The Honors Program is designed to facilitate significant independent research by our department's finest students. Typically, the student will propose a topic for research in consultation with a member of the faculty who agrees to serve as the project advisor. The department will then approve (or decline to approve) the honors research on the basis of the merit of the proposal itself as well as the student's past classroom performance, motivation to pursue excellence, and demonstration of the organizational skills required for successful completion. In consultation with the project advisor, the student will go on to build an honors committee consisting of two members of the sociology faculty (including the advisor), one member from another department on campus, and one member from another institution of higher education (chosen by the advisor). The student will spend the senior year conducting the research and writing an honors thesis. The thesis is finally defended orally before the honors committee, the members of which determine whether to award no honors, Honors, High Honors, or Highest Honors.
We hope that the following guidelines will help you in deciding whether or not to pursue honors in sociology at Kenyon. We have a growing list of honors theses on file in the departmental office. We are proud of them and encourage you to look through them. Many of the authors have moved on to graduate study in sociology and related fields, and we expect many of you will do so as well.
The College has determined that students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.20 in order to pursue departmental honors as a senior. The department further requires that any student wishing to conduct honors work must have a departmental GPA of no less than 3.50. We are aware that some students don't realize their full potential in the first two years of their collegiate experience. Accordingly, both the college and the department will allow you to petition to do honors if you fail to meet these criteria.
Students approved for participation in the honors program enroll in two semesters of independent study (Senior Honors, SOCY 497, 498), with their project advisor submitting the grades for each term. Any student who resigns from the honors program at any point in time can still receive credit for the work completed, reported as Individual Study (SOCY 493, 494). Similarly, a student who does not successfully defend the thesis will nevertheless receive credit under the SOCY 493, 494 designation.
We suggest that anyone planning to undertake an honors project consider the following before writing a proposal:
1. While you receive course credit for your honors research, the work is typically of a much greater magnitude than other college classes. You would be well advised to look at the honors program as a "course overload" for your senior year. That said, if the work is more demanding, it can also be more rewarding in the end.
2. The integrity of the program depends upon informed support and criticism. Accordingly, we expect that you will propose a topic that at least one member of the faculty is capable of professionally evaluating. We reserve the right to decline approval of an honors topic that no faculty member feels competent to advise. We teach in a wide range of areas here, and individuals may be willing to "stretch" a little for exceptional candidates. It may be helpful for you to know that our faculty's areas of expertise are as follows:
Jennifer Johnson: social movements, globalization, qualitative methods, law and Latin American studies
Marla Kohlman: gender, race and ethnicity, stratification, family, sexuality, research methods, leisure, intersection theory, law and justice.
George McCarthy: social theory, political economy, knowledge, science, ethics and social justice, philosophy and sociology
Howard Sacks: social psychology, rural studies, art, contemporary social theory, community, qualitative and historical methods, folklore, American studies
Ric Sheffield: law, crime and criminal justice, race and ethnicity, women and gender, jurisprudence
Anna Sun: knowledge, religion, social theory, East Asian studies
Jan Thomas: health, social movements, gender, inequalities, women sociologists, social work
Celso Villegas: sociology of development, comparative and historical methods, social change, class formation, political regimes, Southeast Asia and Latin America
Your proposal should be submitted by the end of the first week of April of the junior year. Students who are planning to study abroad during their junior year and who expect to pursue honors based on independent study conducted in that context are strongly encouraged to discuss their plans with a relevant member of the faculty prior to their departure.
First and foremost, the proposal should clearly define the research question. Second, it should describe the method of data collection, historical research, and/or theoretical examination. Ideally, an explicit theoretical orientation will guide your analysis. Third, the proposal should include an initial bibliography demonstrating a literature adequate for dealing with the issue at hand. We are not looking for a tome; two or three pages of text should be sufficient in most instances.
Take the proposal as seriously as you will your honors research. Write it carefully and succinctly. Proofread it closely; don't rely only on a computer spell-check.
A successful honors thesis is the result of effective organization and sustained effort on the part of the student and the committee. Consequently, the department encourages you to meet with your project advisor during the first week of your senior year and establish a schedule of goals and accompanying deadlines for their attainment. Some of you will have original materials collected in the field or data available for secondary analysis; others will be relying solely on library research. Obviously, then, there is no way that the department can construct a single schedule appropriate to every honors student's work. But, in general, we suggest the following:
Whenever possible, your research should be completed by the beginning of the spring semester. That will leave you the remainder of the year to write up the results in a timely manner. In the past, we have found that it is not unreasonable to expect a student to complete the bulk of the library research and write a substantive chapter during the fall term. Schedule regular monthly (or bi-weekly) meetings with your advisor. The first meetings may well be of the "this is what I read" or "this is what is perplexing me" variety. You will find that simply meeting with your advisor and discussing your analysis will help you to unpack your ideas more easily. It can also keep you from becoming unknowingly derailed. Keep a thick skin in that regard. When a faculty member says "How in the world did you get that idea?", it is an opportunity for you to further refine your understanding before you ever put your fingers to the keyboard. In your initial meetings, you and your advisor should agree not only on what the deadlines will be, but also on what constitutes unacceptable work. Once you set your deadlines, meet them. Neither faculty nor students are well-served by a last minute submission of an unseen "completed" project. For that reason, we have a stringent policy on missed deadlines (e.g., miss one deadline and you get a warning; miss two and you forfeit your honors).
Copies of the completed thesis must be submitted to each member of the committee. In addition, you must present one copy each to the department and to the College library. The final draft of your thesis must conform to the format and style guidelines established by the library (see Guidelines for Preparation of the Library Copy of Honors Theses, available at the Olin Library).
Plan to have the thesis completed a full three weeks before the scheduled date of the defense. That will give all the members of the committee ample time to read the thesis as a whole and make helpful suggestions regarding your preparation for defense. Defenses are typically scheduled for the middle of April.
Having completed the written work, you are required to discuss your ideas and approach in an oral defense of the thesis. The oral defense is attended by all the members of your committee, including the outside examiner. This session typically lasts approximately ninety minutes.
The defense begins with a brief statement (about five minutes) from you about your honors work. Because everyone in attendance has read the thesis, there is no need to reiterate your argument at this point. Instead, students take this opportunity to make a personal statement about their motivations for the study and the significance honors work has had for their intellectual or personal growth.
The remainder of the defense is taken up with questions from the committee. You will be asked to defend particular points in the written work, justify the approach you took in the thesis as a whole, and consider implications of your work that extend beyond the thesis itself. At an appropriate point, the advisor will close the discussion. You will then be asked to leave the room briefly so that the committee can evaluate your thesis and defense and determine the outcome of your work. You will then be called back into the room to learn the results of the committee's deliberation.
If a schedule is agreed upon and adhered to by both faculty and students, the possibility of not passing the oral defense is virtually nil. The following questions will be considered in deciding on the level of honors:
How original was the research question and how innovative was the argument?
How effectively was the thesis organized?
How well was the thesis written?
How thorough was the research?
How well did the student articulate orally the reasoning behind the project?
How well did the student withstand and respond to criticism?
In general, higher levels of honors are reserved for students who show particular sophistication and creativity in the development of the thesis and demonstrate unusually high command of the issues and material in the oral defense.