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The Major & Minor


The departmental Honors thesis is for senior psychology majors interested in conducting independent research on a particular topic. Honors students work closely with a faculty member to conceptualize, design, and conduct an empirical research project. The project culminates in a paper that is equivalent to a publishable journal article in quality and length (i.e., about 30-50 pages of text and written in APA style). At the end of the academic year, Honors students present their projects to the department as a whole. Successful completion of an Honors thesis leads to departmental honors upon graduation.

What are the eligibility requirements?

In order to be eligible for departmental honors, you must have a 3.3 GPA within your major and a 3.0 GPA average for courses outside your major. GPA calculations include all courses taken here at Smith, the Five Colleges and Smith JYA programs. Other transfer credits or JYA program courses are not included.

How should I prepare myself to do an honors thesis?

Students seriously contemplating conducting an Honors thesis should begin talking to professors in their area of research interest during their junior year, at the latest. Many honors projects have developed from research students have done with professors, either by volunteering in their laboratories or through special studies. Besides completing the requirements for the major, we recommend that students thinking about honors take an upper level seminar, laboratory, or special studies in the area of research interest. We also strongly recommend that students take Advanced Statistics (PSY 290/MTH 290) during their junior or senior year.

How do I find an honors adviser?

There are several ways to find a faculty member to supervise your Honors thesis. Most students begin by volunteering in a faculty member's research laboratory during their first or second years at Smith. This acquaints students with research topics and the nuts and bolts of the research process. Others approach professors of classes that they've especially enjoyed. When a student thinks she knows with whom she wants to work, that student should make an appointment to meet with the professor to discuss the possibility of doing an Honors thesis.

What if I can't find an adviser whose research interests match mine?

The psychology department consists of active researchers studying many exciting topics. Of course, it is possible that our faculty will not be studying the particular topic in which you currently are interested. In this case, you have two options. First, you can ask professors if they would be willing to supervise a thesis outside their area of expertise. Better yet, you can work with a professor to design an Honors project that the professor feels comfortable supervising and satisfies your interests as well. We have found that the best experiences occur when student interests can be assimilated into the professor's established research program. Thus, the quality of your training will be enhanced by a good fit between your thesis topic and your adviser's area of expertise.

How do I get approval for honors?

First, you have to complete an application for honors. There are full instructions for the completion of this application at the Senior Class Dean's office Web site. When you are done with your application, you submit it to the director of honors for the psychology department. To enter the honors program, you have to receive approval of your project from both the psychology department and the college's Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs (SHIPS). First, the psychology department reviews and votes on your honors proposal. If you are approved at the departmental level, the honors director forwards your proposal to SHIPS for review and approval.

Can I do honors if I go abroad junior year?

The answer is a most definite "yes," although it will take some planning on your part. You should be prepared to contact your potential adviser before you go away; another option is to approach your potential adviser via email while you are abroad. In any case, do not wait until the beginning of your senior year to make contact, as that will be unfeasible given the submission deadlines (see suggested timeline, below).

How is an honors thesis different from special studies?

A special studies is a scholarly project conducted during the junior or senior year under the supervision of any member of the department. It can take the format of either a literature review or an empirical study, and can be worth between 1 to 4 credits. In contrast, the honors thesis is only conducted during the senior year and is subject to an outside approval process. It consists of an empirical study, which you must present before the psychology department in the spring. Presentations usually last 30 minutes, with an additional 20 minutes for questions. Honors theses are worth 12 credits, 6 per semester.

What are the benefits of doing a thesis?

The honors thesis provides you the unique opportunity of immersing yourself in a research project to greater depths than anything else you will experience in the psychology department. Many students report feeling great satisfaction from the experience of taking the lead on a research project, which the honors thesis affords. Your research and writing skills will improve immensely during the process. In addition, the experience may help you focus your research interests when considering a graduate career in psychology.

What are the disadvantages?

The greatest disadvantage is the time commitment, most of which falls during your senior year. The 12-credit requirement also obliges you to take fewer courses during your senior year, which may limit your options. Some students report being intimidated by the writing commitment. However, the psychology department recently has reduced the writing expectations of the final paper to that of a manuscript suitable for publication in a major empirical journal.

What resources are available to support my honors thesis research?

Financial assistance for Honors research is available. You can procure funds from the Tomlinson Memorial Fund, administered by SHIPS. To request assistance, you need to complete a Tomlinson application, which you receive from the Class Dean's office with the honors application. The Tomlinson request requires a proposed budget and justification of expenses as well as a letter of support from your thesis adviser. You need to submit Tomlinson fund requests at the same time as your honors proposal.

You are required to complete a library instruction session for your honors project during the fall semester. This one-hour session provides instruction in use of the science library's resources to help with your research project.

How are honors evaluated?

First, you are graded by your thesis adviser for the honors credits (typically 12) included on your transcript.

In addition, an official honors designation is given to each thesis at the end of the project based on the student's grades within the major, oral defense of the project, and final written thesis. Two members of the psychology department (an "examiner" and the student's thesis adviser) evaluate the honors student's oral defense. Likewise, two faculty members (a "reader" and the student's thesis adviser) evaluate the honors student's written thesis. The director of honors chooses readers and examiners in consultation with each thesis student and her adviser.

What is a suggested timeline for completing an honors thesis?

Prior to Spring Semester: Junior Year

Spring Semester: Junior Year

Fall Semester: Senior Year

Spring Semester: Senior Year