First Year

Seminar Series

The first part of the honors program involves completing the seminar series junior year. One seminar is offered each quarter for the honors cohort. The seminars are taught by different faculty, all of whom are free to teach what they like. Typically, this means the subjects will range from political theory to globalization to the environment to constitutional law. Usually, discussion is the basis for these seminars, not lectures. The seminars are challenging and involve a great deal of work.

The Honors seminars differ from other seminars in two ways. First, as a junior, you will be taking three seminars with a class size limited to the honors cohort of between 12 and 15 students. Second, you are with the same group of excellent students for the full year.

Thesis Preparation

As you complete the junior year seminars, you should start thinking about the topic you would like to research in depth for your thesis. You may wish to select courses during your junior year that will help you to develop ideas for your thesis. You might also consider exploring ideas for a future thesis in one of your seminar papers. Keep an open mind and feel free to explore new topics as your interests evolve. The third quarter of your junior year is the time to get serious about narrowing down your thesis topic.

One way to select a thesis topic is to focus on fairly narrow empirical or theoretical puzzles. Although a 15,000 word paper may seem impossibly long, most students find they have much more information than they can possibly include. Once you narrow your topic down, you should begin to think about which faculty member you would like to work with.

Selecting a Faculty Adviser

You need to select a faculty member to supervise your thesis. Who you select is up to you, but keep in mind the following three points. First, you should select an adviser who knows something about your topic or your theoretical approach. If you have a burning interest to use Chaos Theory to study parliamentary maneuvers in Xanadu, then scan the faculty for someone who knows something about one of the three: chaos, parliament, or (improbably) Xanadu.

Second, advising honors theses is both fun and time consuming. Make it easy for the faculty member to say "yes" to being your adviser. First, respect your potential adviser's time, be punctual, have specific questions, and be enthusiastic. Second, have several specific ideas on what you think you might like to do. Third, make clear that you understand that this is your project, and that you are ultimately responsible for its success. You should devise your own reading list, set your own deadlines, arrange to turn in your own drafts. Show initiative.

Third, some of you may have trouble finding someone to work with, either because your topic is obscure or the faculty member(s) you are interested in working with are unavailable. When confronted with these types of problems, go see Christina Kerr or Professor Mercer. We can work on the problem together.