Guide for Thesis Supervisors

Thank you for considering supervising an individualized major senior thesis. Your guidance and the practices in your discipline are most important for framing the individualized major thesis project and setting the standards for its evaluation. The guidelines below outline some of the particular considerations relevant to individualized major students. The guidelines are most appropriate for traditional research projects in the social sciences, humanities, and sciences that result in a lengthy paper. Aspects of these guidelines may also be relevant to students undertaking a less traditional final project.

All individualized majors are expected to fulfill a capstone requirement, which provides them an opportunity to integrate the knowledge they have acquired in their major courses. This requirement can be fulfilled by taking the program’s capstone course or by completing a thesis project. Students in the Honors Program who plan to fulfill their Honors Scholar requirements in their individualized major must complete a thesis. Other students who are motivated to complete a substantial, independent capstone project are also encouraged to complete a thesis.

Thesis Project

Thesis projects may take the form of the traditional research study or other forms such as a photo essay, film, website, fiction, or poetry. Thesis projects, whatever their form, should contribute to the development of knowledge or practice in new ways, involve significant background research, and require sustained attention in the implementation of the project. If the final product takes a less traditional form, it would still include a piece of written work that documents the student’s learning process and outcomes.

Thesis Coursework

Most theses will consist of a six-credit sequence completed over the course of two to three semesters. Students intending to complete Honors Scholar requirements in their individualized major must complete a six-credit thesis sequence. Non-honors students may opt to complete a three-credit thesis.

In the social sciences and humanities, students will typically enroll in a research seminar, graduate course, or independent study with their thesis supervisor during the Fall semester. Often the student will use the Fall semester to write a research paper that reviews and evaluates that scholarship and begins to explore the specific topic of his or her thesis.

During the Spring semester, the student will typically enroll in UNIV 4697W Senior Thesis, which is a one-on-one research and writing courses for which the thesis supervisor serves as instructor. During this semester the student is typically engaged in a close investigation of his or her research question and writing the thesis. The student meets regularly with the thesis supervisor who provides feedback and advice on data collection and evidence gathering, analysis, and writing.

In the sciences, students may follow a somewhat different sequence with two or more semesters of data collection and laboratory work (when the student registers for a research course or independent study in his or her thesis supervisor’s department) followed by the writing up of results (when the student registers for UNIV 4697W Senior Thesis).

Students enroll in UNIV 4697W using an independent study form. The thesis supervisor signs the instructor line. The department head line is signed by the Director of the IMJR Program (Monica van Beusekom) to reflect the required Program consent for course registration.


Disciplines and individual faculty will differ in their expectations regarding methodology, theoretical approaches, and presentation of findings. Nonetheless, the Individualized Major Program has set out some broad expectations of learning outcomes for individualized major thesis writers.

  1. The student’s research, analysis, and writing on the thesis project should be relevant to his or her individualized major and represent an opportunity for him or her to integrate and deepen at least several aspects of study in the major.
  2. A thesis should do more than summarize the existing literature on a particular topic. It should make an original contribution to the field of study, present new findings in the form of new data, or new, critical interpretations of existing material. It should reflect a good command of the research methodologies in the relevant discipline(s).

Upon completion of the thesis project the student should be able to:

  • Define a research question and design a substantial research project.
  • Identify appropriate primary and secondary sources relevant to his/her research project. The student is able to collect relevant and reliable data that addresses his/her research question.
  • Analyze the strengths and limitations of different approaches scholars have taken to the research question. The student is able to recognize interpretative conflicts resulting from these different approaches.
  • Select an approach or several approaches appropriate to addressing his/her research question.
  • Develop an argument that is sustained by the available evidence and present that argument in a clear, well-organized manner consistent with disciplinary or interdisciplinary practices.

Honors Thesis

Second Reader

We ask Honors students to identify a second reader for their thesis. The second reader should be a faculty member from a discipline relevant to the student’s thesis. The second reader may be in the same discipline as the supervisor or a different one. A second reader may provide the student with a different perspective and additional insights into how best to achieve the intended learning outcomes of the thesis. The thesis supervisor, in consultation with the student, determines when to bring the second reader on board. It is the supervisor’s prerogative to define how the grade for the thesis will be determined.

Public Presentation

The Honors student is required to make a public presentation of the thesis research in a format agreed with the thesis supervisor. Where possible, it is recommended that the audience includes the thesis supervisor and the second reader. It would be a matter for the supervisor to decide if the presentation would form part of the assessed work for the thesis course. Ideally, an IISP staff member would also be part of the audience. (The IISP staff member plays no role in the evaluation of the thesis.) Other faculty members and the student’s peers may be invited to join the presentation audience.

Existing departmental exhibitions or “Frontiers in Undergraduate Research” make excellent venues for student presentation. If the student cannot find a venue for his or her presentation, please consult with IISP and we will coordinate one.

Honors Advising

An IISP staff member serves as Honors Advisor to each individualized major following an Honors Scholar plan of study. The staff member’s role as an Honors advisor is to coordinate and facilitate students’ plans for completing Honors Scholar requirements, including the thesis, and to monitor progress toward completion.

While NON-Honors students who are completing the thesis are not required to have a second reader or make a public presentation, we would certainly welcome them to do so.

Additional Information

The Individualized Major Program has a student guide to thesis writing which is distributed to students and is available at our website. We expect individualized majors to submit a thesis proposal (form, description of project), which they have discussed with their thesis supervisor, to our office no later than the last day of classes of the semester before they begin their thesis.

We appreciate your willingness to supervise an individualized major’s senior thesis. If you have any questions about the Individualized Major Program or about supervising an individualized major thesis, please contact IISP staff.