An invitation to complete an honors paper in Politics offers outstanding students an opportunity to work with faculty mentors to explore a political research question of the students' choosing. It would be misleading to suggest a specific minimum length for the paper, for the proper length is necessarily determined by the nature of the project itself. However, this project should be more substantial in both research effort and writing than a typical course paper. The purpose of the honors project is not to display prolixity but, rather, to develop and demonstrate a high level of competence in elucidating an important and interesting problem in the field of politics. The problem may be one that the student encountered in a previous course, perhaps the focus of a term paper or the 400-level seminar, or it may be a problem unrelated to any course but one that the student has a particular interest in studying. The student will work with a faculty member to develop a research question in order to assure the student’s preparation to address the question, as well as the faculty member’s expertise for guiding the project.
Students who anticipate their eligibility to pursue honors should, if possible, take the Topics in Social Science Research course in either the fall or spring semester of their junior year to acquaint themselves with methods useful for political science research. After mid-semester of the spring term, the departmental chair will notify eligible juniors (those who have a 3.6 GPA in at least six politics courses) that they may write an honors thesis in their senior year. (This eligibility, of course, is contingent on maintaining the GPA through the end of the semester.)
The student in honors should strive to complete a 300-level course with a research component or the 400-level seminar prior or during the fall of the senior year, as the student is working to conceptualize and conduct research on the honors thesis.
The student who wishes to complete honors should enroll in POLS 444 (Independent Research) for the fall of the senior year for 2 credit hours. Before enrolling in POLS 444, the student should identify a faculty member with whom they will work on the honors thesis, and they should discuss with said faculty the proposed research topic and/or question. The faculty member should be in the student’s area of interest, and will serve as the instructor for POLS 444.
By the end of the second week of classes in the fall term, the student should submit to the thesis advisor for approval a proposal developed in consultation with a faculty advisor around the research question. The proposal will present the student’s research question; a brief review of the appropriate literature; a research design (including data and methodology) for answering the research question; and a preliminary bibliography. After the advisor approves the proposal, the department will be given the proposal for approval at its next meeting. (This will occur by mid- to late-September). If the project is approved to continue, the chair will ask another member of the faculty with expertise related to the topic to serve as a second reader. If the proposal is not approved, the student can either continue with POLS 444 (Independent Research) with the faculty member or drop the 2 credit course.
During the fall term, the student will work closely with the thesis advisor on the project that the department has approved. The candidate and the advisor will together set up a schedule for project deadlines and meetings to be held throughout the semester. (See supplementary forms and guidelines. The department expects the student to accomplish significant research over the fall term, including development of the literature review and research design and collection of data as appropriate. (Please note that if the student anticipates any research with human subjects, for example through interviews, there is need to get IRB approval before such research occurs.)
If sufficient progress is made on the project, the student will then complete the thesis in spring of the senior year, enrolling in POLS 450 (Honors) for 2 credit hours for spring. If insufficient progress is made during the fall term, the candidate will not be approved to register for POLS 450 and should maintain a full course load or, pending an advisor’s willingness to support this, continue with the research via an independent study (POLS 444) during spring of the senior year.
The honors paper will be presented in final form to the advisor and second reader no later than three weeks before the end of the spring term. In a week's time, the paper will be returned to the candidate, either with a final grade or, more likely, with suggestions for revision. If the paper is to be revised, the revised version must be submitted to the advisor and second reader by the last day of classes in the term. At the advisor's request, additional members of the Faculty may be asked to read and comment on the paper. A minimum grade of “A-” on the thesis, and an oral presentation of the honors paper to an audience of faculty and students, will enable the student to attain departmental honors. The presentation typically coincides with Pi Sigma Alpha induction ceremony and/or Scholarship Sewanee.