Research Guidelines

Guidelines for Independent Study

  1. Any student may request the independent course option in her sophomore, junior, or senior years. 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 curse status to honors in the spring. The procedures to be followed are detailed below.
  2. The student should select a faculty member in the Department who is knowledgeable in her chosen field of inquiry as soon as possible. The faculty member and the student together should determine the scope and range of the topic area of concentration and discuss a tentative list of readings, the course expectations, and the work required.
  3. Before the third week into the semester, the student must submit an abstract that describes and defines the course of study that she proposes to follow. This proposal should explain why she wants to take an independent course and why she has 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 and areas of research that fall within the professor’s field of specialization or interest. A project in creative writing may be acceptable, if the student s a committed and serious writer, and if there is a member of the Department experienced in that area. Interdisciplinary work is particularly encouraged.
  5. If a course on the same topic is already being offered in the Department, an independent cannot be requested. Majors and minors should always take courses when they are offered as part of the Department’s curriculum. If the student’s area of interest is not covered in any of those courses, or if the subject will not be offered during her time at MHC, she may then propose to study it independently.
  6. An independent study student must meet with her adviser regularly, of possible every two weeks. These meetings should focus on material reading, critical analysis, discussion of assigned short papers, etc. The professor may or may not elect to assign papers during the semester, but a final paper is required. In the case of an independent that will lead to an honors thesis in spring of senior year, this final paper must be a proposal of her project.
  7. Finally an independent course is not simply a list of books to be read but rather a dedicated dialogue between a student and a professor that will 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 course work, 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 her senior year.
  2. By the end of the fall semester, and no later than the second week of December, student must submit a proposal to her independent advisor. This proposal must include a summary of the work she will pursue, a methodology to be followed, and a distribution of chapters for her 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 her major field or in her 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 curse into 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 adviser 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. 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.”
  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 adviser, 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 be submitting the final draft of your thesis to your thesis committee by April 30th.
  3. April 30th — Final draft of thesis due. Copies must be given to all members of your thesis committee. The copies need not be bound.
  4. Honors Examination (or "defense"): During the first weeks of May, 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 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 will be notified immediately following the defense whether you have been awarded honors.
    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. 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 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 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.
  5. 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.