An honors thesis project is an opportunity for you to work intensively with a small group of professors (led by your honors advisor), pursuing a subject at length and with rigor. An honors thesis will develop your research skills, and provide you with practice in generating and carrying out an extended research and writing project. The project can serve as an intellectually satisfying capstone to your studies as an undergraduate (and not incidentally, your honors thesis will stand as excellent evidence of intellectual fitness for an academic or professional career or for admission to graduate school).
- Having and maintaining a minimum Grade Point Average of 3.3 from the end of the spring semester of your
junior year through the entirety of your senior year
- Securing a faculty advisor who is an anthropologist at UNC
- Successfully completing ANTH 691H and 692H at the appropriate times depending on your graduation date
- Submitting a proposal and receiving approval from the Behavioral Institutional Review Board, if your thesis project involves research with living human beings.
- Eventually securing two additional faculty members to serve on your thesis committee
You may find it difficult to choose or settle upon a topic for research and writing. Students eager and qualified to pursue an honors thesis often begin with the question: “What can I possibly research or write about!?” Investigate possible subject areas and topics in several ways. A particularly memorable course, for instance, might be a source of ideas to explore further; you may have a class paper that could be expanded in depth, or a provocative topic or intellectual issue that remains of interest.
You might approach a favorite professor and ask if, in addition to serving as your honors advisor, he or she has research materials in need of analysis. If you had the opportunity to attend a field school during the summer between your junior and senior years, the subject area and topic of your study could be further researched. These approaches to choosing a topic for research and writing often result in the most satisfying honors experience because you continue to work with your own experiences and materials as well as with ideas and subject areas of interest to you. But, be advised that, however personal, successful honors projects always are based on topics, problems, and methodologies finalized in consultation with your faculty advisor.
Additionally, you may apply for funds to support the activities (travel, equipment; books and related materials, etc.) necessary to carry out your research project. Funds are available from the Honors College Undergraduate Research Award Program as well as the Center for Global Initiatives, if your research concerns a non-U.S. topic. There may be other funding sources available on campus such as the Office of Undergraduate Research, and you can consult with the DUS and your advisor about such possibilities.
Anthropology 691H typically is devoted to narrowing and organizing your topic and methodology and to your carrying out basic research and analysis/interpretation. This course usually culminates with finalizing a thesis outline agreed upon by you and your advisor. Anthropology 692H covers the formal writing and production (supplemental illustrations, etc.) of your thesis. You will receive a grade of “S” (satisfactory progress) in Anth 691H. The “S” grade for ANTH 691H then will be converted to a permanent letter grade, and a letter grade assigned for ANTH 692H, upon successful defense of your thesis.
Throughout the year you probably will have regular (e.g., bi-weekly) meetings with your advisor, although details vary by professor. Discussion during these meetings most likely will move from defining a feasible problem (early fall) to effective writing of your investigation (mid-spring).
Early in the spring semester, and in consultation with your advisor, you will select an additional two faculty members who will advise you on the written aspect of your project and serve as members of the committee to which you will present a formal oral “defense” of your thesis. You should plan on having a preliminary draft of your honors thesis completed and distributed to these three faculty members by mid-March (keeping to this deadline also means that your thesis will be eligible to be reviewed for the Honigmann Award, an award presented to the student in UNC’s Anthropology Department who has completed the best undergraduate honors project in that discipline.) It is advisable that you meet with each faculty member of your committee in a timely manner, in order to receive their suggestions for any changes to your written thesis in time to submit to them a revised draft well-before the formal defense.
“Defense” (or the milder, “oral exam”) is a bit of a misnomer. By the time you and your faculty advisor have spent a year with your project, with at least one round of critique and revision with your committee, your formal defense of your thesis project probably will be a bit more refined than the military connotations of the term ‘defense.’ Seated before your faculty advisor and two committee faculty, you most likely will be asked to begin your presentation by giving a succinct summary of your problem, research methods, and findings. Faculty then might seek some insight into the background of your project. They may have questions about your execution of the research (why you chose a particular approach or methodology over another, for instance). They may have stylistic issues concerning the manner in which you chose to write your thesis. They may want to explore what you might choose to do next with the subject, had you time and research funding to pursue it further. In general, these ‘defenses’ are congenial and informative occasions, intellectually fun for faculty and for the student as well, as soon as nervousness subsides. The timing of the defense is up to you and your committee, but the date of the formal defense ought to allow for any further changes, printing and preparation of figures or illustrations (with the usual computer glitches, etc.) and comfortably meet key deadlines set by the Honors College (it is critical that you know deadline dates, always set by the Honors College).
Your faculty committee then will decide if you are to be awarded your degree with Honors. In rare cases, they may also recommend the designation “Highest Honors.” “Highest Honors” remains reserved for projects in which the thesis truly is exceptional (by honors thesis standards) and often follows on an unusually distinguished record of student undergraduate performance.
You must register your thesis with the Honors College, via the on-line Honors College Database Archive for Senior Honors Projects. You must present two unbound copies of your thesis to the department/Director of Undergraduate Studies, along with a letter from your advisor stating the results of the defense, by two weeks before the beginning of the examination period for the semester in which your defense is held (this schedule can be adapted to suit students who take the 691H-692H sequence on a Spring-Fall schedule). One copy will be retained by the department. One copy will be bound by and archived in the North Carolina Collection of Wilson Library. Please adhere to the thesis formatting instructions of the UNC Honors Program.