Guide for Thesis Supervisors

Thank you for supervising an individualized major senior thesis project. Your expertise is critical in guiding the student’s project and setting the criteria for its evaluation. The guidelines below outline some considerations particular to individualized major students. They are most appropriate for traditional research projects but may also be relevant to less traditional final projects.


All individualized majors complete a capstone, which provides them an opportunity to integrate knowledge they have acquired during the course of their majors. About 40-45 percent of individualized majors do so by completing a thesis. (The rest complete our capstone course or an approved alternative.)

Thesis projects usually take the form of a traditional research study, but other formats, such as a photo essay, film, website, or piece of creative writing are also possible. 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 should include a piece of writing that describes the student’s learning process.

Thesis Courses

Some thesis projects will comprise six credits completed over the course of two semesters. This is mandatory for students completing Honors Scholar requirements in their individualized major. Non-honors students may complete a one-semester, three-credit thesis project. Students intending to complete a thesis project must submit a thesis proposal which they have discussed with their thesis supervisor no later than the last day of classes of the semester before they begin their thesis.

In the social sciences and humanities: In the Fall semester of the senior year, students will typically begin their research by enrolling in a thesis-related research seminar, graduate course, or independent study in their thesis supervisor’s department. During the Spring semester, students will enroll in UNIV 4697W Senior Thesis (for which the thesis supervisor serves as instructor) in which they will complete the research and write the thesis. During this process, the student meets regularly with the thesis supervisor for feedback on data collection, evidence gathering, analysis, and writing.

In the sciences, students may follow a more extended sequence, perhaps two to three semesters of data collection and laboratory work (independent studies or research courses) followed by thesis writing (UNIV 4697W) in the final semester.

Learning Outcomes

Individual faculty will differ in expectations regarding research methodology, theoretical approaches, and presentation of findings. Nonetheless, there are some general criteria and intended learning outcomes for all individualized major thesis projects.

  • The student’s research, analysis, and writing on the thesis project should be relevant to their individualized major and represent an opportunity for them to integrate and deepen at least several aspects of study in the major.
  • 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.
  • Select a methodological approach to address the research question.
  • Identify appropriate sources and collect relevant and reliable data that addresses the research question.
  • Analyze the strengths and limitations of different scholarly approaches to the question, and recognize the resulting interpretative conflicts.
  • Develop an argument that is sustained by the available evidence
  • Present that argument in a clear, well-organized manner.

Requirements for Honors Students

As noted above, all Honors students are expected to complete at least six credits of thesis-relevant coursework. In addition, all Honors students are expected to have a second reader and make a public presentation of their thesis project.

Second Reader

We ask Honors students to identify a second reader for their thesis from a relevant discipline, which may be the same as, or different from, the supervisor’s discipline. The second reader will provide the student with a different perspective and may provide additional insights on how 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

Honors students are required to make a public presentation of their thesis research in a format negotiated with the thesis supervisor. Where possible, the audience should include the thesis supervisor, the second reader, and an IISP staff member. Other faculty members and the student’s peers may be invited to join the audience, as well.

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

Note: Although non-Honors students who are completing a thesis are not required to have a second reader or make a public presentation, we would certainly welcome them to do so.

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.

Thesis Course Registration

Specific instructions for registering for UNIV 4697W are available on the Capstone page.

Thank You!

We very much 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.