Writing an Honours Thesis
In completing an Honours degree a student may want to complete the Honours thesis sequence (POLS4970/4980) which takes place over two consecutive semesters. In order to fully benefit from the thesis process you need to be self-motivated, choose a topic of high interest, establish a good working relationship by meeting regularly with your supervisor and plan the project carefully. Students who have at least a solid “B” average or above (75%+) likely have demonstrated abilities to undertake the Honours thesis project, which will be a longer and more sophisticated research and writing project than students have experienced previously.
While it is the most sophisticated piece of writing required by the programme and involves in-depth research, it does not necessarily require field work. However, some limited form of primary research such as interviews or research of primary documents may be undertaken depending on the topic. When research involves interaction with human subjects the supervisor must get formal approval on ethics which is a lengthy process and would have to be undertaken in the first semester.
Student Considerations: Students who have a research question that fits at least somewhat with the research interests of a faculty member and who are interested in gaining practical knowledge of research and writing methods, learning how to organize and edit a major paper, and working with a professor on a project should consider the Honours thesis process. Students interested in pursuing a graduate or professional degree (such as law) and who have realistic odds of being admitted to such programs may want to consider writing an Honours thesis, though it is not necessary to gain admittance to graduate or professional programs.
Faculty Considerations: Professors consider whether the student has a research interest that is at least somewhat related to their own teaching and research interests. They look for a student who has at least a “B” average or above (75%+). If not, they look to see if the student has shown improvement over time in terms of grades and/or can reasonably explain their lower grade averages. They also take into consideration whether the student would be a good student to work with (does the student appear organized, committed and enthusiastic?). In order to give appropriate attention to each Honours thesis student, faculty members can only supervise a limited number of thesis students so this will also be taken into consideration.
The Administrative Process: Students should consult the faculty webpage and determine which professors have research and teaching interests in the general area that interests them and approach them about the possibility of supervision. Students will need to obtain the supervisor’s signature for instructor’s consent on a Course Waiver Request Form available at the BA Counselling Office in order to register. Within the first week of class in which the student is enrolled in both POLS 4970 and POLS 4980, the student and his or her supervisor must complete the Honours Political Science Research Agreement form, a copy of which must be submitted to the Co-ordinator of the Undergraduate Committee in the Department of Political Science. The Research Agreement form and additional information about the Honours thesis can be found in the Department of Political Science Honours Research Paper Regulations booklet which is available at the main office from the Undergraduate Secretary.
POLS*4970: A typical assignment is a literature review which is useful because before you start on a project you will want to know what has been written about your research question in order to build on that knowledge. In a literature review you analyze and synthesize the literature by looking at: the key themes in the literature, how the question has been studied and analyzed, what conclusions have been reached and why, where the disagreements are in the literature, and what questions or issues require further exploration. Talk with your supervisor, and make sure you are clear on content, length, due date and how your grade will be assigned for POLS4970.
POLS*4980: In the second semester the student will complete the thesis, which is an approx. 50-page double, spaced paper. While it is the most sophisticated piece of writing required by the programme and involves in-depth research, it does not necessarily require field work. However, some limited form of primary research such as interviews or research of primary documents may be undertaken depending on the topic. Students and supervisors must agree on a clear final deadline since the defense needs to be arranged, the thesis needs to be read, and grades handed in during exam period. The grade for POLS4980 is determined after an oral defense of your thesis before your supervisor and a second-reader agreed upon by the student and supervisor. At the end of the examination (about 45 minutes) the supervisor and the second reader will decide on the mark. Although there is no set formula, the bulk of your POLS4980 will be determined by your written work, with the oral defense playing a more supplementary role.