Honors Program

1. What is an I.S. Honors Thesis?

It is a work of original research on a topic within the broad field of International Studies. This means that it will do one or more of the following:

  • compare a single phenomenon in more than one region or state
  • look at a single international phenomenon using more than one disciplinary perspective
  • explore an intrinsically transnational phenomenon, such as tourism, translation, globalization, or diasporic movement

It will also be original in that you will richly review, then engage with, and finally add something new to the existing literature on your topic. You might, for example, offer an original interpretation of your central issues, uncover/produce new evidence, use a fresh investigative strategy, or compare cases that have not been compared before. The point is that you should say something that has not already been said. This makes the project very challenging, and also deeply creative and rewarding.

2. Does an Honors Thesis make me look better?

Completing an Honors Thesis is an impressive achievement. It indicates that you are able to think innovatively, do long-term independent research, organize and clearly articulate an argument, draw on constructive criticism to revise and improve your work, publicly defend your ideas, and, ultimately, persevere in a challenging context. These skills are critical to success in many fields, and both employers and those reading your application to graduate school value them. At the same time, many Macalester students go on to careers and graduate schools of great distinction without having completed an Honors Thesis.

3. What are some good reasons not to do an Honors Thesis?

Beyond a clearly conceived topic, there are three ingredients crucial to a successful Honors Thesis. If any of them are lacking, you would be better off not pursuing one. These are:

  • Time. Researching, writing, and revising an Honors Thesis requires a significant time commitment over the course of your senior year, when you will likely have many other demands and interests-academic, future-oriented, and otherwise. Think carefully about whether adding an Honors Thesis will make it too difficult to accomplish what you need, and want, to do.
  • Interest. At times, the thesis process will be frustrating and exhausting. Thus, if you feel lukewarm about your topic-in other words, if you do not find it deeply interesting, engaging, and important-it will be very difficult to find the energy to pull through.
  • Self-discipline. This is a skill that a thesis will help you develop. At the same time, you need to have some on reserve already: while your supervisor will guide and encourage you, you must be able to rely on yourself to keep on top of the project.

4. When should I start the Honors Thesis process?

If you will be on campus in the spring of your junior year, it is best to start thinking about topics and discussing them with potential advisors no later than the preceding fall semester, as you will need to complete your proposal by April 21st. If you are abroad in the spring, you have until September 10th of your senior year to submit your proposal. Still, it is good to get started as a junior, for two reasons. First, the process of settling on a topic is sometimes long and meandering-this is simply the nature of creative intellectual engagement. And second, faculty members are limited in the number of students they are able to supervise, so if you have someone in mind, you should talk to them early. Take the initiative during your junior year to get together with I.S. faculty and other students to discuss the process, get your questions answered, and find out what your colleagues may be planning.

5. Who can advise an Honors Thesis in I.S.?

Typically, I.S. honors theses are supervised by the core faculty members in the department. However, any faculty member in any department can technically supervise an I.S. Honors Thesis; this happens when the "fit" between subject and supervisor is particularly good, and when the non-I.S. faculty member is agreeable to supervising a thesis in I.S.

6. Can I make changes to my project after I've submitted the proposal?

Honors Theses are complex creations, where adjustment en route is not only normal but expected. Thus you should be prepared to make revisions in response to both the roadblocks and the new, intriguing possibilities you encounter along the way. This does not mean, however, that your initial proposal should be vague.

7. How long are Honors Theses?

Most theses have been between 85 and 115 standard 300 words-per-pages long, with additional pages for bibliography and, on occasion, appendices. Shorter and longer theses can also make sense, depending on topic and approach. Longer does not, in itself, mean better.

8. How are Honors Theses usually scheduled?

There are a number of milestones after the proposal is accepted. By:

  • November 1st of the Thesis year, you will complete the literature review
  • the first day of spring semester, you submit your work to that point to your supervisor, and it should be 50% done
  • January 31st, the supervisor makes a preliminary assessment of the progress
  • the Monday after spring break, you submit a draft of the entire thesis and, with your supervisor, compose a committee
  • the next Monday, your supervisor will return the thesis along with a list of revisions needed
  • the Monday after that, you submit three copies of the final version to your supervisor, who distributes it to the committee
  • no later than the college-set final day for thesis examinations (often the last Monday in April) you will have your oral examination; by this date, you must also submit to the Dean of Academic Programs the form signed by your examining committee indicating that you have passed

9. Do I sign up for an independent study for my Honors Thesis?

Yes. You can sign up for anywhere between 0 and 6 credits. Many students sign up for a 4-credit study in the fall, others in the spring; some also sign up for an additional 2 credits for January. You should decide on the number and distribution of credits with your supervisor.

10. Is there a set format for Honors Theses?

You can find the format requirements in the Full Honors Thesis Guidelines. The style format choice (Chicago, MLA, etc.) is up to you and your supervisor.

11. What will I be asked during the final examination?

This of course depends on your thesis, but broadly speaking, your committee members will ask questions that occurred to them while they were reading your work. For example, they may ask you to clarify your definition of certain concepts or theories, to explain your investigative methods, to respond to counter-arguments, to compare your results to those of other scholars working on your issues, to consider the larger implications of your conclusions for your case and/or similar cases, and to reflect on the thesis-writing experience.

12. What are some recent I.S. Honors Thesis topics?

Recent titles include:

  • Maxwell Loos, Ground Zero: Tourism, Terrorism and Global Imagination, Ciafone, 2011.
  • Aimee Mackie, Violence through Bureaucratic Secrecy: the US and Belgium's Co-Colonization of the Congo, Samatar, 2013.
  • Dragana Marinkovic, Making Connections: Transitional Justice and Development -- Examining Land Distribution and Property Rights through Transitional Justice Lens, Nedelsky, 2013.
  • Hana Masri, Submission and Silence: Rape Trees and the Greater (Lack Of) Discourse on Violence Against Migrant Women, Nielsen, 2013.
  • Helena R. Swanson-Nystrom, The Role of Social Protection Programs in Remittance-Centered Development Policy: A Case Study of Morocco, Moore, 2010.
  • Hanna Zimnitskaya, A State Within a State: The Case of Chechnya, von Geldern, 2012.

There are bound copies of all of these and more in the I.S. office and in the library.

13. Where can I learn more?

Further information is available in the Summary and Full Honors Thesis Guidelines, both online and in hard copy in the I.S. Office. Also, watch for informational meetings with I.S. faculty over the course of the academic year.