The ANSO department encourages qualified students to consider writing a senior honors thesis. Grappling with a significant problem over an extended period of time and in close association with a member of the department’s faculty offers an unparalleled opportunity for intellectual growth. It is the normal expectation that thesis candidates will have a departmental grade-point average of a B+ or better, although exceptions are occasionally permitted.
The first step is to approach a faculty member in Anthropology or Sociology whose research interests and background fit closely with what you are hoping to research. It is never too early to make that contact. If you are considering a thesis, we strongly encourage you to begin discussions with a potential advisor by the fall semester of your junior year. This is especially important if your project requires funding, since the deadlines for college-wide fellowships generally occur in mid-February. At the very latest, you need to make sure you have full support of a faculty member by the spring of your junior year, when you begin to draft your thesis proposal.
In many cases, the advising relationship grows out of an intellectual connection you’ve made in a course. But if you’re not sure whose research interests align most clearly with your own, each faculty member provides information about their research and publications on their webpage. You may also contact the department chair for advice.
The Thesis Proposal
The thesis proposal is due to the department before the end of the spring reading period in May. Build in time to get feedback from your advisor in advance of the deadline; they will work with you to develop the proposal and then share it with the department on your behalf. Please make sure that your proposal contains the following:
- a carefully framed and feasible research question;
- well-chosen method(s);
- thorough discussion of the relevant literature, and
- a clear statement regarding your access to the materials and/or sites relevant to your research.
The department maintains a selection of sample thesis proposals from previous years that should provide you with a sense of our expectations. Junior majors will automatically receive access to the files via Google Drive during the fall semester.
The department has modest funds available to support data collection and analysis. In order to maximize the chances that your project will be fully funded, we strongly encourage all thesis writers to apply for college-wide fellowships in mid-February, and we stand ready to support your applications. If you wish to request funding from the department when you submit your proposal in May, you should include an appendix with a detailed research budget, and a discussion of other sources of funding for which you have applied.
Please note that the department views the thesis proposal as a prospectus, not a contract. We recognize that the parameters of your research may change in the process of data collection and analysis. But a thesis proposal that does not demonstrate evidence of sustained thought and research, or one that is deemed unfeasible, will not receive departmental approval.
The Thesis Process and Timeline
Once the thesis proposal is approved, you will be permitted to register for ANTH or SOC 493 in the fall, ANTH or SOC 31 during Winter Study, and ANTH or SOC 494 in the spring, under the direction of your advisor. The advising process is individualized and tailored to the specific project you have proposed. Once your proposal is approved, you should work out a schedule for the research and writing with your advisor. However, there are some required benchmarks to keep in mind.
The summer between the junior and senior year is when the bulk of the data for the thesis is usually collected. Over the course of your senior year, you will undertake the writing of the thesis. Typically, you must complete at least one chapter by the end of the fall semester in order to proceed with the thesis. You will also work with your advisor to establish a full thesis committee, inviting at least two additional faculty members with relevant expertise who will support and evaluate your work as “readers.” At least one reader should be a member of the ANSO department. In some cases, the second reader may be a faculty member from another department or program with expertise related to your project.
Winter Study provides an opportunity to focus intensively on thesis writing, and you should complete at least one additional chapter during this period. During the final week of Winter Study, thesis students make short presentations to the department and receive feedback on their work to date. You should submit a complete draft of the thesis to your advisor by the beginning of spring break. This will give you time to work through revisions before submitting the thesis to your readers and scheduling a presentation during the final week of classes or the spring reading period. Readers should receive a final copy of the thesis at least two weeks prior to the presentation.
After the presentation, the committee will meet to discuss the thesis. There are several possible outcomes. To be recommended for Honors, a thesis should represent the product of a sustained, year-long effort in research and scholarship. It should, moreover, stand on its own as a coherent intellectual project, demonstrating a high level of accomplishment in the discipline as well as genuine creativity and originality. If a committee concludes that the thesis does not meet the requirements for Honors, it will be graded and the student will still receive course credit for their work. In exceptional circumstances the committee may award High Honors, indicating that the thesis approaches the quality of work published in the discipline’s major journals. It is anticipated that this will happen rarely.
General Advice to Keep in Mind
- While many successful theses in Anthropology and Sociology are rooted in ethnographic fieldwork, there are many research methods that are equally legitimate and supported by the department, including (but not limited to) archival research, oral history interviewing, and document, media, and discourse analysis.
- The benefits of writing a thesis are derived from the writing, not from the honors that might be awarded as a result. Examine your motivation for writing a thesis. It is best to embark on this sort of project because the project itself challenges you, not because you want to add a line to your resume.
- Be aware, too, that simply finishing a thesis doesn’t mean it will automatically be awarded Honors. The standard for Honors in this department is high, and not all efforts are awarded Honors. Students whose theses were not awarded Honors nonetheless have found the experience of writing a thesis a valuable and rewarding one. Even if you are not awarded Honors, you will receive full course credit for the work you do.
- Start early! Remember that you must consult members of the department faculty early enough to find someone who will work with you to develop a proposal before the end of reading period in the spring before your senior year. If you are studying abroad during your junior year, you will still need to keep track of deadlines and work with your advisor at Williams to develop your proposal.
- Make full use of the resources at your disposal. Consult frequently with your advisor, but make as much use as you can of other members of the department. Remember, it is the department as a whole that approves your proposal.
- Plan ahead! The department will do what it can to help you with thesis research, but you must give us time to do so. Research and writing always take longer than you think they will; budget your time generously.
- Finish early! For many people the hardest part of writing a thesis is not the initial composition, but doing the revisions under time pressure that comes at the end. Remember that you should have a complete first draft to your advisor by spring break.
- Have fun! Above all, writing a thesis should be a feast for your mind. Enjoy it.