“What I enjoy most about completing an honors thesis is the ability to delve into a topic of my choosing; the freedom to study whatever I fancy, purely for the love of education. I highly enjoy my right to fill my own education with a topic I truly love. “
– Kelly Pope, Class of 2015
Senior honors thesis work is a specialized form of independent study that allows students to partner with a faculty advisor to complete an original and substantial research project. Many students consider this work to be the capstone of their undergraduate studies in their major department. Honors research proposals represent a serious commitment to extensive study and mastery of material, and should be developed in close consultation with the advisor. An honors thesis is usually a research paper; however, it may also take the form of a performance or film, as deemed appropriate by the student and his/her faculty advisor. All senior honors theses in the Department of Communication must include a written component, the scope and format of which will be determined by the project advisor.
Students who successfully complete and defend their honors theses will graduate under the designation “with honors” or “with highest honors.”
Students completing senior honors theses must have a cumulative GPA of at least a 3.300 at the beginning of, end of, and at all points during, the two semesters that they work on their projects.
An honors thesis involves two semesters of independent research for academic credit: COMM 693H in the fall of senior year and COMM 694H in the spring of senior year (or for students graduating in December: COMM 693H in the spring and COMM 694H in the fall semester immediately prior to graduation). Students who wish to begin work on their senior honors theses before this time may do so; however, they will not be able to begin earning academic credit until they are officially enrolled in the two-semester sequence as outlined above. Per University policy, students cannot be enrolled in senior honors thesis coursework during summer sessions.
Students completing the honors sequence will take a total of 6.0 credit hours (3.0 for COMM 693H and 3.0 for COMM 694H), which count towards elective credit for the major. Students should expect to devote a minimum of nine hours per week during both semesters of the honors sequence.
Thesis Advisor and Committee
Work on the honors thesis is done with mutual consent between the student and the faculty advisor. It is the responsibility of the student to seek out and find a faculty advisor. Faculty members are, generally, more willing to advise an honors thesis project when they have a prior relationship or experience with the student. Faculty members are also more willing to supervise a project if they have a professional interest in the project topic. Students are encouraged to begin conversations with a faculty member about honors thesis projects during their junior years. When approaching potential advisors, students should bring an outline of what they plan to do for their projects, as well as a brief explanation of why they are interested in pursuing an honors thesis.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty, postdoctoral fellows with teaching appointments, and fixed-term faculty who have been employed by COMM for at least one year may serve as senior honors thesis advisors. Advisors must have a permanent or adjunct appointment in the Communication Department. Graduate students may not serve as thesis advisors.
After finding an advisor, students need to assemble a committee of two or more faculty members, including the advisor, to evaluate the thesis work at the end of the honors sequence. While the faculty advisor is expected to work closely with the student, the committee members or “readers” are expected to read only a completed or nearly completed thesis and participate in the thesis defense.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty, retired faculty, postdoctoral fellows with teaching appointments, and fixed-term faculty who have been employed by an academic unit for at least one year may serve as committee members. Graduate students may not serve as members of Honors thesis committees. Members may be drawn from any academic unit at UNC-Chapel Hill or from another accredited college or university, as deemed appropriate and approved by the project advisor. Once assembled in consultation with the project advisor, the committee must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
After finding a committee, students need to complete a Senior Honors Thesis Learning Contract that must be approved and signed by the student’s thesis advisor before the end of the last semester prior to the honors sequence (typically spring of their Junior year). The learning contract should include an outline of the scope and direction of the research, a schedule of meetings, readings, target dates for submitting interim chapters and/or reports for review, and course assessment information, as well as the expected date for the submission of a near-final copy of the thesis to be defended. A template for the learning contract can be found below.
The learning contract and committee membership must be approved by Director of Undergraduate Studies before the end of the semester prior to starting the thesis. Students should bring their learning contracts to the Student Services Manager in Bingham 117 who will submit them to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Once the senior honors theses have been approved, the students will be notified and officially registered for COMM 693H for the upcoming semester. Each faculty advisor will be assigned a different section of COMM 693H.
At the end of the first semester of thesis work, the faculty advisors will submit grades for their students. Students and their advisors will also meet to discuss their progress. If at this time, an advisor deems a student’s progress insufficient to warrant continuation, the advisor will notify the student of this evaluation, and the student will discontinue work on the thesis, enrolling in a traditional course for the following semester, or, if the advisor is willing, continuing the project as an independent study project (COMM 396).
Students will automatically be enrolled in COMM 694H for the semester following COMM 693H, unless a student’s advisor specifies otherwise.
Honors Carolina offers financial awards to support senior honors thesis projects. There are two funding cycles per year, with deadlines announced by the Honors Carolina Office. Students must apply through their major academic unit’s honors director. Students may only apply for one round of funding.
Funding is also available through the Office for Undergraduate Research.
Upon completion of their projects, senior honors thesis students must pass an oral examination (thesis defense) or other appropriate form of evaluation. Students are responsible for making arrangements for their thesis defenses by discussing the date/time of the defense with all committee members and reserving necessary classroom/performance space and equipment. Students can contact the Student Services Assistant if they need assistance with reservations.
At a thesis defense, committee members will critically examine the student and his/her work. If the committee determines that the student has passed the thesis defense, they will designate the thesis as warranting the designation “with honors” or “with highest honors.”
Per departmental policy, highest honors can only be awarded to students who have met the most rigorous standards of scholarly excellence and who have a GPA of 3.50 or higher.
If a student or his/her thesis committee determines that the project does not warrant the designation of honors, the student will receive only course credit for the thesis work.
After successfully defending their theses, students must upload a scanned copy of their thesis cover page signed by their advisors and their entire thesis in PDF format to the Carolina Digital Repository. For detailed instructions, please visit the Honors Carolina website. Documents must be uploaded by the deadline as stated on the Honors Carolina website. Please contact the Student Services Assistant if you have any questions.
Students who successfully complete a senior honors thesis project will have the designation “Honors” or “Highest Honors” printed beside their names in the Commencement bulletins and recorded on their diplomas and transcripts. At the Departmental Commencement Ceremony, students will be announced as “with honors” or “with highest honors” as they walk across the stage.
Students will also receive gold cords to wear at Commencement exercises. There is no charge for the cords, and students can pick them up from the Student Services Assistant.
Honors Carolina- Senior Honors Thesis– includes information on electronic submission, deadlines, and research grants