Resources for... William & Mary
William & Mary W&M menu close William & Mary


Doing Senior Honors in GSWS

The GSWS Program encourages interested majors to pursue independent research and writing in the creation of an honors thesis. The Honors thesis is a multi-chaptered, original piece of interdisciplinary research that typically runs between 35 and 60 pages in length. Writing an Honors thesis is an excellent opportunity for students to pursue their research interests and to work closely with a faculty member on a topic related to women and gender. The research, writing, and analytical skills acquired in the composition of a thesis better prepare students for graduate work and for future careers in other fields as well. Preparing an Honors thesis is a serious undertaking; the most successful theses exhibit deep thought and a sustained argument about an important problem or issue. Usually, Honors theses are based on extensive research and reflect a keen understanding of theoretical and methodological issues, as well as of primary sources. Honors 495 and 496 can be used to satisfy one of the core requirements for the GSWS major or minor.

As a general guideline, students should gauge their interest in the Honors program and their academic abilities between the start of the sophomore year and the beginning of the second semester as a junior. A minimum GPA of 3.0 on a cumulative basis by the end of the junior year, or a 3.0 for the junior year alone, is required for participation in the Honors Program. A minimum GPA of 3.5 in courses that the student plans to count toward her/his major is required for participation in Senior Honors in GSWS.

Departmental and program Honors is administered by the Charles Center. More information on College policy on departmental Honors is available at the Charles Center website.

Applying to do Senior Honors in GSWS
  1. In your junior year, enroll in "Feminist Research Methods" (GSWS 375) or in a Senior Seminar (GSWS 490): Students who think they might want to write an honors thesis should consider enrolling either in "Feminist Research Methods" (GSWS 375) in their junior year, or, when GSWS 375 is not offered, in a senior seminar (GSWS 490), to gain the appropriate writing and research experience.
  2. Decide on a research topic: Early in the spring semester of your junior year, you should start to think about what you want to write about.
  3. Contact the Director of GSWS and the Curriculum Committee to find an advisor: Once you have decided on a research area (for example, women in nineteenth-century Europe), you will need to find an advisor. You can approach one of the GSWS faculty, or a professor in another department who has taught GSWS courses or has a research or teaching interest in the area you are interested in. It is unusual for a faculty member to agree to supervise a student when the student's coursework is unknown to them, so you will probably want to approach someone you already know. (There are exceptions to this, however.) Bear in mind that a particular professor may be unavailable to serve as an Honors adviser. They might be on research leave during part or all of your senior year, for example, or they may already be committed to directing other theses. Perhaps you already know who you would like to advise your thesis. If so, contact them, and if they agree to advise you, please let the Director of GSWS know, and she will pass the information on to the Curriculum Committee. If you do not know who to approach, the Director of the GSWS Program, and the Curriculum Committee, will assist you in finding an advisor and/or developing a proposal. Keep in mind that the privilege of writing an Honors thesis is not guaranteed for any student.
  4. Write a proposal: Once you have found an advisor, you can start to develop and refine your topic. You should carry out some preliminary investigations to determine whether your topic is feasible. (A subject could involve documents that lie in an inaccessible archive, for example, or require foreign language ability that you do not possess.) Your adviser will be able to help you with questions such as this, and also will assist you in developing a formal proposal. The proposal will usually run 2-3 pages and demonstrate the following: that the student has a grasp of some of the major pieces of scholarship written on her/his topic; that an initial thesis and/or series of focusing questions has been established and thoughtfully explored; and that the student is aware of important discussions and debates concerning her/his topic, whether or not the student has yet been able to explore these debates. An annotated bibliography of five major sources (secondary sources) and a simple bibliography (not annotated) of future theoretical/critical reading and primary sources should be appended to the 2-3 page proposal.
  5. File your proposal with the GSWS Curriculum Committee: Once you have completed your proposal, and your advisor has approved it, you should file it with the GSWS Curriculum Committee. The Committee will give you feedback and/or advice. The deadline for filing with the Curriculum Committee is the beginning of registration in the spring semester of your junior year. Your application should include the following:
    1. Your proposal
    2. An up-to-date transcript
  6. Study abroad: If you are studying abroad in the fall semester of your junior year, consult the Director of the GSWS Program about procedures for students who are not on campus during the semester in which Honors proposals are due.
  7. Registering for Honors: Once you have filed your proposal with the Curriculum Committee, you should submit your application form (which has now been signed by the Program Director, as well as by you and your advisor) to the Charles Center. Applications for Honors will be processed at the Charles Center after spring grades are in. Charles Center staff will then create all of the appropriate Honors sections with permissions for specific students and notify students that they may register. Students must register no later than the last day of add/drop in the first semester during which Honors work will be conducted.
  8. Grades: If you successfully complete GSWS 495 during the fall semester of your senior year, you will receive a grade of "G". Following the oral examination in the spring, a final grade for both GSWS 495 and GSWS 496 will be determined by the adviser in consultation with the examining committee.
Writing your Senior Honors thesis
  1. Start your research in the summer if you can! Make use of the summer before your senior year to start work on the research for your thesis, if your other commitments permit. The GSWS Program and the Charles Center provide funding opportunities to assist students undertaking honors research.
  2. The outline and first draft: Because the process of organization and writing is as important for a successful Honors thesis as the underlying research, students are urged to prepare a detailed outline early (ideally, by the end of the fall semester) and to complete a first draft by the beginning of February in their senior year, so that proper attention can be given to revision and refinement.
  3. The role of the advisor: It is the student's responsibility to confer with the adviser on a regular basis. Generally, the advisor and student meet once a week for progress reports and trouble-shooting on research, planning and writing. As the student begins to write, it is important for the adviser to read every chapter as it is completed, instead of receiving the whole thesis at once.
  4. The exam committee: Although students are not required to put together your exam committee until January of their senior year, they will be asked to put their committees together during the fall semester of their senior year, so that they can benefit fully from the advice of an interdisciplinary group of faculty as they work on their theses. During the fall semester, the GSWS Program Director will contact the student and the advisor for suggested names of faculty to serve on the Honors exam committee. The student and advisor should then confer to decide on a list. Each examining committee will consist of three or more faculty members, representing at least two academic departments. Any current William and Mary faculty member who is eligible to assign grades may serve on an Honors committee. This includes visiting and adjunct faculty. The Program Director will contact the faculty suggested by the advisor and the student, to make sure they are able to serve. By early February, she will give their names to the Charles Center.
Honors Colloquium

In February, the Charles Center will contact you about the Honors Colloquium. The Colloquium provides Honors students with an opportunity to present their ideas to an interdisciplinary audience, allowing them to gain oral presentation practice and feedback on their projects at a stage where it can have some influence. Participation in the Honors Colloquium is completely voluntary. Two student presentations are scheduled in each one-hour block. Each student will give a 20-minute presentation consisting of a concise summation of their thesis accessible to an audience of non-specialists. Audience members (students' advisors, other faculty, underclassmen in the discipline, and anyone the panel members wish to invite) will have ten minutes to ask questions after each presentation. Students are strongly encouraged to invite the members of their examining committee.

Submitting your thesis and the oral exam
  1. Submitting the final version of your thesis: Two weeks before the last day of classes of the student's graduating semester (or the next class day if this date falls on a holiday or vacation day) a copy of the completed thesis conforming to the specifications listed below must be submitted to each member of the examining committee.
  2. Specifications for Honors theses: At least two copies should be printed on acid-free paper, for submission to Swem archives and the GSWS library. Left-hand margins should be 1½" and all other margins should be 1".
  3. The oral examination: The members of the examining committee will read the honors thesis and if, after reading the thesis, the committee finds it provisionally acceptable, the oral examination may be scheduled. Check the Charles Center website for that year's deadline for completion of the oral exam. Normally, the student is responsible for scheduling the oral exam and finding a suitable room. Latasha Simms in GSWS can book Boswell 314. Usually, oral exams are completed during the last week of classes or the week after classes end. The oral exam will last at least one hour. The main purpose of the examination will be to ask questions about the honors thesis, but the candidate may also be asked to discuss other topics that are related to the thesis.
  4. Awarding of Honors: At the end of the session, the student is asked to leave the room. In reaching its decision about awarding honors, the committee will be guided by the quality of the honors thesis and by the candidate's performance on the oral examination. The student is then informed immediately of the committee's decision. Committee members will sign the student's title page to provide written documentation of the decision, so the student must make sure she/he brings a copy of the title page to the exam. Once the page has been signed, the student should immediately submit a copy to the Charles Center and to the Director of the GSWS Program.
  5. Corrections: Between the completed thesis deadline and the last day of regularly scheduled final examinations, only corrections of minor typographical or mechanical errors will be allowed. After the oral exam, the committee may instruct the candidate to correct any errors discovered during the evaluation process.
  6. Submitting copies of your Honors thesis to Swem archives and the Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies Library: One unbound copy of the honors thesis, on acid-free paper and including the original signatures of the examining committee, must be submitted to the University Archives (located in Swem Library) before the student leaves campus. The thesis director may require the candidate to hand carry it to Swem. This copy should be enclosed in a file folder or simple binder. You will also need to submit an electronic copy of your thesis to the Swem digital repository. In addition, you should submit one bound copy of your thesis (printed on acid-free paper) to the GSWS Library (see the admistrator in the GSWS Program Office).
Unsuccessful Honors Theses
  1. After the first semester: If it becomes evident before the end of the first term that the student will not complete the project, either a) the student must withdraw from Honors 495 with the approval of the thesis advisor (be sure to let the Charles Center know); or b) if it is too late for the student to withdraw from the course the project advisor must change the Honors 495 designation to an appropriate alternative, such as independent study, by sending an email to the Charles Center indicating the course number and number of credits (if variable). The Charles Center will then take care of making the change.
  2. During the second semester: If the project continues into the second semester and it then becomes evident that the project will not be completed by the submission deadline (two weeks before the last day of classes of the student's graduating semester), the student and faculty advisor must either: a) change Honors 495 and 496 to appropriate alternatives (in most cases, independent study) by emailing the Charles Center; or b) declare an incomplete, which can only be done in extraordinary circumstances and with approval from the Director of the GSWS Program. The student and advisor must agree to firm new deadlines for the thesis and the defense and must submit these deadlines to the Charles Center.
  3. After the oral exam: If upon reading the thesis the members of the examining committee decide that the thesis does not merit honors and elect not to examine the student, or if, upon completion of the oral defense the examination committee determines that the thesis does not merit honors, the committee must change Honors 495 and 496 to appropriate alternatives (usually independent study) and award the student grades for these courses. The Director of GSWS will make these changes once she has been notified by the committee.
Titles of Past Senior Honors Theses in GSWS

Past GSWS Senior Honors theses are held at Swem Library, and in the GSWS Library in Morton 314. See the Charles Center archive of Senior Honors theses in GSWS.