Psychology Independent Research and Honors

Qualified students have the opportunity to engage in independent research under the direction of a faculty member. Especially qualified students may enroll in honors research.


Independent Research

The course is designed to enable specifically qualified students, usually seniors, to engage in independent laboratory or field research under the direction of a faculty member. To gain permission to register for PSYC 88 students must first complete the appropriate checklist (below), which includes identifying and obtaining the signature of a faculty advisor.  Students may take up to three terms of Independent Research. However, no more than two terms of 88, 89, or a combination of 88s and 89s may count toward the eight required courses for the major. Normally a student must have a minimum grade point average of 3.0 both overall and in the major to enroll. This course may NOT be used to satisfy the 60- or above requirements for the major.

Prerequisites: PSYC 1 or 6, and 10 and 11. Non-majors may request exemption from normal prerequisites and other requirements of Psychology 88.

Permission Checklists:


Honors research

This course is designed to enable especially qualified students, usually seniors, to engage in independent laboratory or field research under the direction of a faculty member. Two terms of this course are required of those who seek to graduate with Honors in Psychology.  Students may take two or three terms of Honors Research, but no more than two terms of 88, 89, or a combination of 88s and 89s may count toward the eight required courses for the major. This course may not be used to fulfill the upper-level (60 or above) major requirement.  Students must enroll in Honors Research before the second week of the Fall term of their Senior year.

Enrolling in Honors Research

Students who meet the criteria outlined in the ORC for Honors should first identify a faculty member who will supervise their thesis research and discuss the planned work with that faculty member.  After this consultation, the PDF iconHonors Research Permission Checklist (pdf) will guide students through the application process, and the completed checklist will serve as their permission request to register for PSYC 89.  The application process includes forming a Thesis Committee (see Evaluation of Honors, below).

  • PSYC 1, 10 and 11 are prerequisites. A 60 level course is also strongly recommended. Students should check well in advance with their faculty advisor for additional prerequisites.
  • Students must have a minimum grade point average of 3.30 in the major and 3.0 overall to enroll.
  • The permission checklist must be signed by the advisor, and then the Chair of the Undergraduate Committee (Professor Catherine Cramer).
  • For potential sources of funds for independent research visit the PBS Research Opportunities page and the Dartmouth Undergraduate Advising and Research site.

Evaluation of Honors

Honors theses will be evaluated by a two-person Thesis Committee approved by the Undergraduate Committee. Thesis Committee members must be identified prior to the student registering for PSYC 89. The Thesis Committee must include a regular member of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty. The other individual, if not a regular member of PBS, must have an active academic appointment (e.g., Research Associate, Research Assistant Professor, Medical School Faculty, Faculty in other departments of the College, etc.). Either Committee member may serve as the primary advisor. The two members of the Thesis Committee may not be in the same laboratory.  In addition, all Honors students will present their work in a departmental symposium at the conclusion of the Spring term.

The Thesis Committee will read and evaluate the thesis and oral presentation, and make recommendations to the Undergraduate Committee regarding the awarding of Honors or High Honors.  The Undergraduate Committee considers both this recommendation and grades in the major in making a recommendation to the department faculty.  The Thesis Committee will also recommend in writing meritorious students to the Undergraduate Committee for consideration for the various departmental prizes, which are voted on by faculty who attend the Honors presentations and/or the year-end faculty meeting. 

Grades for PSYC 89 are assigned by the primary advisor.  It is common for faculty advisors to find it difficult to evaluate the thesis work until it is complete, and thus it is typical to assign a grade of ON (On-going) for initial terms of Psychology 89.  The "ON" grades must be changed to regular letter grades by the end of the Spring term, when the thesis is completed.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Q. Can I do a thesis based on a review of the literature on a topic that interests me?

    A. No.  In Psychological and Brain Sciences, we require that all theses be based on some form of empirical work.  This empirical work could take one of many different approaches (e.g., behavioral testing, anatomical or histological analysis, field observation), but our expectation is that the final product will represent new, original information.

    Of course, virtually all studies are grounded in previous knowledge, so you will need to do a literature review to provide the background for your own studies.

    Q. What do you mean by a "regular member" of the Department faculty?

    A. Regular members of the faculty are those who hold the appointments of Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor (also sometimes referred to as tenured/tenure-track faculty).  At least one person on your Thesis Committee must be from this group.  Nonregular members of the faculty have titles that include terms like "adjunct," "visiting," "lecturer," and "research."  These faculty members can certainly make important contributions to your thesis, including serving as either primary advisor or second reader, but the nature of their appointment does not allow them voting privileges.

    Q. How long should a thesis be?

    A. There is no set length of a thesis in Psychological and Brain Sciences, because the types of studies done by our students can be very different from one another.  For example, one thesis may require a lengthy description of complex methodology; another may have extensive statistical analyses; and yet another could be relatively straightforward in methods and results but produce unexpected findings requiring far-reaching discussion.

    It would be worth your while to look over some past theses (available in both the department and the library) to get a sense of what successful theses look like.

    A related question is "how many experiments should my thesis have?" and the answer is, once again, it depends on the topic.  You should discuss with your advisor his or her expectations about what constitutes an acceptable body of work on that area.

    Q. What if my hypothesis is not confirmed or my results aren't very good?

    A. That's ok!  The point of an Honors thesis is to grapple with a question.  If your hypothesis was reasonable and your methodology sound, then your results are what they are.  Of course, you will want, in your discussion section, to consider the impact of any potential flaws in your methods and the possibility that alternative hypotheses would be more consistent with your findings.

    Q. I have been working with my advisor for some time (e.g., as a Presidential Fellow or Benner Fellow or work-study), can I use data from that experience for my thesis?

    A. Yes and no.  You can certainly include data you gathered before enrolling in Psychology 89 in the thesis; however it would usually be in the form of findings you cite in the Introduction or as a Preliminary Study.  The thesis needs to have empirical work that was conducted during the terms of enrollment in Psychology 89.  If you are going to be basing some of your thesis on previous work you did with your advisor, you should make clear in the Prospectus what portion of the work is new (i.e., part of the Psychology 89).

    Q. Can you suggest a time-line for completion of the thesis?

    A. Start at the end (the date the final draft is due to the thesis committee) and work back.  You will want to give yourself time to write the Results and Discussion, so make sure your statistical analyses are done early enough to have time to think about what you have to say in those sections.  If you have complex analyses, you will want to have all the data collected in time to do them.  If your methods are difficult to learn or your subjects hard to get, you will want to put adequate time on your calendar for that.  Do the literature review for your Introduction as early as you can and write up your Methods as you go along, so you don't have to rush to do these in the end (and don't risk forgetting important details).

    The dates for completion of various requirements for Honors are detailed on the checklist.  In consultation with your advisor, you should set realistic deadlines for intermediate steps to reaching completion of the project.

    Q. Where can I get funding to support the expenses of doing a thesis?

    A. Begin by checking with the office of Undergraduate Advising and Research.  Many of our honors students have also been funded through programs overseen by their residence halls and other organizations to which they belong.  Finally, if you have not yet entered your senior year, consider applying for one of the Department’s fellowships, the Benner and the Filene, which provide a stipend of a term of research, typically leading up to admission to the honors program.

    When seeking funding, don’t forget that you are likely to incur expenses for copying and binding the thesis and for producing the poster presentation.  In recent years, these costs have been in the range of $75-125.