University of Colorado at Boulder

Writing a Senior Honors Thesis

A summary by Kira Hall

December 2011

Linguistics majors at the University of Colorado have the option of writing a Senior Honors Thesis. Writing a thesis is a great opportunity for undergraduates in the Department of Linguistics to work closely with a faculty member to develop a project in an area of research that is of special interest to them. Participating students get to test what it feels like to create and develop an original argument regarding something they feel passionate about. In addition, they get to graduate with honors (if successful) and have as a by-product an advanced 'writing sample' to submit to future employers or graduate programs. Our students who have pursued this option in the past have found it to be one of the highlights of their undergraduate careers. Students may choose to write a thesis if they have done well in their undergraduate courses and maintained a good GPA. In exceptional cases, students with GPAs as low as 3.0 may petition to write a thesis, if they receive the support of an advisor.

Most of our students who pursue an Honors Thesis do it this way: towards the end of the spring semester in their third year, they begin meeting with faculty members to talk about potential topic ideas. When they figure something out that might work, they choose a faculty member to work with (ideally one who is knowledgeable about and conducts research within the chosen area of interest). Many students then conduct original research relating to the topic over the summer: some travel to foreign countries with the help of a UROP grant to conduct their research; others collect experimental, discourse, or ethnographic data here at home; and still others collect data while studying abroad in a study abroad program. When students return to the University in the fall, they submit a description of their project proposal to the Honors Program with the help of their advisor; and they will also choose two additional faculty members as readers of the essay when it is completed. Students often sign up for 1-3 credit hours of LING 4830 (Honors Thesis) while writing the thesis; these credits can be counted toward the BA degree.

This is the typical way to pursue an Honors Thesis, but some students do it differently. For instance, students who are graduating in the fall semester instead of the spring semester use the preceding spring semester as their research semester. We have also had a few students who have begun the entire project in the fall semester (including conceptualization and data collection) and then defended in the spring, although this is a challenging trajectory. Whatever the case, students generally take two semesters to complete the thesis, plus an additional period of preparation over the summer or winter break. The process culminates in a 'thesis defense' in March or April of the spring semester (or November of the fall semester). In the defense, students present their project to their committee and then have a conversation with them about the thesis, the data that was collected, and significant findings. The committee will then make a recommendation to the Honors Program about the degree of Honors that should be awarded, i.e. summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude. These designations are roughly based on the student’s GPA, but if the thesis is exceptional, the honors designation can be one, or in extreme cases even two, degrees higher than the score that is indicated by the student’s GPA. It's a great opportunity for late bloomers to show the world what your GPA should really be!

In sum, the Honors Thesis is an opportunity for excellent and motivated undergraduates here at the University of Colorado to get the benefits of a small private school education in the context of a big university. Professor Kira Hall is the current departmental liaison for the Honors Program. Please contact her via email or in office hours if you are interested in pursuing this option.

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