What is a Senior Thesis in HSOC?

A senior thesis in Health & Societies is a substantial independent research project completed over the course of a year, from January to December.  It provides the opportunity for deep, sustained thought, study and writing about a topic.  In form it is an analytical essay of 12,500-20,000 words (50-80 pages, not including bibliography) that engages in a scholarly discussion with, and uses the methodologies of, at least one of the three core HSOC disciplines: history, anthropology, and sociology.

The HSOC thesis program begins with HSOC 420 (taken in the spring term of junior year) which  is required for entering the thesis process.
This course is by application only.
 Learn about HSOC 420

Here is an overview of the Senior thesis process:

  • November: submit application for HSOC 420 (download below and submit on or before due date in November)
  • January-April: Take HSOC 420 
  • April: submit proposal to faculty committee for approval to write senior thess
  • May-August: Research and writing over the summer 
  • September-December: Register for HSOC 498 (independent study for thesis writers) and attend three mandatory monthly meetings
  • December: Completion of the thesis under supervision of an advisor, due on the final day of the Fall semester
  • February: Submission of corrected and bound thesis by February 1st.
  • April: Senior Symposium - presentation of research in a lightning round and of research poster [April 27, 2020 3:30-5:00 pm]

For more information about writing a senior thesis, contact Dr. Meghan Crnic (crnic@sas)


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)  

Chapters or sections may be arranged thematically and/or chronologically. Methodology and literature reviews are often discussed in the introduction and at the beginning of chapters, and woven into the narrative rather than constituting their own sections. Similarly, data should be presented and analyzed throughout each chapter. Theses must be fully referenced, using one of the core disciplines’ accepted formats.

What isn't a thesis?

  • Capstone Paper: A Capstone project is a 20-page independent research paper completed in a 400-level course or independent study. All HSOC majors take a Capstone course and write a Capstone paper.  HSOC 420 fulfills this requirement.   The senior thesis is more extensive in scope, depth and length, than a capstone paper. 
  • Efficacy Study or Policy Paper: Research projects that study the efficacy of specific interventions and/or those written as policy interventions are valuable, but are not appropriate approaches for an HSOC thesis. These projects are better pursued as independent studies.
  • Quantitative Studies: Projects using data sets to produce primarily quantitative analysis are not appropriate approaches for an HSOC thesis.  These projects are also better pursued as independent studies. Who should write a Senior Thesis?


Who should write a Senior Thesis?

        Writing a thesis can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience. A successful thesis requires a substantial investment of time, work and commitment over the course of 13 months – beginning with HSOC 420 in your Junior Spring, and ending with your final submission of your thesis in January of your senior year.  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%. However, writing a senior thesis is not for everyone because of the time, commitment and skill level required.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Summer: Summer is a time for thesis research: we expect most research will be completed during summer before your senior year. Commiting to writing a thesis necessitates that you allot time for research. This may constrain the choices you make regarding jobs, internships, travel and other study.
  • Funding: In past years students have been successful at earning grants to help defray the costs associated with research (including living expenses!) over the summer 
  • Study abroad: Students who want to study abroad during spring of junior year or fall of senior year cannot do a thesis because they be unable to take HSOC 420 and/or HSOC 498.
  • Course load: We strongly recommend that students, in addition to their senior thesis "course" (498) only take only three other courses their Senior Fall, due to the workload of writing the thesis and meeting with the 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.


Admission to the senior thesis process is based on

  • Successful completion of HSOC 420, as determined by a grade of an A- or above
  • Permission of the HSOC faculty committee to proceed to thesis writing, based on the 3-4 page proposal developed during HSOC 420 and submitted in April.


Eligibility for Honors

  • Successful completion of HSOC 420
  • Successful completion of senior thesis by end of exam period in December
  • Grade of A or A- on the senior thesis
  • Attendance and presentation of research and research poster at Senior Symposium