Honors Thesis and Independent Study

Independent Work in the Major: 395 Thesis

The department recommends at least one semester of independent study in the major, usually in the senior year. Independent study is a very different learning experience from studying in a scheduled course. Subject matter aside, independent study requires initiative, resourcefulness, self-discipline, and project management, reasons enough to consider carefully before taking on the challenge of independent learning.

The main reason to undertake independent study is to explore a topic that engages you. You should have preliminary conversations with your faculty advisor well in advance of the semester in which you plan to take a 395 (independent study). Students and faculty involved in the independent/honors process should be familiar with the College’s Guidelines for honors program and honors thesis, which the Dean of Faculty has prepared.

For students who are using the fall-semester 395 as the first half of a thesis, there are some special hoops to jump through, both before you can get started, and throughout the thesis process. Early in the fall the Dean of the College sends to each senior enrolled in a 395 a copy of Guidelines for Honors Program and Honors Thesis. The purpose of that document is to clarify the process through which independent study that may lead to a thesis. If you are thinking about writing a thesis, be sure that you get a copy of these guidelines in your junior year! By the fall of your senior year it will already be too late to start the thesis-planning process.

The Department of Russian and Eurasian Studies adheres to the following timetable:

Junior Year: fall or early spring

1. Most theses begin with a specific question or problem. Conversations with faculty members can be helpful at this early stage. As a general rule preliminary thesis topics need to be whittled down to a fraction of their original size.

2. Enlist the support of an advisor for the project, ideally one who has special expertise in your topic. You may want to have a second advisor from outside the Department depending on the subject matter. You must make sure that the advisor will be available to advise and support your work in the year ahead.

Junior Year: by Friday of the first week after spring break

3. Submission of preliminary thesis proposal (300 words), with a working title, to the chair of the department describing the purpose of your project and its significance:

  • Describe your methodology, the procedure and sources (research design) that will enable you to explore the topic.
  • Include a preliminary bibliography on the topic.
  • Include a writing sample, preferably other work you have done in the department.
  • No later than April 15 the principal faculty advisor for your project will respond in writing with a summary of the comments and suggestions that emerge from the department's consideration of your proposal.

Junior Year: by May 1

4. Submission of a revised proposal to the department.

Summer before Senior Year

5. Preliminary reading to provide a context for your project and to help you narrow and refine your focus.

Fall of Senior Year

6. During the first week of classes you should meet with your advisor and set up a work schedule for the semester, including meeting times with your advisor and deadlines for submission of written work.

7. Submission of a formal thesis proposal to the department no later than October 1.

8. An oral presentation to the department on progress in the thesis no later than December 1. At this time, and in consultation with your advisor and the department, you will need to decide if you should continue with independent study in the spring, presumably with an eye toward a thesis.

Spring of the Senior Year

9. During the first week of classes you should set up a writing and meeting schedule with your advisor. A completed draft of the thesis is due to the major advisor on the Monday after Spring Break.

10. The advisor will return the thesis with written comments no later than the second Monday in April.

11. A revised second draft is due to all your committee members no later than the last Monday in April.

12. The oral defense will take place at the beginning of the examination period. You are responsible, with the help of the department's administrative assistant, for setting a time when all committee members can attend. In the first part of the defense you will be asked to make short presentation (no longer than 10-15 minutes) on your thesis; then the committee will ask you questions about specific aspects of your thesis (about 45 minutes).