Prerequisites: In order to stand for Honors, a student must have at least a 3.0 GPA in the major, and across all social science courses taken.
Honors is granted by the Sociology Department on the basis of a substantial body of outstanding work in the department, and the evaluation of a research paper of exceptional caliber. The research paper is typically the culmination of a two-semester independent study project, and must be in Sociology. The thesis must be grounded in a sociological perspective, connect theory and data, and offer original insights to Sociology. Among other things, students must clearly articulate and define the relevant and important sociological variables and concepts.
Two types of independent study projects are appropriate for Honors. One type of project involves data analysis. The project could involve collecting new data or using secondary data. Either quantitative data, qualitative data, or both could be used for the analysis. The data could be collected, for example, by conducting a survey or doing a content analysis. In any case, a project of this type would need to make an original contribution to Sociology. A second type of project could be a critical review of the literature. The review would involve an evaluative and interpretative analysis. The student would need to go beyond what is written; this review cannot be simply a summary of the literature. As with the data oriented project, the thesis must make an original contribution.
A two-semester honors project moves through the following steps:
1: Advisor. First, the student enlists an advisor for the project; ideally, this should be done the semester before the IND is to begin. Further, if the student wishes to collect primary data, some preliminary work on the project BEFORE the semester starts is strongly suggested, so that the student is prepared to “hit the ground running” when the IND starts.
2: Proposal. Next, the potential honors candidate must submit a 5 page proposal outlining their project, and an accompanying bibliography, to the entire department at the end of the fourth week of classes during the first semester of the IND. Department members will then meet and evaluate the proposals, and feedback will be provided to the student’s advisors. This feedback will focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed study, and is intended to provide guidance to students and their advisors as they pursue the project. (Students are not required to follow these suggestions, but they should be prepared to support their reasons for not doing so at the honors exam.)
3: Consultation. As the student moves forward on her project, she is encouraged to consult other department faculty for advice and suggestions.
4. Second Reader. A complete draft of the honors paper must be turned in to the student’s advisor four weeks before the last day of classes in the second semester. If the advisor believes that the paper is potentially of Honors quality, the advisor will, in consultation with the student, then choose a second reader for the paper. The second reader then develops an informed opinion about the paper’s potential for Honors.
The advisor and the second reader will then discuss the paper’s potential for honors and decide whether the student should continue with the process. If the advisor and second reader agree that the project has the potential to continue forward, then they will make recommendations for the revisions necessary to proceed. The second reader will provide written comments and, if possible, meet with the advisor and the student. The student can only go forward for Honors if the paper is revised along these lines.
If the advisor and second reader do not share the same opinion about going forward with the process, they may consult with the Chair or another member of the department. If the Chair is the independent study project advisor or the second reader and there is not a consensus about whether to move forward or not, the advisor and second reader will seek the opinion of another member of the department.
Students should understand that the approval to stand for Honors is just that and no more. The approval to stand for honors carries with it no guarantee of Honors and the Honors Examination Committee has no obligation to grant Honors. The approval to move forward means only that there appears to be potential for Honors.
5. The Examination Committee. If a paper is approved to stand for Honors, the next step is to select an examination committee. This committee should include the second reader (who will normally serve as chair) and at least two other members of the Sociology Department, but NOT the advisor. Faculty members from outside the department may also serve on the committee as a fourth member. The advisor selects a mutually agreeable date and time for the exam (normally, a two-hour time slot during the last week of classes or exam week); the student then prepares the final draft of his paper and submits it to the Committee one week before the scheduled exam.
6. The Honors Examination. The Honors Examination is open to all members of the F&M Community. The 3-member committee will convene at the appointed time in the appointed place along with the candidate for Honors and the candidate’s advisor for the Independent Study project. At the beginning of the Honors exam, it is expected that the Honors candidate will make a ten minute presentation on his/her research. When the presentation is complete, the members of the Honors Committee will ask the Honors candidate questions for at least an hour. The advisor presides but does not otherwise participate in this process. The questions can range from being very specifically focused on a particular aspect of the research that was conducted to very broad in terms of the implications for one or more areas of Sociology. Depending on the nature of the research, examiners may pursue the policy implications of the findings.
In their responses to these questions, students must demonstrate their ability to reflect on the choices they made during the course of their study concerning theory, data, methods, and/or models. Students must be able to critique and defend the decisions undergirding their analyses, and to discuss their strengths and limitations.
When the members of the committee have completed their questioning, the Honors candidate will be asked to leave the room. At that time, members of the committee may solicit information from the advisor. Since the advisor is not a voting member of the committee, the advisor will be asked to leave the room when the committee is ready to deliberate and reach a decision regarding honors.
Once the Honors Examination Committee has reached a decision, the committee will report its decision and the reasons for the decision either to the student and the advisor together, or to the advisor who will then communicate with the student. The student will decide which form of communication is preferred.
7. Final Preparation of the Thesis. If a paper is voted Honors by the Committee, the student is responsible for the final steps needed to prepare it for the archives. This may include corrections or stylistic suggestions from the Committee. The final copy must be submitted to the library by the date specified by the college.
A final note: as you can see from this lengthy description, Honors is a long process, and there are many points at which a student may decide not to proceed further. However, there is much to be learned from embarking on this journey, whether or not it ultimately results in a positive decision; thus, we encourage eligible students to consider this as an option for their senior year.