Senior Honors Thesis
The Senior Honors Thesis is the capstone project at the end of every Honors scholar’s Yeshiva College career. It is an opportunity to find mentorship from a favorite professor, investigate a pet interest with one-to-one guidance, and improve upon an academic resume. Thesis students will push their writing and analytical skills to their limits as they explore a question that matters to them in a meaningful, satisfying, and hopefully exciting way.
Students interested in finishing the JJS Honors Program should read below, to see exactly what is required.
Drafting an Honors Thesis traces the following process:
- Finding a Mentor (Spring Semester, 3rd year)
- Drafting the Proposal (Summer, between 3rd and 4th year)
- Submitting the Proposal and Other Paperwork (September, 4th year)
- From Proposal to Thesis (October-April, 4th year)
- Thesis Submission (May, 4th year)
See below for fuller details about each section, and FAQs
For more information, please contact the Honors Program at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finding a Mentor: Academic Matchmaking
As soon as you start thinking about writing a thesis, consider who might mentor you through the process. You should find a mentor as early in the process as possible! You have two possibilities:
1. Choose your mentor first, and find out what he or she is working on. Ask the potential mentor if you can join his or her research team by contributing to one aspect of his or her project. Working with the mentor, you can find a topic for your project that fits within the mentor’s research.
For instance, Dr. Smith in Psychology is working on a longitudinal study of the effects of divorce on children in underprivileged communities. You join his research team and write your thesis on one specific aspect of this research: how divorce affects school performance for boys ages 8-11.
2. Choose a topic, and then find a mentor willing to work with you. Consider the topics that interest you and will help you further your intellectual, academic, and career goals. Then find a professor who has both the expertise and the inclination to help you conduct the research that interests you.
For instance, you love Revolutionary War history and want to learn more about the connection between Washington Heights and the key battles of the final days of the war. Speak with the chairperson of the History Department and with any professors within that department who work on early American history. Ask if they might be willing to mentor this project and if they have any advice about how you can focus your research.
If you aren’t sure how to find your mentor, the Honors Program will help you with ideas for professors whose interests match yours. If no appropriate professor is on the YC faculty, the Honors Program will help you find a professor at another college.
Drafting the Proposal: Getting your feet wet
In its written form, the honors thesis proposal is the crucial first step for every student who aspires to complete this final requirement of the honors program. It sets forth in a concrete way the student’s commitment to write a thesis, the topic to be studied, and the faculty member who will serve as mentor. There is no “one form fits all” in the case of the honors thesis proposal nor is there a set length. However, every thesis proposal must have the following several elements:
- Two cover sheets. One is filled out and signed by the student, the other by the proposed faculty mentor. The faculty mentor must indicate his/her approval of the proposal. These cover sheets may be found in the forms section of the Honors website, under “Application for a senior thesis”.
- A working title. While the title may be modified as time moves on, in its initial form, it should clearly indicate the topic and scope of the thesis.
- The thesis statement. The thesis statement should discuss what it is the student wishes to accomplish in the thesis and/or the question(s) he wishes to answer. Depth of discussion is not the objective here, i.e. the proposal should, in summary fashion, go over previous scholarship, provide a sense of the methodology to be pursued, e.g. a thesis in the social sciences might employ a questionnaire if statistical analysis is the goal, and clarify how the thesis will contribute to the current state of research in any field of academic/intellectual endeavor.
- Bibliography. Finally, the proposal should have a bibliography of primary and secondary sources appended which indicates that the student has investigated published books and articles relevant to the thesis topic. This bibliography should follow the citation format of the particular academic field of the thesis and thesis writers should familiarize themselves with such prior to submitting their proposal.
Submitting the Proposal and Other Paperwork: Conscientiousness Rewarded
Once your proposal is finished you will need to submit it to the Honors Program, along with any other relevant paperwork. Upon submission of the proposal, you will need the following paperwork:
-Paperwork signup sheet
-Finished proposal with expected bibliography
-An Add/Drop Form filled out to register for HON 4978H and HON 4980H
With regards to the Add/Drop Form, you should make note of how many credits each class is worth. HON 4978H must be worth 0.5 credits, but you may choose how many HON 4980H is worth. You must take HON 4980H in your fall semester and 4981H in your spring semester. One must be for 3 credits, and one for 2. You may decide upon signing up for your proposal the credit value for each class.
This means that if you sign up HON 4980H for 2 credits in your fall semester, you will sign up HON 4981H for 3 credits in the spring. If, on the other hand, you sign up HON 4980H for 3 credits in the fall, you will only need to sign up HON 4981H for 2 credits in the spring.
From Proposal to Thesis: Writing the Thesis
During the thesis writing process, you should meet regularly with your mentor. You can decide together if you would like to set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings, or if you would prefer to meet as needed. In general, a schedule of more regular meetings leads to steadier progress on the thesis. The mentor should also help you to determine deadlines for individual pieces of the project.
As part of the thesis writing process, you will also participate in a series of seminars with your fellow thesis writers and a professor who will help you with some of the general aspects of thesis writing. Topics for these seminar sessions include time management, organization, introduction and conclusion writing, research documentation, revision and editing, and oral presentation skills.
Please note while you write what past graders have said about the thesis. When asked about the qualities of a successful thesis, they answered that a thesis should be an original, compelling, sustained argument, written effectively, lucidly, correctly and interestingly.
Thesis Submission: The Home Stretch
Once we receive your thesis, the evaluation process starts. Your thesis will have two different readers, each one of which will submit a review, and a grade for the work. One of them will be your thesis mentor, while the other will be designated by the program in consultation with you and your mentor. They might suggest some minor modifications. The final grade will be assigned by the program and it is arrived at by averaging the grades submitted by the readers. In the very unusual case of a discrepancy between the grades proposed by the two readers by more than a full letter grade, the program might request the opinion of a third reader.
There is a graduation dinner/luncheon to celebrate the achievement of the graduating honors students. It takes place at the end of the year usually the day before commencement so that parents and family members can attend, and students have the opportunity to give a short presentation of the highlights of their research.
The final version of the thesis is bound and kept in the honors library and also is stored electronically in the Yeshiva University Library. Since the electronic version is accessible from outside the University, students have to give a consent for this publication.
See past theses and Honors Luncheon Programs in the Honors Library, and the YU Library.
- Why should I write a thesis?
Besides the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this document, the thesis gives the students a wonderful opportunity to synthesize their YU experience. Our experience over the years has been that a well-written and original thesis of high quality may substantially improve your chances for admission to the top graduate and professional programs around the country and abroad. For example, among the 2012 thesis writers are students who were admitted to highly competitive graduate programs at Penn, Columbia, and Harvard Medical School. Also, the students who have completed theses have been successful in winning high academic honors: 50% of the valedictorians of Yeshiva College are graduates of the program, and honors students have garnered a disproportionate number of the graduation awards each year. They also have become very competitive in applying for the most prestigious fellowships: the winners of Rhodes, Goldwater, NSF Graduate Fellowships, and most of Wexner Fellowships have all been graduates of the program, and they have received numerous honors and distinctions: three graduates from the program appeared in the 30 under 30 to watch list that The Jewish Week compiled last year. Several of the theses have been published as scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, chapters of books, or even books in their own right in the humanities and/or Jewish Studies.
- Does the thesis have to on a topic related to my major?
For many students, the answer is yes. But, it is not unusual for a student to choose a topic from an academic field in which he is minoring, or one connected to some other interest of his, for example Jewish studies.
- How do I find a mentor?
You may approach a faculty member with whom, you had a good experience in a course in your major, or one whose area of research has a strong appeal for you. Make it clear that you are interested in their work and ask whether or not they would be willing to mentor a research project which you hope would be the basis for a thesis. It is quite acceptable to tell a professor that you are interested in doing research in his/her field of expertise, but that you do not have a specific project in mind. This will give him/her the opportunity to suggest several research possibilities for you to consider.
- May I choose a mentor who is not a member of the YU faculty?
Although most students find a mentor within the YU community, over the years some have chosen to work with someone from, for example, Columbia, NYU, Bar-Ilan University, and the University of Pittsburgh. You will need to identify who your external mentor is and get approval from the honors program before beginning your thesis research and writing. The honors program will be in regular contact with the external mentor to make sure that the process goes smoothly and that we share the same expectations from the thesis. And, in many cases, it will designate an internal mentor as a liaison between the external mentor and the program.
- May a collection of short stories, a novella, a portfolio of artwork, or the making of a film, for example, fulfill the requirements for completion of an honors thesis?
Several recent thesis writers have submitted works of fiction, a photographic essay, or musical piece as part of the thesis, always under the mentorship of a faculty member, and as part of an academic project. We encourage these kinds of endeavors and if you are so inclined, please discuss your plans with either Prof. Cwilich, Dr. Gellens, or Prof. Steinberg, so that it may be determined early on whether or not they are genuinely feasible.
- How many credits do I earn for writing the thesis?
The thesis is worth five credits (Hon 4980H/Thesis Research and HON 4981/Thesis Writing) plus two Honors Thesis Seminars (HON 4978H and HON 4979H) each worth 0.5 credit to be taken during the last two semesters of the project and graded either P or N. Students split the five credits between the fall and spring semesters of their final year at YC (three and two, two and three, etc.). HON 4980H receives a letter grade of Y (meaning a year-long course) when the mentor advises the program that you are making good progress towards completion, and this grade automatically reverts to the final letter grade in HON 4981H when the thesis is graded.
- Do these credits count towards my major?
The Honors Program will encourage your department to do so, but this is a departmental decision. Many departments will accept your project as one of the elective requirements in its major, but that depends on the role of electives and research play in your specific major.
- May I begin my thesis work before the beginning of my fourth year on campus?
By all means, and we strongly encourage it. At the beginning of your third year on campus, you should start to think about possible topics and mentors and consult with Prof. Cwilich, Dr. Gellens, and/or YU faculty regarding a possible thesis topic.
- What do I do if I cannot attend the thesis seminars?
You must consult Profs. Cwilich and Steinberg as early as possible if attendance at the honors seminars is a problem so that they may make alternate arrangements if such are possible.
- How long should the thesis be?
This all depends on what is usual and customary in any given academic discipline and what you and your mentor decide. For example, a thesis in mathematics is often a good deal shorter than one in history. In general, there is no set length. Period. You are welcome to come to our library and consult some old theses.
- How many chapters?
Again, there is no set number. It all depends on the goals of the original proposal and how the thesis develops over time. Once again, you and your mentor should be able to judge what is appropriate here. Developing a tentative chapter outline might prove very useful once the proposal is accepted.
- By when must a thesis be submitted?
This often depends on two factors: when you want to receive your diploma and your postgraduate plans. For example, if you are entering a graduate program in September, and it requires from you a May diploma, then it should be submitted certainly by the first week of May. You should keep in mind that both a mentor and second reader read and propose grades, and perhaps some small modifications for your thesis, before the honors program can submit a final grade to the Registrar, and your graduation from the honors program is approved.
- May I finish writing the thesis during the summer?
If you are in no hurry to get your diploma in May, then you may continue your writing over the summer. If you wish to receive a September diploma, then your thesis should be completed and submitted by mid-August.
- How is the thesis graded?
Again, your mentor and a second reader, who is chosen in consultation between the honors program and your mentor, will read your thesis and then submit a written report and grade to the Program. Your grade will be an average of these two grades.