taken courses on this topic? If not, it may still be possible to complete the project, but experience has shown that doing so usually requires more work than can usually be completed in a year’s time. Planning ahead can alleviate this problem. For example, during your Sophomore and Junior years, you should look at the various courses offered—both at Mount Holyoke and in the Five Colleges—and be sure to take courses related to your intended area of Honors research, well before you begin writing your thesis in your Senior year.
Moreover, choosing a topic for independent work can rarely be separated from choosing a faculty director. If the project is undertaken with a view towards honors, the student should probably select a topic that taps into the director’s competence and interests. Few faculty members have the time to learn a new topic along with a student, much as they would like to. In any case, the thesis must be done under the direction of a Politics Department faculty member (or another MHC faculty member with a political-science related degree, with permission from the Chair of the Politics Department).
Statement of Intent: April of Junior Year
By April 15th of Junior year, you must make clear your intention to pursue Honors. This is done by working with a Thesis Director and submitting a preliminary plan of study to firstname.lastname@example.org. Notification of acceptance or rejection will be given before the end of the semester. The Statement of Intent should be 2-3 pages and must:
1)State the question your thesis will try to address
2)Describe how you plan to investigate the question
3)List relevant coursework (including Professor who taught the course
4)Include the name of Thesis Director (who has already agreed to work on this project
5)Include a preliminary bibliography
Research: Summer before Senior Year
Because of the amount of writing that needs to be done during the Fall, you should plan to begin and complete most of your research over the summer. This may involve reading secondary literatures, finding and analyzing primary sources, developing surveys and gathering data, conducting interviews and coding responses, and so on. Please be advised that your research may require Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Proposal: October of Senior Year
The purpose of the thesis proposal is to help you organize and define your topic and to inform Politics faculty about who is working with whom and on what subjects. The Department neither approves nor disapproves projects based on proposals. The proposal should be 7-10 pages; more detailed guidelines can be found below.
First Draft: January of Senior Year
To have your independent work eligible for honors consideration, your must submit, by one week before the beginning of spring semester classes, a first draft of your independent work to the director of your independent work and to the faculty member who would serve as the second reader of an essay later submitted to the Politics Department for honors consideration.
The director and the second reader shall evaluate this first draft to determine whether or not it shows promise of honors quality. By the beginning of spring semester classes, the Chair of the Politics Department must obtain the evaluation of the director and the second reader and must then report to the Politics Department faculty the names of students whose independent work, on the basis of first drafts, remain eligible for honors consideration.
Revised Draft: March/April of Senior Year
By the end of March, the student, the director of the independent work, and the second reader must decide whether the independent work should be submitted for honors consideration. If the independent work is to be submitted for honors consideration, the director must so notify the faculty of the Politics Department by the end of March, indicating the title of the essay and the composition of the examining committee.
An essay to be considered for honors must be submitted by the end of the last full week in April. At this time, you must provide a copy to each member of your examining committee (electronic or hardcopy depending on their preferences) and one electronic copy (as a PDF) to Patricia Ware in the Politics Department office.
Honors Examination: April/May of Senior Year
An examining committee shall consist of the director, a second reader from within the Politics Department, and an outside reader from either another department at Mount Holyoke College or from another institution in the Five Colleges. The Chair of the Politics Department also attends honors examinations. The honors examination, which normally lasts about an hour, usually occurs during the reading period and the week of final examinations.
This examination is meant to be more of a conversation than an interrogation. That is to say, an honors essay representing work done over two semesters shall not be held hostage to an hour’s examination. Your examination will not detract from your committee’s evaluation of your essay, but a good examination can enhance the committee’s evaluation of your essay.
You must wait until graduation to learn the outcome. In accordance with College rules, the examining committee makes a recommendation to the Politics Department, and the Department in turn makes a recommendation to the Academic Administrative Board. The Registrar will notify you of the actual degree of honors awarded.
By June/July, a corrected copy of an honors essay must be sent by the student to the Library for permanent cataloguing, see the Library’s instructions for doing so here: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/find/submit-honors-theses. The contribution of a second copy of the final version honors essay for the Politics Department will be appreciated.
By April of Junior Year:
- Find faculty Director for project
- Register for 395 or 39X* for following Fall semester
- Submit a 2-3 page Statement of Intent to the department
Strongly Encouraged for Summer
- Write thesis proposal
- Review college IRB guidelines and apply for IRB approval, if applicable
- Do most of your research: literature review, data gathering, etc.
Senior Year (exact dates will be announced at the start of each academic year):
Early October: Full proposal submitted to department
mid-January: Complete draft due to Director and Second Reader
late January: Director and Second Reader let Department know if student can proceed with project on the basis of the first completed draft of the Honors project
March: Revised draft to Director and Second Reader; faculty decide whether project will be considered for Honors designation
April: Submission of project to Department
May: Honors Examination
June/July: Corrected final copies due to Library
Please note: The October proposal deadline leaves just THREE months for writing a complete draft of the thesis. Therefore, we STRONGLY encourage you to consider having the proposal complete and tentatively approved by your thesis Director(s) by the time you return to campus in September. Revisions may be required before the formal October deadline to the Department! Moreover, you should be well into your writing by October. Do not forget to plan for holidays, mid-terms, and finals—as well as any post-graduate preparations you may undertake (GREs, applications, etc.).
If a standard thesis is 60-75 pages long, think backwards from the early Spring, when the project is due. For example, if one were doing a 3-chapter thesis, one might plan like this:
Summer: Research, Literature Review
September: Submit proposal to Director/write Introduction
October: write Ch. 1; revise Intro. (use the proposal!); formal submission of Proposal to Dept.
November: Revision to Ch. 1? Write Ch. 2
December: Revisions to Ch. 2; write Ch. 3; find Second Reader
January: Revise Ch. 3 and Introduction; write Conclusion and Bibliography; submit to Director and Second Reader by mid-January
February: Revise entire project; format; submit to entire Department
The proposal should be sent to Patricia Ware in Microsoft Word document or Adobe pdf format.
LENGTH: 7-10 pages
Your proposal should include:
- Abstract. This is a brief description of what you plan to do, how you will do it, and why it’s important. Begin by clearly stating your research question and working hypothesis. What is the point of your thesis project?
- Literature Review and Conceptual Framework. Explain the theoretical context for your project, as well the current state of the field. What concepts and theories will you use? What have others written on this topic?
- Methods and Work Plan. How will your demonstrate your central argument and claims? What is your primary source material or evidence? Will you use qualitative, quantitative, or interpretive methods? Why? Does your plan require particular skills (languages, statistics) and do you have them already? Have you completed the IRB process? Provide a work plan that explains what you will accomplish when (a draft Table of Contents would be useful here as well).
- Significance. Why does this thesis matter for the study of politics? What are the broader implications of your project and how will you bring those into your thesis? How will your project expand or challenge other literature on the subject?
- Bibliography. This should include primary and secondary sources that relate directly to your project.
The deadlines for honors work in Politics during 2015 - 2016 are as follows:
- Friday, October 9, 2015 at 3 pm: Submission of prospectus to Department. The prospectus should be sent to Patricia Ware (email@example.com) in Microsoft Word document or Adobe pdf format.
- Tuesday, January 12, 2016: In order to have her independent work eligible for honors consideration, the student must submit, by one week before the beginning of spring semester classes, a first draft of her independent work to the director of her independent work and to the faculty member who would serve as the second reader of an essay later submitted to the Politics Department for honors consideration.
- Tuesday, January 19, 2016: By the beginning of spring semester classes, the Chair of the Politics Department must obtain the evaluation of the director and the second reader and must then report to the Politics Department faculty the names of students whose independent work, on the basis of first drafts, remains eligible for honors consideration.
- Thursday, March 31, 2016: By the end of March, the student, the director of the independent work, and the second reader must decide whether the independent work should be submitted for honors consideration. If the independent work is to be submitted for honors consideration, the director must so notify the faculty of the Politics Department by the end of March, indicating the title of the essay and the composition of the examining committee.
- Friday, April 29, 2016: An essay to be considered for honors must be submitted by the end of the last full week in April. At this time, two copies of the essay are due in the Department office, in addition to the three copies distributed to members of the examining committee.
- Tuesday, April 26 - Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 7pm: Honors examinations held; see Faculty Legislation handbook details below.
- Friday, June 24, 2016: Corrected copy of honors essay must be submitted to the Library in electronic format. If faculty and students do not meet these deadlines, it will not be possible to submit independent work for honors consideration.