What is a senior honors thesis?

A senior thesis in Science, Technology and Society is a substantial independent research project completed over the course of a year, from January to December.  Theses are analytical essays that range from 12,500-20,000 words (50-80 pages, not including bibliography) that engage in a scholarly discussion with, and engages the methodologies of some of the disciplines that make up STSC (science, technology, environment and medicine). 

Receiving honors in STSCC is a process that begins in the fall of junior year, and continues throughout senior year with the completion of a thesis and presentation of research at senior symposium.  
The process consists of 

What is the process of writing a senior thesis?

1) Enroll in STSC 400 - Research Seminar (spring of junior year) This course fulfills the Capstone requirement.

   During this course you will:

  • Develop a research question in keeping with the goals of the major and develop a projecdt that engages the disciplines of STSC (science, technology, history and sociology) by talking to relevant faculty and researchers about its viability
  • Read the list of past STSC senior thesis topics (see above)
  • Review secondary and primary literature
  • Write a research paper (this fulfills the Capstone requirement)
  • develop a 3-4 page proposal for a thesis

2) Apply to write a senior thesis

  • Submit thesis proposal to faculty committee
  • Receive permission from instructor and program director to proceed
  • Confirm your thesis adviser
  • Submit application to write a thesis and be registered for STSC 498 (see application form attached below) by May 20th

3) Summer Research

  • Continued research of existing literature and of new material
  • Stay in contact with your advisor

4) September

  • Submit 5 page write-up of summer research
  • Submit schedule of meetings with your advisor, signed by the advisor
  • Attend mandatory meeting where you submit these materials

5) October and November

  • Mandatory monthly meetings with STSC Chair & Associate Chair
  • Submit complete rough draft to adviser by Thanksgiving
  • Begin revisions on rough draft

6) December

  • Submit revised thesis to advisor for final grade by the end of fall term (NOTE: the final draft of the thesis must be turned in and graded for the fall term.  There are no incompletes granted for STSC 498.)

7) January

  • January 31 - Submit corrected and bound copy of thesis to Dr. Greene

8) April

  • Present research and research poster at Senior Symposium in a lightning round and poster session (Attendance Required)

The senior thesis is different from the capstone research requirement, required of all majors. Neither a capstone paper or a project completed in an independent study are a senior thesis.

Past STSC Senior Thesis Topics

What a Senior Thesis looks like:

In general, we expect the final thesis will structured similarly to an article or book published in the core disciplines. This would include:

  • Title Page
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures/Illustrations (if applicable)
  • Acknowledgments (optional)
  • Introduction 
  • 2-4 substantive chapters/sections
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography, divided into source type (archival; primary; secondary, etc)  

What ISN'T a thesis:

  • Capstone: A Capstone project is a 20-page independent research paper completed in a 400-level course or independent study. The Capstone project is more limited in nature – students are expected to be able to complete all research and writing within a single semester, and is often guided on a topic related the subject of the Capstone course.
  • Efficacy Study or Policy Paper: Research projects that study the efficacy of specific policies and/or those written as policy interventions are valuable – but are not appropriate approaches for a STSC thesis. These projects are better pursued as independent studies (499).

Who should do a senior thesis?

Many students seem to think that if they have done well in the major so far, they should do a senior thesis. However, a senior thesis is different than taking an advanced class. It involves a magnitude,  mentorship and advance planning far in excess of anything required by other research projects. Most importantly, it requires an investment and commitment in the topic that can sustain the student through months of research, writing, and frustration as well as satisfaction.  

The term "honors" can be misleading: some of our most outstanding and accomplished students don't graduate with honors. For various reasons each of these students choose not to write a thesis. On the other hand, some majors who write excellent honors theses don't have the highest GPAs in the major. Writing a thesis is not for everybody, and it isn't necessary for being successful in the major.After many years of supervising honors theses--successful and, well, not quite so successful--our advice would be something along these lines: you don't choose a thesis, a thesis chooses you. If there is a project or a topic that you have been thinking about already, and can't shake--something that has grabbed hold of you and won't let go--and you have (or will have) a solid advising structure in place, go for it. We will support you 100%.

A few things to keep in mind:
Most of your thesis research will be completed during summer before your senior year. 

  • Grants: In past years students have been successful at earning grants to help defray the costs associated with research (including living expenses!) over the summer 
  • Summer jobs/internships: While we expect that students will be pursuing other work and pursuits over the summer, commiting to writing a thesis necessitates that you allot time for research. This may constrain the choices you make regarding work, etc. 
  • How writing a thesis impacts study abroad: Students who want to study abroad during spring of junior year or fall of senior year cannot do a thesis
  • Course load: We strongly recommend that students, in addition to their senior thesis "course" (498) only take only three other courses their Senior Fall, as you will be writing the bulk of your thesis and meeting with your advisor during this semester.  The thesis is always more work than students expect and the bulk of it happens in the last six weeks of the term.


Consult with Dr. Benson or Dr. Greene.