Some Advice for Pursuing an Honors Project

Sara McDonough (2005) offered the following advice on conducting an Honors Project:

It's important to keep in mind how rigorous the Honors process is. There is no doubt in my mind that every student at William and Mary is intelligent enough to do an Honors Thesis—otherwise they wouldn't be here. However, not everyone here does an Honors Thesis. Why? Because although honors students have to be smart, the process is almost more about being self-motivated, disciplined, and willing to dedicate A LOT of time during those two semesters. Looking back, I, personally, probably put more work, time, and energy into my Honors Thesis during those two semesters than everything else combined.

It is my belief that the topic one chooses for an Honors Thesis must be something that truly interests you or something that you are passionate about. For me, I think that sincere interest might have been the most important, galvanizing force behind the completion of my thesis. My thesis examined racial identity development in multiracial (mixed) individuals; because I am multiracial, I felt personally invested in my study, and when it came down to the last couple weeks it was that passion that really pushed me to the very end.

If I had to offer any advice to future honors students, it would have to stress organization and simply being aware of the resources available - issues I believe are most critical during the first semester. I share this not to intimidate or scare students, but because I had to learn all of this first hand and WISH someone had been there to tell me all these things.

During the first semester expect to be spending a lot of time researching the preexisting literature. Sometime early in the first semester, (the first week) I suggest the following:

  • Go to the library and make an appointment with our departmental liaison. When I did my thesis this person was Mary Molineux. From this individual learn how to use RefWorks, interlibrary loan, how to search databases; get comfortable with the research process.
  • The library also offers Honors students something called a Thesis Library card. Although I didn’t know about it until the very end, it allows honors students to check out books for something like six months—which is a lot easier than having to remember to renew, renew, renew every couple weeks.
  • Sit down with your advisor and a calendar. Set solid deadlines and create a semester long schedule which includes weekly or bi-weekly meetings. Plan which books you’ll read and by when. Take good and thorough reading notes and perhaps even turn them into your advisor to look over.
  • Know when your deadlines are and make sure you give your self plenty of time (and then some extra time) to meet them.
  • Also keep in mind that if your study involves human subjects, you will have to prepare a proposal to be approved by the College’s Human Subjects Committee. Assume it will take them at least three weeks to approve your proposal and that you may have to submit revisions to them before being allowed to carry out your study. I strongly encourage honors students to get this proposal to Human Subjects as soon as possible and definitely during the first semester. I didn’t get mine in until the second semester and it was something like 4-5 weeks into the semester before I could start my data collection!

Most importantly, have fun! Enjoy this experience. Believe me, when it’s over…the feeling is simply...euphoric.