Psychology Honors FAQs

If you are considering honors research or are a current honors student with questions about completing the program requirements, the questions and answers below may be helpful.

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

A. No.  In PBS, 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 "teaching," "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. I have been working with my advisor for some time (e.g., as a Presidential Fellow or a research assistant), can I use data from that experience for my thesis?

A. Yes and no.  You can certainly include data you gathered before enrolling in PSYC 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 PSYC 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 PSYC 89).

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: How long should the 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.  Past theses in the department range from 30-80 pages.

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 for that area.

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: What are the sections that should be included in my thesis?

A: The body of the thesis should include several distinct sections: 

  1. Abstract – summary of the research study – approximately 1 page (200-500 words)
  2. Introduction – a thorough literature review on your topic and an explanation of how your specific experiment(s) grew from that literature
  3. Methods – a description of your methodologies with sufficient detail to allow the reader to understand and replicate what you did, but not more than that.  Details, such as an inventory you used, can be included as an Appendix.
  4. Results – a thorough description of the outcomes of your experiment(s), including statistical statements and graphical representations, as appropriate.  It is typical, in a thesis, to imbed the graphs (with the figure legend) into the text.  Do not, however, include your raw data.
  5. Discussion – your interpretations of your results, usually referring back to the hypothesis(es) outlined in the Introduction.
  6. References – all works cited in the thesis

Note that some theses include more than one experiment; you may separate these out (as "Experiment One," "Experiment Two" etc.) if that makes sense for explaining your body of work.

Your thesis should also include:

  • Title page: The first page of your thesis should be a title page, signed by your committee members.  See a sample title page.
  • Table of Contents: with page numbers.
  • Acknowledgements: You should thank everyone who contributed to the completion of your thesis.  And don't forget to acknowledge any sources of funding that you may have received.
  • Appendices (optional): any additional information that is not critical to the work, but you feel merits inclusion.

Q: What do I need to turn in to the department and when is the deadline?

A: One signed PDF of the thesis must be sent to the PBS department email by 3pm on Friday, May 24. Note that electronic signatures are acceptable.

You may also want to have a few printed and bound copies made: for your advisor, second reader, funding source (if they ask), your parents, and, of course, yourself.  Many students use Gnomon Copy on Main Street. You will need to pay for these copies, although if you or your advisor have research funds for your project, then you may be able to use this source to pay for them. The department pays for the printing and binding of archive copies for the department and the library.


Q: What is the "oral defense"?

A: The format and timing of the defense is at the discretion of your committee (i.e., your advisor and second reader). Typically, you will give a 15-20 minute overview of your research and then the committee members will discuss any questions they have about your work.  At the end of the defense you will be asked to leave the room so that your committee can discuss and evaluate  In total, the defense usually takes about one and a half hours. Note that for Neuroscience students only, a member of the Neuroscience Committee will attend in addition to your advisor and second reader. A Psychology Undergraduate committee member is not required to attend the defense of a Psychology student.

You should give a draft of your thesis to your committee members AT LEAST ONE WEEK before your defense.  All the major sections of the draft should be complete, including citations.  (They may or may not want the bibliography at this point—ask them!)  The purpose of the defense is to identify areas of the thesis that may need revision, so it should be a good draft, needing only minor editing.

Once you have chosen a time and date for your defense which works for your committee members, you will need to contact Michelle Powers to reserve a room in Moore Hall.

NOTE: The oral defense is considered private, and only your committee members will be in attendance.  Other students, friends, or family are NOT allowed to attend, but they are welcome and encouraged to attend the public poster session (see below).

Q: What is the presentation at the department symposium like?

A: In consultation with your advisor, you should prepare a poster that describes your thesis work in a succinct way.  During the symposium, also know as the poster session, you will stand near your poster much of the time to answer questions and discuss your work with people who stop by to see it.  It is recommended that you can summarize your project in 3-5 minutes.

The poster session is usually held the week before the last week of classes.  Indeed, we recommend having a draft of your poster available at the defense for your committee members to review and offer suggestions.  You will need to complete the oral defense of your thesis BEFORE the poster session. 

Q: Are there other events honors students should be aware of?

A: The College hosts an Honor's Dinner typically at the end of May in Alumni Hall.  There is also a Senior Honors Thesis Showcase at the end of May.  Honors students are also recognized at the PBS Department Picnic the Saturday before commencement.  Families are invited to attend this picnic.