As a rough guide, honors theses typically consist of about 60 pages of text. The thesis must use the university's official format for Ph.D. theses, available from the College of Arts and Sciences. The student is required to supply the Department with a final copy of the thesis to be filed in the departmental library. This copy must be spiral bound with a clear plastic cover. The thesis should follow standard archaeological bibliographic and citation techniques appropriate for the relevant subdiscipline. It is customary to provide the thesis advisor (and often committee members) with final copies of the thesis.
New graduate students often discover on reaching graduate school that there is a considerable gap between what they have learned about a subject from books, and actually formulating and carrying out original research in the field. Making this transition is one of the most important challenges that they face as a graduate student. Doing an honors thesis gives you the chance to take this step as an undergraduate through participating in original research in an area in which you are especially interested.
In the process you learn how to frame a research question, develop methods and analytical techniques with which to address it, and to discuss your results in the context of relevant archaeological literature. In doing so you work closely with one or several faculty members.
The most important advantages of doing an honors thesis are learning how to do original research, and being able to learn more about, and contribute to, a topic in which you are especially interested.
There are also practical benefits to doing an honors thesis. If you are interested in going on to graduate school, this experience helps you to evaluate whether or not you are really interested in research. Furthermore, this experience also enables faculty members to get to know you well, and to make any recommendations that they may write much more substantive. In addition, you receive university recognition for this work in the form of university honors. Sometimes undergraduate honors research can be published.
Doing an honors thesis is very demanding academically and takes a great deal of time and effort. Students find that not only does doing the research take time, but writing the research up, and even the mechanics of making proper citations, putting together extensive bibliographies, and creating and referencing figures and tables is much more time consuming than they had ever imagined. Occasionally, students are unable to complete the thesis in time for the spring deadline. As the program guidelines suggest, it is best to start on honors research in you sophomore or junior year.
There are several other factors you should consider when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of honors research. Although faculty will help you as much as they can, you will have to learn to work independently with no cohort support.Sometimes students find that by spring of their Senior year, their GPA no longer qualifies them for university honors. (In this case, however, if the research is outstanding, they will be considered for the Department of Archaeology award for research.) Furthermore, the fact that you are doing an honor thesis may not help with applications for graduate school because the final results of your work towards an honors thesis work are not known until after applications for graduate school are due.
Choosing a Topic
It is important to work in an area in which you are especially interested and with which you have a solid academic groundwork, i.e., on which you have upper level coursework, written a paper, or done some preliminary research in class. Before agreeing to supervise honors theses, faculty will generally expect you to have taken upper level courses that relate to your topic. Past honors theses are on file in the Anthropology and Art History departmental libraries. These are useful for ideas about topics as well as for many aspects of working on theses such as methods, length, and format. You will need to discuss potential thesis topics and the data that may be available to address them with faculty before they agree to advise an honors thesis.
Methods will vary greatly with subject and should be discussed in detail with your advisor.
Human Subjects Research Review
Students with research involving human subjects must obtain approval from the Washington University “Hilltop Human Subjects Committee” before beginning their research. Guidelines and downloadable forms are available on the HHSC website. These will require a description of the research project, plans for obtaining consent, etc. Most students will qualify for “exempt status”. The HHSC meets once a month to review applications; meeting dates are on the website.
Access to Laboratory Facilities
Those of you who are doing laboratory-based theses will need to obtain special permission for extra access hours to laboratory facilities. You will need to discuss this with your advisor and other professors ahead of time.
Consider applying for research funds from the W.U. Undergraduate Research scholarship competition, or other research and travel grants. These are mainly limited to projects in the junior and senior years. If you enroll for academic credit for your honors research, allocate the money usually spent for text books and other class expenses for your research. We are always looking for funding outlets to assist in student research, so please let us know if you locate one we have not yet identified.
Bringing a Document to Official Defense
The Archaeology faculty requires a complete document draft for any defense. Copies of the appropriate document must be provided to all committee members at least two weeks before the proposed defense date. A "complete document" will include: the cover sheet; abstract; table of contents; a list of illustrations; complete body of text; conclusions and summaries; the bibliography; all figures, maps, tables, charts, and other illustrations; and all appendices.
Academic Timing of Requested Defense
Students bringing a Senior Honors Thesis to defense are expected to provide a copy of complete draft to all committee members no later than March 5 for spring degrees or November 15 for fall degrees.
Guidelines for Defense
The student should prepare a short oral synopsis or review of the research the length of which will vary with the document coming to defense. For a research paper, thesis, or dissertation, such a review should include: A short resume of the problem; a description of how the student selected the problem, how data were collected, what analytical techniques were employed, significance of the research, and a short recap of the results of the research. For a proposal defense, all the above except results should be addressed. Slides, overheads, and other AV materials may be included. After this synopsis, the committee will conduct an oral examination of the candidate.