Politics Department Honors Program
The overriding consideration is that an honors thesis be primarily analytical, not descriptive or reportorial. That is to say, a good honors thesis exhibits the quality and active presence of the writer’s mind—the ability reflectively judge and sustain analysis or argument—rather than simply a student's industriousness, dexterity, and physical endurance at passively accumulating and then dutifully recording the materials of the 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.
For Politics majors, only four credits of Politics 395 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.
Pursuing an honors thesis is a substantial undertaking, requiring a great deal of independent work. Because of this, students are advised to please carefully consider their own preparation for the project. Has the student 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 the Sophomore and Junior years, a student planning to do an Honors project should look at the various courses offered—both at Mount Holyoke and in the Five Colleges—and be sure to take courses related to the intended area of honors research, well before they begin writing a thesis during the Senior year.
Moreover, choosing a topic for independent work can rarely be separated from choosing a faculty advisor. 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. The thesis must be done under the direction of a Politics Department faculty member (or another Mount Holyoke 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 late April of Junior year, the student must make clear their intention to pursue Honors. This is done by working with a Thesis Advisor and submitting a preliminary plan of study to Linda Chesky Fernandes (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 the thesis will try to address
2) Describe the plan to investigate the question
3) List relevant coursework
4) Include the name of Thesis Advisor (who has already agreed to supervise 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, an Honors student should plan to begin and complete most of the 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 the research may require Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.
Proposal: September of Senior Year
The purpose of the thesis proposal is to help the student organize and define the 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
For independent work to be eligible for Honors consideration, a student must submit, by one week before the beginning of spring semester classes, a first draft of the independent work to the the independent study advisor and to the faculty member who would serve as the second reader of a paper later submitted to the Politics Department for honors consideration.
The advisor 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 advisor 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 advisor 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 advisor must so notify the faculty of the Politics Department by the end of March, indicating the title of the paper and the composition of the examining committee.
A paper to be considered for honors must be submitted by the end of the last full week in April. At this time, the student must provide a copy to each member of the examining committee (electronic or hardcopy depending on their preferences) and one electronic copy (as a PDF) to Linda Chesky Fernandes (email@example.com) in the Politics Department office.
Honors Examination: April/May of Senior Year
An examining committee shall consist of the advisor, 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 may also attend honors examinations. The honors examination, which normally lasts 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 paper representing work done over two semesters shall not be held hostage to an hour’s examination. The examination will not detract from the committee’s evaluation of the essay, but a good examination can enhance the committee’s evaluation of the essay.
Students 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 the student 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 cataloging, see the Library’s instructions for doing do. 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 advisor for the project
- Register for a Politics 395 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 the research: literature review, data gathering, etc.
Senior Year (exact dates will be announced at the start of each academic year):
Mid-September: Full proposal submitted to department
Mid-January: Complete draft due to advisor and second reader
Late January: Advisor and second reader let the department know if student can proceed with project on the basis of the first completed draft of the Honors project
March: Revised draft to advisor and second reader; faculty decide whether project will be considered for Honors designation
April: Submission of project to the department
May: Honors examination
June: Corrected final copies due to Library
Please note: The September proposal deadline leaves just THREE months for writing a complete draft of the thesis. Therefore, we STRONGLY encourage students to consider having the proposal complete and tentatively approved by the thesis advisor by the time the student returns to campus in September. Revisions may be required before the formal September deadline to the department! Moreover, the student should be well into their writing by September. Do not forget to plan for holidays, mid-terms, and finals—as well as any post-graduate preparations (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 advisor; write Introduction
October:Write Ch. 1; revise Introduction (use the proposal!); formal submission of proposal to the department
November: Revisions 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 advisor and second reader by mid-January
February: Revise entire project; format; submit to the entire department
The proposal should be sent to Linda Chesky Fernandes (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Adobe pdf format.
LENGTH: 7-10 pages
The proposal should include:
- Abstract. This is a brief description of what the student plans to do, how they will do it, and why it is important. Begin by clearly stating the research question and working hypothesis. What is the point of the thesis project?
- Literature Review and Conceptual Framework. Explain the theoretical context for the project, as well the current state of the field. What concepts and theories will be used? What have others written on this topic?
- Methods and Work Plan. How will the thesis demonstrate the central argument and claims? What is the primary source material or evidence? Will the thesis use qualitative, quantitative, or interpretive methods? Why? Does the plan require particular skills (e.g. languages, statistics)? Has the student completed the IRB process, if necessary? Provide a work plan that explains what will be accomplished 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 the project and how will those be brought into the thesis? How will the project expand or challenge other literature on the subject?
- Bibliography. This should include primary and secondary sources that relate directly to the project.
The deadlines for honors work in Politics during 2018-2019 are as follows:
- Friday, September 21, 2018, at 3:00 pm: Submission of the prospectus to Department. The prospectus should be sent to Linda Chesky Fernandes (email@example.com) in Adobe pdf format.
- Tuesday, January 15, 2019: In order to have their independent work eligible for honors consideration, the student must submit, by one week before the beginning of spring semester classes, a first draft of their independent work to the advisor of their 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 22, 2019: By the beginning of spring semester classes, the Chair of the Politics Department must obtain the evaluation of the thesis advisor 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.
- Saturday, March 31, 2019: By the end of March, the student, the advisor 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 advisor must so notify the faculty of the Politics Department, indicating the title of the essay and the composition of the examining committee.
- Friday, April 26, 2019: A paper 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 paper are due in the Department office, in addition to the three copies distributed to members of the examining committee.
- Wednesday, May 1 - Tuesday, May 7, 2019 Honors examinations held.
- Sunday, June 30, 2019: Corrected copy of honors essay must be submitted to the Library in electronic format.