Writing an honors thesis is exciting and very rewarding, but it can also be challenging, exhausting, and far more time consuming that you imagine. Ideally, you need to start thinking about potential topics and meeting with potential advisors by the end of your sophomore year. The deadline to declare your intent to write an honors thesis (by completing this intent FORM and sumbitting it to the IAS main office) is the second Friday in April of your junior year. You must have your thesis advisor secured at this time. [For those students graduating in December, the deadline for the intent form is the second Friday in November of their junior year.]
IAS revamped its senior thesis process in the 2014-15 academic year. Students still need a senior thesis advisor from the WashU faculty. The faculty advisor should work closely with the student throughout the senior thesis process, and is ultimately responsible for evaluating the quality of the thesis and turning in a grade for the second semester. What has changed is the ongoing workshop during the fall semester. A member of the IAS faculty, who will be responsible for turning in a grade for first semester, guides this workshop. This workshop meets weekly and involves collegial give and take by all students involved in the senior thesis process. As always, the College of Arts & Sciences determines Latin Honors.
In writing a thesis, you will work closely with a faculty advisor to articulate a narrow research question, identify the type of data and secondary sources you will examine to answer this question, and formulate an original argument based on your findings. Your faculty advisor will do their best to guide you, but ultimately, the project is up to you. In the Fall, all IAS honors students will enroll in an honors seminar course (L97 IAS 485). In this seminar, you will present your thesis proposal, your results at various stages of progress, and a final presentation. To write a first-rate research paper, all scholars need the opportunity to present their ideas and receive feedback. In addition, you will have the opportunity to interact and learn from your fellow honors students. In the Spring, all honors students will enroll in L97 IAS 486. You will work closely with your thesis advisor (they will determine and submit the final grade for your thesis). Once your research and writing is complete, you will present your thesis to the IAS Honors Committee. We view this more as an assessment than a defense, and as an opportunity for professional development in preparation for the public presentation at our annual spring semester conference.
Through the process of writing a thesis, you make the transition from being a consumer of other scholars’ analyses to being a contributor to knowledge. Regardless of your future plans, conducting an independent research project in the form of a thesis is a meaningful intellectual process. Moreover, the thesis can be helpful professionally. If you plan to attend academic graduate school or any professional graduate school requiring independent research, analysis, and writing, you should strongly consider writing a thesis.
IAS majors who write an honors thesis are eligible for Latin Honors (level is determined by the College of Arts & Sciences) and are strongly encouraged to submit to and present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Note: there are special requirements for students who conduct independent research involving human participants - for more information on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process, contact your thesis advisor. The WUSTL Human Research Protection Office (HRPO) website has information for undergraduates conducting research, including information for students who conduct research abroad, and a special section for SIT program participants.
For more details about the thesis writing process, please consult the Director of the Honors Program.
Only those students who meet the minimum GPA requirement (3.65) and successfully complete an IAS senior honors thesis are eligible for Latin Honors.
Your level of Latin Honors is determined first by your GPA. Per the College of Arts & Sciences, you may be awarded cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude according to the following proportions: the top 15 percent in overall grade point average of Latin honors candidates who complete the necessary requirements of their major departments will graduate summa cum laude; the next 35 percent magna cum laude; the next 50 percent cum laude.
I majored in International Studies and minored in Environmental Studies, and studied abroad in Prague in the fall of my junior year. When I returned to WashU, I knew I wanted to find a meaningful way to combine my two interests, international affairs and environmental science, in my senior year. I decided that writing a thesis would be the best way for me to focus my efforts as it allowed me complete freedom to research a topic I was passionate about. The experience of writing my thesis on a United Nations climate change policy was both challenging and incredibly rewarding, as it pushed me as a writer and a critical thinker. I continue to use my research, writing and critical thinking skills daily at my job as an analyst at Avascent, a consulting firm in D.C. specializing in government-driven markets such as the aerospace, defense, energy and healthcare industries. Read more IAS Alumni Profiles.