January 2024 BA Thesis Information Session

January 8, 2024 - Agenda
  • Long Paper or Honors Thesis? 
  • Overview of the Honors Program: timeline, required courses (PLSC298 & 299)
  • FAQ's: Double Majors BA/MA students, Study Abroad, etc. 
  • The Application Process
    Application will be available on the political science department website in February due by the end of 3rd week of Spring Quarter which is Friday, April 5th.

Presented by:
Demetra Kasimis, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Patricia Conley, Honors Program Coordinator
Michelle Cerullo, Student Affairs Administrator

Long Paper or Honors Thesis

The  Political Science Major has two different writing requirement options:

The Long Paper: At least 20 pages, usually an extension of a paper submitted for a class; a chance to do original analysis or analyze secondary literature; students applying to grad school sometimes use the long paper as their writing sample.

The Honors Thesis: 35 – 50 pages, for students who already have some depth and methodological training, and a specific, focused research question or topic. An honors thesis requires original data collection and analysis. It is not a synthesis of previous research or a summary of secondary sources. Honors students are expected to do original archival research, textual or discourse analysis, interviews, or data analysis.

The BA thesis is an original contribution to knowledge in a subfield of political science. It is a chance for you to apply the knowledge and skills you have gained in your undergraduate classes to a topic that you are passionate about. Examples include:

  • Why do liberal democracies have radically different climate policies?
  • How does the nature of foreign intervention shape whether democracy is sustained in Middle Eastern countries where autocracies were overthrown?
  • Have changing patterns of Puerto Rican migration affected election outcomes in Florida?
  • Why have there been so few women governors in the United States?
  • What were Federalist and Anti-Federalist views of internal law enforcement (as opposed to militias and professional armies)?
  • To what degree does the US use higher education as a ‘soft power’ to promote their policy goals in Latin America?

What makes for a successful honors thesis experience? 

Preparation: You have taken the introductory course and some advanced courses in your area of interest. Your methodological skills match your proposed research design.

Motivation: You are not solely motivated by getting a credential. You are truly interested in researching and writing about a topic.

Overview of the Honors Program

Spring Quarter 2024: Complete Application and Secure Faculty Advisor by 4/5/24
The Honors Program Coordinator will meet with all honors students late in the Spring Quarter to form plans for summer reading and research.

Autumn 2024: Enroll in PLSC298 BA Colloquium
You do not participate in PLSC298 during the Spring quarter of your Junior year. It is only offered in the Autumn quarter; you cannot study abroad and enroll in PLSC298.

Winter 2025  Enroll in PLSC299 Thesis Supervision
An independent study with your faculty advisor (a full course credit)

Spring 2025:  35-50 paged thesis, due by Monday of the 5th week of the quarter

Plus 3 of the 4 Introductory courses, PLSC22913 Research Methods, + 6 additional Political Science courses

Overview of the Honors Program - Detailed by Quarter

  • Secure a Faculty Advisor (who does not have to be in the political science dept.) and submit a formal application by the end of the 3rd week of Spring Quarter (4/5/2024).
  • After acceptance into the program, attend a meeting on expectations for Summer and Autumn quarters.
  • Meet with Faculty Advisor to settle on Summer Reading/Research Plan.
  • Reading the Literature/Refining Research Question
  • IRB/CITI training if needed for interviews/ethnography/experiments
  • Investigating Sources of Data
  • Lecture Once a Week:  Statement of Problem, Research Question, Literature Review, Research Methods, etc.
  • Small Group meetings once a Week (5-10 students) organized roughly  by field of interest, led by Preceptor.
  • “Preceptors”  lead the small groups, provide feedback on student work throughout the quarter; meet at least twice during the Winter quarter; and serve as a second reader, evaluating the thesis for honors in the Spring Quarter.
  • Assignments: Small writing assignments building up to a 20 paged draft due at the end of the quarter (Intro, Statement of Problem, Literature Review, Methods) ; PowerPoint presentations to small group.
  • Students are already gathering data so that they are ready to do their analysis in Winter quarter.

PLSC298 Canvas Course Site: Links and Resources for Writing and Methods, Previous Honors Theses, etc. The Canvas site stays open after the class ends.

  • PLSC299 BA Thesis Supervision with faculty advisor, meeting regularly
  • Intensive Analysis and Writing
  • Complete rough draft of the thesis due by the end of the quarter
  • Final revisions during first four weeks.
  • The final version of the BA thesis is due by Monday of the fifth week of Spring Quarter. Your faculty advisor and preceptor determine honors. Your faculty advisor assigns the grade for PLSC299 after the thesis is submitted.
  • Honors requires an outstanding GPA and an honors-deserving thesis. Students with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher and a major GPA of 3.6 or higher at the beginning of Spring quarter will be awarded honors if the BA thesis is given a grade of B or higher.
  1. You must go through the Political Science honors program application process to have your thesis evaluated for honors in political science.
  2. You must enroll in PLSC298 and PLSC299 even if you are completing an honors colloquium in a different department for a double major.
  3. Many students use one thesis for two majors. However, it is often easier to write a thesis for one major rather than two because there may be different literatures, standards, and thesis formats across departments.

You can study abroad this Spring and participate in the honors program, so long as you meet the deadlines for submitting your application and securing a faculty advisor.

Students writing an honors thesis may not study abroad in Autumn quarter since this is the only quarter when PLSC298 is offered. You must be in residence and working on your thesis.

Though not encouraged, studying abroad in the Winter of your senior year is permitted if your faculty advisor agrees and you meet the program deadline for submission of a full rough draft (end of Winter quarter).

The honors thesis is always due by the Monday of the 5th week of the quarter in which you graduate. If you graduate at the end of Winter 2025, you will be on an accelerated schedule – your  thesis will be due by Monday of 5th  week of Winter quarter. You will still need both PLSC298 and PLSC299 (you can register for PLSC299 in the Autumn Quarter if needed). If you  graduate in Summer or Autumn, you submit your thesis by Monday of 5th week of the quarter in which you intend to graduate.

Extended status means that you are not enrolled in courses and have reduced tuition in the Spring quarter, but you still graduate in June. You will follow the usual BA thesis schedule, taking PLSC298 in the Autumn and PLSC299 in the Winter. Your thesis is still due by Monday of 5th week of Spring quarter.

An MA thesis fulfills the writing requirement for the undergraduate major. In other words, if you write a Master’s thesis you do not need to write a long paper or honors thesis in addition. However, the department does not automatically evaluate MA theses for undergraduate honors. You need to apply to the undergraduate honors program and participate in PLSC298 and PLSC299 to have your MA thesis evaluated for honors. See the Department Website for details.

The Application Process
The application will be posted on the Department’s website in February. There are two parts: information about your topic and background, and a signed faculty advisor form.

Here’s what we want to know: Do you have a clear idea of what you want to do and are you prepared to carry out the research? The honors program does not help you figure out a topic and it does not teach you new methods. You must come to the program with your question and the research skills that you need.

Questions on the online application: 
Note: We understand that your answers are your best guess at the time of application! Projects do change a little bit throughout the process.

  1. What is your proposed topic or specific research question?
  2. What are the specific data sources or texts that you will use for your research? What is your research design?
  3. List courses that you have taken in political science and other departments that are directly relevant to your proposed thesis topic.
  4. List courses and research/internship/job experiences that have provided you with experience regarding the methodological approach you will most likely use for your thesis.

Students applying to the honors program must secure a faculty member to serve as the main advisor for their project.  We will post a list of faculty members who are available to advise honors students in 2024-25.

  • Only regular faculty and lecturers can advise honors theses. Advisors may not be visiting faculty, teaching fellows, or graduate students (but graduate students and visiting faculty CAN advise long papers).
  • Thesis advisors can be regular faculty or lecturers in other departments at the University. In the past, students have had their political science theses advised by U Chicago faculty in departments such as history, public policy, and sociology. They have also had advisors in the Law School and Divinity School.
  • You can talk to potential advisors as you narrow your question and think about your application. However, once you settle on an advisor, they will see your application in its entirety before they sign off on it.

Faculty Advisor-related FAQ:

  • Can I ask someone to be my advisor even if I never had a class with them? Yes.
  • Is it okay to ask for someone’s time and advice even if I don’t end up asking them to be my advisor? Yes, within reason.
  • What if I change my topic slightly or later find someone else who would be better? You can switch faculty advisors, but not after the middle of Autumn Quarter at the very latest.

Faculty Advisor Form: The form can be found here.

What should I do now?

If you decide you want to apply to write a thesis, you should review academic literature and sources of data so that you can narrow your focus and write a strong application. You may already have several sources from classes or a previous paper. The library resources below should help you figure out gaps in the academic literature and possible sources of data.

One of the best places to start researching a topic is to  look at review articles where scholars summarize the main theoretical questions and approaches taken in subfields of political science. These can help get you get up to speed on the major debates in your field of interest.  Here are two sources:

The Oxford Handbooks of Political Science

The Annual Review of Political Science

For both sources, you can search general topics like  “education policy,” “religion and politics,” “Puerto Rico,” or “media and politics.” For the Oxford Handbooks, you can scroll down the page to go to a specific handbook (Oxford Handbook of Political Theory, Oxford Handbook of US Social Policy, Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media, etc.) and/or use the search bar to look for chapters on your topic across different volumes.

Sources of Data in Political Science:

The Regenstein Library Political Science Subject Page has links to these sources as well as national and international data sources: https://guides.lib.uchicago.edu/polisci and https://guides.lib.uchicago.edu/data. For Qualitative Data and Primary Sources, go to “Help Guides” instead of “Subject Guides”

Google data search: https://datasetsearch.research.google.com/