Research Guidelines

Guidelines for Independent Study

  1. Any student may request the independent course option in the sophomore, junior, or senior year. The College limits the number of independent credits to eight in the sophomore and junior years. A senior may take an independent course in the fall and change the course status to an honors thesis in the spring. The procedures are detailed below.
  2. The student must select a faculty member in the Department who is knowledgeable in their chosen field of inquiry as soon as possible. The faculty member and the student together will determine the scope and range of the topic  concentration and discuss a tentative list of readings, the course expectations, and the work required.
  3. By the third week of the semester, the student must submit an abstract that describes and defines the course of study that they propose to follow. This abstract will explain why the student wants to take an independent course and why they have selected the subject matter. This is particularly important for a senior thinking of writing an honors thesis.
  4. Independent study students must work on topics of research that fall within the professor’s field of specialization or interest. A project in creative writing may be acceptable if the student is a committed and serious writer, and if a member of the Department is experienced in that area. Interdisciplinary work is particularly encouraged.
  5. If a course on the same topic is already offered in the Department, an independent study cannot be requested. Majors and minors should always take courses when they are offered as part of the Department’s curriculum. A student may only propose an independent study if the area of interest is not covered in any course, or if the subject will not be offered during their time at MHC.
  6. An independent study student must meet with their advisor every two weeks. These meetings will focus on material reading, critical analysis, and discussion of assigned papers. The professor may or may not elect to assign papers during the semester; however, a final paper is required. In the case of a senior independent study that will lead to an honors thesis in the spring, this final paper must be a proposal of the thesis project.
  7. An independent course is not simply a list of books to read, but rather a dedicated dialogue between the student and professor to stimulate intellectual curiosity and original thinking, improve reading, writing and research skills, and encourage critical analysis. Independent study takes extra time and energy on all sides. Students should be aware that professors are not obligated to supervise independent coursework, and they may have to refuse if they are overloaded in a given semester.

Guidelines for Honors Thesis

Fall Semester

  1. Students considering writing an honors thesis in the spring semester must follow the rules of an independent study in the fall semester of their senior year.
  2. By the end of the fall semester, and no later than the second week of December, the student must submit an honors thesis proposal to their independent study advisor. This proposal must include a summary of the work the student will pursue, a methodology to be followed, and a distribution of chapters for their work as well as a work schedule (15-20 pages). This proposal will be sent to the department chair, who will consult with the rest of the Department for approval.
  3. With the Department’s approval, any senior who has maintained a minimum cumulative average of 3.00 in their major field or in their college work, and who is well prepared in the language in which the thesis will be written, may extend the four-credit fall independent study course to a full-year eight-credit honors project. The independent study advisor then becomes the thesis director. The director’s role is to guide and challenge the student in a constructive manner, but the quest for information and supporting material is the student’s job. Any student beginning an honors project should be prepared to write a thesis of between 75-125 pages.

Spring Semester

  1. By the end of "ADD PERIOD" in February: If you and your thesis advisor agree that you should continue with your thesis, make sure that you have signed up for 4 more credits of independent study (Course number 395). The thesis committee must be formed. 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.”
  2. First week of April: The first complete draft of your thesis should be submitted to your thesis advisor. Then the 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 chair in early April asking you to confirm that you will submit the final draft of your thesis to your thesis committee by April 30th.
  3. Mid-April: Schedule your Honors Examination (or “defense”). 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 adviser, 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.
  4. April 30th: Final draft of thesis due. Copies must be given to all members of your thesis committee. The copies need not be bound.
  5. First weeks of May: The Honors Examination (or "defense") of your thesis takes place. Legislation states that "a candidate for an honors degree by thesis or project shall take a special honors examination [...] designed to test their command of the special subject of their honors work and 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 will be notified immediately following the defense whether you have been awarded honors.
  6. The committee 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 members and attendants (if opened to the public). After you complete the examination, you are 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 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.
  7. By July 1st at the latest: Submit the final, bound 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.