I have really enjoyed facilitating student research in specific areas of scholarship. It is in a sense the most satisfying aspect of this job, and I always look forward to new opportunities for this type of interaction.
That said, I have learned that it is helpful to lay down the law, if you will, at the outset. Hence, the following prerequisites will be observed. These are not meant to replace or revise those already in place in the Linguistics Department, as seen here. Nor do they conflict with the latter. Instead, this is my personal interpretation based on my experiences with various students who have completed Honors Theses under my supervision.
- Major requirements (Intro to Linguistics, etc) must be out of the way before starting a major research project
- Likewise for elective courses relevant to the Honors Thesis research topic in question (Mesoamerican Writing Systems, etc)
Also, students must know the following givens and preferences, which constitute my way of thinking of best practices in this area:
- There are four parts to a successful Honors Thesis: Literature Review, Topic Formulation, Data Collection and Analysis, and Writing.
- Ideally, the Literature Review and Topic Formulation parts are carried out in the Spring term, the Data Collection and Analysis part in the Summer, and the Writing part in the Fall.
- There exist a couple of different sources of funding for research travel and equipment for students interested in submitting an Honors Thesis. Please consult with faculty about these options.
- Student must approach other faculty members as potential readers for their thesis; faculty advisor will suggest which faculty members might be the most appropriate given the topic. This must be done fairly early, once a definitive topic is in sight, to minimize the chance of surprises farther down the road.
- Having a topic in mind, from the beginning, even if somewhat general, greatly facilitates the topic formulation phase. (You may access information on past Honors Theses in Linguistics here; these can offer some ideas that could assist in narrowing down a topic.) This phase is when student and faculty advisor set up the literature review necessary to understand existing case studies and formulate the appropriate data collection procedures to undertake a new case study. The student will turn in short essays each week, each essay dealing with basic concepts of the field, particular case studies of relevance to the topic in question, and review of methods used to address similar topics.
- If data collection is necessary, and it almost always is, the student must take the initiative to deal with the IRB application process. This process must be underway well before the end of the first semester if there is to be enough time to obtain IRB authorization, gather data and analyze the results, and write the thesis itself in time to graduate.
- Meeting with a statistics consultant during the process of research design will make for greater clarity and objectivity, and is thus required.
- Once the research project is designed, student and faculty advisor must review it carefully for clarity and cohesion.
- Following the data gathering season, student and faculty advisor must meet to set up new goals for the final phase.
- Student and faculty advisor must meet with statistic consultant if needed to better understand the nature of the data that was collected, and to check for additional methods that can be applied.
- Write-up of thesis will take place by assignment of deadlines for the completion of different parts of the thesis, keeping in mind the natural progression and cumulative nature of the research project. These deadlines will likely be very close together, at this stage, perhaps only a week apart for some parts of the thesis, and two weeks for others.
- For a Fall term defense, the thesis draft must be completely ready by mid-to-late October, and the defense will take place during the first week of November. All faculty involved in the defense should have at least two weeks to read the draft before the day of the defense.
- The defense consists of a 15-minute presentation, in the style of a conference paper with appropriate handout. Following this, faculty will ask questions, and once satisfied, the faculty members that are part of the student’s Honors Thesis Committee will exit the room to discuss their findings. Afterward, the faculty will announce their findings to the student.
- It is often the case that revisions are needed before final submission of the thesis.
Well, that’s about it. I could have added more, but to get the gist, this is plenty. Do feel free to email me or Professor Misha Becker, our department’s Honors advisor, with questions.