The Psychology Department participates in the university honors program by offering honors sections of general psychology, and it also has a departmental honors program.
The psychology honors program is designed to provide psychology students with the opportunity to engage in independent research. It is recommended for all students who wish to pursue a PhD degree, whether in an experimental or applied area. Honors students typically have GPAs over 3.0, but admission to the honors program is based on overall potential and motivation rather than on grade point average alone.
The sequence begins in the junior year with the identification of a research topic and a faculty advisor. Beginning in the junior year or in the first semester of the senior year, honors students carry out an original research project by enrolling in an eight-credit honors research seminar.
Guidelines for Completing an Honors Thesis in Psychology (PSY 498/499)
The Psychology Honors Thesis is intended for the serious psychology student who is seeking challenging research training and the opportunity for individual mentoring by a faculty member. Students must write up and propose their research project to a committee of three faculty members, conduct the research investigation, give a poster presentation on their work, and successfully defend the thesis before faculty committee. Students completing the two-semester honors thesis sequence receive essential preparation skills for graduate study in psychology and related fields. In addition, the experience gained by Psychology honors students can be extremely beneficial in giving them an advantage with future career plans, whether they opt to seek employment immediately after graduation or to pursue graduate school.
Benefits of completing a Psychology Honors Thesis
- Students pursuing honors in Psychology are better known by the faculty, offering additional personalized experiences and learning.
- Honors will appear on your transcript and diploma. Competition for entry to graduate and professional programs is competitive, so any way you can distinguish yourself is very worthwhile.
- The individual research project gives you a solid background in research methodology (important for graduate school admission) and will help you to develop strong time management skills. It will also offer opportunity to present your study at a conference and possibly publish your results.
- For those interested in attending a graduate program, completing an honors thesis shows you are committed to the field and really helps with gaining better understanding of where your professional passions may be.
- There is also an option for the student to participate in the University’s Three-Minute Thesis competition.
Student and Faculty Expectations
The Honors Thesis consists of an independent research project spanning two semesters and is typically completed during the senior year. The student will choose a faculty member who ultimately will serve as the research advisor for the student’s Honors Thesis. We strongly recommend that students interested in completing an honors thesis begin exploring our faculty’s research interests and reading their research articles to learn more about the kind of work they engage in. Students are encouraged to try working in a Psychology faculty member(s) research lab(s), whether on a voluntary basis or for independent study credit during their sophomore and junior years. Faculty research interests are listed on the faculty section of psychology department webpage. If a student has difficulty identifying a faculty advisor, please reach out to the Honors Program Director for assistance.
Application for completion of an honors thesis is typically submitted during the end of the student’s junior year. The student and faculty member should meet during the spring semester of the student’s junior year in order to initially develop an informal arrangement for supervision of the student’s research. This will become formalized when the student registers for three credits of PSY 498 for Honors Thesis research (typically taken in the Fall of senior year) and then continues with three credits of PSY 499 Honors Thesis research (Spring of senior year). Registration forms are available on the Psychology Department webpage. Specific expectations and requirements are outlined below.
The Honors Thesis must be a scholarly endeavor that makes a contribution to the body of knowledge in psychology. This typically will include a review of extant literature, a detailed description of the methods and procedures, analysis of results, and a discussion relating the findings to the broader literature and field of psychology. The length of the thesis may range from 20-50 pages, depending on the scope of the project, attachments included (such as research instruments, qualitative interview questions, lab protocols), and the number of references, figures and tables. Most theses are 25-30 pages long, including references and appendices.
The Honors Thesis itself is typically completed within the senior year. Students will work in collaboration with their faculty research advisor to develop a research project that is both inherently interesting to student and faculty, as well as realistic to complete within the allotted timeframe. It is in the student’s best interest to develop an original and interesting research project, whether this comes from a student-generated idea or one based upon earlier work done by the faculty advisor. The Honors Thesis is not required to be of publishable quality, although publication or presentation of the results to the scientific community is a desirable goal. It is important that students take an active role in communicating with their faculty advisor about what is expected in the thesis research in order to avoid misunderstandings at later dates.
At the end of the PSY 498 semester, students will be expected to successfully complete a thesis proposal meeting with their selected thesis committee before proceeding to PSY 499. At the end of the PSY 499 semester, students will be expected to successfully defend their honors thesis project before their committee and will also be expected to complete a poster that will be presented at the annual Psi Chi conference, undergraduate research conference, or a research conference identified by student and faculty research advisor. Details are provided below regarding a suggested timeline for completion.
Faculty who agree to serve as research advisor for Honors Thesis research take on some of the responsibility for ensuring that the student completes graduation requirements and all tasks necessary for the successful completion of the honors thesis. It is expected that the faculty advisor will make him/herself available to the student on a regular, reliable basis and that his or her work with the student ultimately benefits the student’s undergraduate educational experience.
The Honors Thesis research project is expected to be of high quality but also manageable proportions. The usual time commitment for an Honors Thesis project is about 10 hours a week for two semesters. Ideally, the scope of the project is consistent with this expectation so that students can graduate in May.
Faculty should make every effort to clearly outline with the student what their expectations are for the Honors Thesis research. Faculty may have different working models of what an Honors Thesis should be, based upon their own working style, the type of research, and the student’s abilities and skills. Early communication with the student about these expectations is critical. Students typically are unclear about what an Honors Thesis involves, and what a faculty member may wish to see in the student’s work may not be self-evident to students unless these expectations are made explicit. For instance, when will you hold regular meetings with your honors student? Do you have preferred methods and times for communication (e.g., face-to-face appointment, email, text, Skype appointments)?
While students are responsible for ensuring that they acquire and complete all necessary forms with signatures, it is helpful for faculty research advisors to be aware of the paperwork requirements. Forms can be obtained on the Psychology Department webpage.
Faculty are also strongly encouraged to establish a detailed timeline with each of their honors thesis students. Faculty should inform students if they will be on sabbatical, on vacation or away at a conference, or otherwise unavailable during all or part of a semester (note that if a faculty member will be unavailable for extensive periods they should not take on the commitment to supervise an Honors Thesis). Below, please find an example timeline of tasks to be included for both semesters of the Honors Thesis. This can be modified as needed, but a pre-established timeline discussion with the student ensures that both student and faculty are clear on what is expected of each of them.
PSY 498 semester sample timeline:
Sept. 30: review existing relevant literature and develop draft of study hypotheses
Oct. 15: detailed outline of Introduction section
Oct. 30: full draft of Introduction section; outline of study methods and plan for statistical analyses
Nov. 15: full draft of study methods, plan for statistical analyses, and study hypotheses
Nov. 30: submit completed full draft of Introduction, Methods, Study Aims/Hypotheses and Proposed Analyses to faculty research advisor
Dec. 7: prepare all necessary IRB paperwork
Dec. 15: thesis proposal meeting with committee (committee members must receive full thesis proposal one week before meeting). NOTE: Committee approval includes a one-page summary of thesis goals. Regardless of the actual date, students may not register for PSY 499 until the committee signs off on this one-page summary. The student should be given a final grade for PSY 498 at this time.
Dec. 20: upon committee approval of study proposal, study materials must be submitted for IRB review (Note: all studies must be submitted for IRB review only after they have been approved by the research thesis committee).
PSY 499 semester sample timeline (meant only as an example and not required to be followed exactly):
Jan. 30: all study materials to be prepared and ready for administration
Feb. 7: assuming approval by IRB, begin study recruitment and implementation
March 21: tentative completion of study implementation
Withdrawal date: Particular attention must be paid to the Withdrawal date listed in the Academic Calendar for that particular semester. Students and faculty must assess if the project is possible to complete. Students who remain in 499 past this date will either complete the thesis, take an incomplete that will delay graduation until complete, or receive a F for the course.
April 7: all data entered/downloaded and cleaned
April 21: analyses completed and Results section drafted
April 28: Results, Discussion, and accompanying tables/figures drafted and submitted to faculty research advisor
May 7: thesis defense meeting with committee (committee members must receive full honors thesis one week before meeting); accompanying paper to be prepared and signed upon successful defense of honors thesis project.
The Honors Thesis in Psychology
The only acceptable Honors Thesis in psychology consists of an empirical investigation (whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods) of a topic relevant to the science of behavior. Portfolios are not acceptable. The thesis should generally follow the structure of a published article, containing an introduction and review of the literature, statement of the study aims and hypotheses, method, results, and discussion. Acceptable lengths vary from 20-50 pages, including relevant appendices and references.
Selecting a Research Advisor and a Research Thesis Committee. Students can find research advisors and research thesis committees in multiple ways. They may have taken a course or two with a particular faculty member whose research is particularly interesting and in line with their own interests. Alternatively, they may have served as a research assistant for a professor whose work is of interest to the student. The student’s faculty research advisor will ultimately be the best source to provide the student with suggestions for the remaining committee members, consisting of a total of three faculty members, at least two of which need to be faculty within the Psychology department.
Selecting a Topic. The topic of the thesis is usually decided on a mutual basis by the student and faculty research advisor. The topic should not be so narrow that there is little relevant literature to review, nor should it be so broad that it is poorly defined or cannot be completed within the span of a year. Importantly, the topic should be one that is interesting enough to the student that they are motivated to put in many months of work to see it through to successful completion.
Registration and Expectations for Honors Thesis Courses. Ideally, the student and potential faculty research advisor will begin a series of conversations about a potential thesis project during the spring of the student’s junior year. In addition to discussing what the study might consist of, conversation should include discussion of what is expected of student and faculty member. This will become formalized when the student registers for three credits of PSY 498 for Honors Thesis research (typically taken in the Fall of senior year) and the fully completed PSY 498 Honors Thesis proposal form is submitted for appropriate signatures.
- Considered as fulfilling the Capstone Experience requirement, signatures from the faculty advisor, Department Chairman, and College of Arts and Sciences Dean are required. Once the Dean’s office has signed the paperwork, they will send it to the University Registrar’s office and the student will be enrolled in a section of PSY 498.
- To receive a passing grade in PSY 498, the student must successfully complete their thesis proposal meeting and all faculty committee members must approve the project and its aims. Please note that this serves as a contract between student and the committee, with the expectation that the student will complete evaluation of the proposed aims and hypotheses. See attached form.
- Should the student not successfully propose their thesis by the end of that semester, an Incomplete grade will be assigned until the thesis proposal has occurred, at which time a change of grade form will be submitted by the faculty advisor. Incomplete grades will be converted to a failing grade if the thesis proposal is not completed within one year of the incomplete grade being assigned. Please note, withdrawals are not possible after the end of the semester in which the student first enrolls in PSY 498. Once past that point, students must complete the course or take a F as a final grade.
- Upon successful completion of PSY 498, students will submit the one-page summary of their thesis goals with committee signatures in order to be enrolled in PSY 499. To receive a passing grade in PSY 499, the student must successfully complete their thesis defense meeting and all faculty committee members must provide approval. Should the student not successfully propose their thesis by the end of that semester, an incomplete grade will be assigned until the thesis has been defended before committee, at which time a change of grade form will be submitted by the faculty advisor. Incomplete grades will be converted to a failing grade if the thesis is not defended within one year of the incomplete grade being assigned. Please note, withdrawals are not possible after the end of the semester in which the student first enrolls in PSY 498. Once past that point, students must complete the course (and can delay graduation) or receive a F as a final grade.
The Thesis “Proposal” and “Defense”. The Department of Psychology requires that students working on an Honors Project successfully pass a thesis proposal meeting (culmination of PSY 498 semester) and a thesis defense meeting (culmination of PSY 499). The student is expected to provide an oral justification of the project to their research committee, which will include a short summary of the research itself, followed by a period of questioning and discussion with members of the committee. The purpose of the proposal is to have the student present their research project and carefully review the rationale for the work and study design. The purpose of the defense is to give the student a chance to show his or her familiarity with the topic of the research and to gather the committee together to share comments and suggestions. Students will be expected to distribute a written version of the work to be proposed/defended prior to the defense meeting itself. At least two weeks prior to the thesis proposal/defense meeting, the student should give a final draft to the faculty research advisor. The advisor will carefully review this document, provide feedback, and once the advisor’s approval is obtained, the student should then distribute the final copy of the paper to be proposed/defended to the remaining committee members. Distribution of the paper to committee members must occur at least one week before the defense so that the research committee members have time to review the document before going into the meeting.
It is the student’s responsibility to prepare and distribute all materials electronically to the research committee and to arrange for time and place of the upcoming proposal/defense meeting. The document must follow APA style, be neat and organized, and contain: title page, abstract, the body of the paper, and any appendices, such as measures. Students are encouraged to allow at least two weeks faculty members for the committee meeting(s), as it is often hard to find a time convenient for all committee members. Once the student has arranged the date and time, a room must be reserved through the campus online system (ReservIt) and faculty informed of the meeting location. While the thesis proposal meeting should involve only the student and faculty committee, the student may invite others to watch the thesis defense, such as research assistants who have helped with the project or friends who are interested and want to provide support.
For the proposal and defense meetings, students are expected to dress appropriately and conduct themselves in a professional way. This is a formal opportunity for the student to present him or herself in a professional manner that suggests how they may perform in future roles in graduate school or professional settings. This is valuable information that may be used in writing letters of recommendation on the student’s behalf. Students should work to communicate their points clearly and professionally, and respectfully address each committee member’s ideas and suggestions. Students will want to prepare a brief (10-15 minute) presentation that outlines the key components of relevant background literature, specific aims and hypotheses of their own project, what they intend/have accomplished, and how this is relevant to existing literature and broader societal implications. Students, while often anxious about this process, should be encouraged to realize the benefits of this experience. They have the opportunity to discuss a topic that is close to their heart with faculty members who also care deeply about the topic. This commonly leads to wonderful, stimulating discussion and a chance to learn from one another.
Finally, the student should be prepared that at the end of the thesis defense, he or she will be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates on the quality of the project and makes decisions regarding recommendations for whether the project has been successfully completed. Usually these deliberations take only a few minutes, after which the student will be invited back into the room and the results of the committee’s decision shared with the student.
At the end of the thesis proposal and defense meetings, signatures from the committee should be obtained on the signature page. Signatures may typically be obtained even if some minor revisions are required. If more than minor revisions are required, committee members may opt to sign the signature page after they have noted that revisions have been successfully made. Once all committee signatures have been obtained, the faculty advisor will submit the PSY 498/499 grade for that semester.
Last Steps. From this point on, it is up to the student whether or not to do anything further with the thesis. The student may wish to meet further with the faculty advisor to discuss the possibility of continuing on the research in some form, or the possibility of publication. In this discussion, it is important for the student to clarify authorship of any publication that results from the thesis research, as well as who would be responsible for what tasks in preparing for publication. Students who fail to make progress on publication after two years default their rights to first authorship to the faculty member if the faculty member chooses to pursue publication. If the student wishes to go on to graduate school and a professional career in psychology, publication of the thesis can be an important and valuable first step. Importantly, each student should provide a complete copy of their thesis data set and any supporting data to their faculty advisor. Students are responsible for reviewing the requirements of the IRB for data protection and storage and discuss these steps with the faculty advisor to ensure best methods for data storage, protection, or destruction post study completion.
Finally, while there are many challenges to completing this two-semester honors sequence, most students who complete this feel that it was a positive, growth-stimulating experience. It is important to recognize the skills used throughout this process - resourcefulness, persistence, organization and maturity - in order to accomplish this goal!