Honors in Psychology
The Departmental Honors Program in Psychology is designed to provide exceptional undergraduate students with the opportunity to explore a problem area within the discipline in much greater depth than is ordinarily the case. Honors candidates are expected to develop their capacity for independent scholarship well beyond the requirements of majors. The department faculty regards honors work to be excellent preparation for graduate study in psychology, but this implies neither that an honors candidate must be planning a career in psychology nor that a student planning a career in psychology must pursue honors. Honors work conveys the high level of expectations that department faculty have for students in regard to working with theory, hypothesis generation and hypothesis testing, methodologogy, and data analysis.
There are five major milestones to the honors program: (1) acceptance for candidacy for honors; (2) approval of the honors proposal; (3) maintenance of honors-level qualifications during the Fall semester; (4) acceptance of honors thesis by the faculty; and (5) successful defense of the honors thesis before an outside examiner. In addition, a candidate's advisor will establish his or her own deadlines.
Acceptance for Candidacy
Students who are interested in becoming candidates for honors should, in their junior year and/or during the first week of classes of their senior year, make that interest known to their advisor and to either the Chair of the department (Andrew Niemiec) or the Director of the Departmental Honors Program (Michael Levine).
Criteria for Becoming an Honors Candidate
Students interested in becoming candidates for honors in psychology should, at the conclusion of their junior year, have:
- A cumulative grade point average (GPA) across all their college courses of at least 3.30
- Taken at least 4.00 units in psychology, including Statistics
- A cumulative GPA in psychology courses of at least 3.50
- Significant research experience, such as, for example, a Research Methods course in her or his general area of interest; an independent study; or Summer Science research.
- Taken the basic process course and/or behavior-in-context course(s) relevant to their proposed project; e.g., a student seeking to do a research project in the area of human memory should have taken Cognitive Psychology or Psychology of Language
It is desirable that a student's honors advisor be a member of the department faculty who has special competence in the area of the potential honors project. If a student wishes to do an honors project in an area where none of the department faculty has special competence, then it will be necessary for the student to persuade at least one member of the faculty to commit himself or herself to learning enough about the area to intelligently advise the student. In the case where the potential project is in an area where there is significant controversy, e.g., concerning appropriate methodology, the student must obtain at least two faculty members who will jointly advise the candidate.
Honors candidates need to be capable of, and committed to a good deal of self-directed work. Nevertheless, honors candidates need to maintain close communications with their advisors. The honors advisor is a valuable resource person, and should be consulted regularly from the early stages of preparing the proposal through to the honors examination and final draft of the thesis at the culmination of the program in May of the student's senior year.
The proposal must be no more than 10 double-spaced pages in length. Each honors candidate must submit a proposal that describes the proposed honors project. The proposal is a plan for the honors work, but it is not a rigid set of constraints; it is possible that in the course of the honors project the student may wish (or need) to depart from that plan. Such departures must be discussed with the student's advisor, and, if the departure is of major proportions, with Dr. Levine, who will consult the rest of the Department of Psychology for a decision.
There are four types of proposals, depending on whether the project is to be a Research Project or a Literature Review. There are two general categories of Research Projects. The first is a relatively straightforward project in which the candidate offers several testable hypotheses in the context of current theory and past research, devises appropriate methods, performs the research, and analyzes and interprets the results of the research. A simple replication of a prior experiment or study is not an acceptable project. The second category of Research Project is "qualitative research." Here the student uses established interview and other ethnographic techniques to gather data in order to explore new ideas in a field and/or to answer questions concerning processes. For example, a student might propose a qualitative research study to answer the question: "How do students of color try to fit into previously all-white student groups?" Content analyses (e.g., of TV program, magazines, and/or web sites) constitute another type of potentially acceptable qualitative study.
The Literature Review project will generally be one of two distinct types. First, the student may attempt to establish the plausibility of a theoretical point of view through orderly, thorough, and skillful documentation. Second, the student may circumscribe an area of inquiry, exhaustively review it, arrive through careful reasoning at a set of propositions or hypotheses, which account for the data reviewed, and discuss methodological issues relevant for the testing of the propositions/hypotheses. Recently, this latter approach has been incorporated into projects that use meta-analysis as the methodology for a review.
The format and requirements for the proposal for the two general sorts of projects are given below. All proposals should adhere to APA (6th ed., 2010) format in organization, citations, references, etc.
I. Research Project Proposal
A. Four sections required:
- Introduction. Should be complete enough to enable the advisor and the Department Honors Committee to evaluate the appropriateness of the proposed research in the context of current theory and previous research.
- Method. Should contain a complete and detailed description of the research design, procedures, materials, participants, apparatus, test instruments, and analyses to be performed. Measures being taken to insure ethical treatment of participants should be noted.
- Results. What statistical tests will be used, and what might reasonably be predicted about the outcome of the statistical test(s) of the hypothesis(es)?
- Discussion. How might the potential results be interpreted? What are the strengths and limits of the proposed study?
B. Criteria for judging research project proposal
- Is the research worth doing given its theoretical and evidential context?
- Is the proposed methodology, including the approach to data organization and data analysis, adequate to the research task?
- Is the candidate aware of the meaning of potential results in the context of existing theory and evidence?
II. Literature Review Proposal
A. The requirements for the Literature Review proposal are not sections, but refer to the content of the proposal. They are:
- Breadth. The proposal must describe the proposed project in sufficient detail to allow the advisor and all members of the Psychology Department to evaluate its (a) appropriateness, (b) feasibility with respect to the time available, and (c) feasibility with respect to the resources available.
- Purpose. The proposal should describe (a) the general area(s) of psychology involved; (b) several of the theories which have been applied to research in this area; (c) the important problems (contradictions, complexities, issues) which have arisen in regard to this area; (d) some of the methodological issues in the study of this area; and (e) the student's plans in relation to gathering and organizing the material and then, for example, conducting a meta-analysis--or applying a different theory or developing a new theory, proposing hypotheses to be tested, and considering the methods by which those hypotheses could be tested.
- References. The proposal should indicate the primary and secondary sources to be used as starting places for review.
B. Criteria for judging the Literature Review proposal:
- Is the project feasible in light of available resources?
- Is the problem area worth attacking given the theoretical and evidential context?
- Have sufficient classical and contemporary sources been identified as starting points for the review?
- Is there clear indication that the candidate is aware of (and capable of) the scope of the project?
- If the project is a meta-analysis, does the candidate understand this methodology well enough?
Maintenance of Honors Level Qualifications
It is assumed that Honors Candidates will maintain their record of academic excellence. Specifically, all honors Candidates are required to
- take the comprehensive examination in the Fall, and to (1) pass that examination with at least a 70 on the ETS portion, and (2) pass the research proposal without a rewrite.
- finish the Fall and Spring semesters with a Psychology GPA and overall GPA that both meet the departmental requirements for honors candidacy.
The Honors Thesis
The Honors thesis is the final product of the candidate's work. It should be written in a format suitable to the particular sort of project, and should generally conform to the APA Style Manual (6th ed., 2010). It will be evaluated by the Department Faculty and, if approved by a majority of the faculty, will be sent to the outside examiner. It will be the primary (though not the only) factor in decisions concerning the success of the candidacy. The criteria used by the faculty will depend upon the sort of project performed.
I. Criteria for Research Theses
- Does the thesis present the problem and methodology suitably, setting it clearly in its theoretical and empirical context?
- Are the relevant data yielded by the research organized and analyzed in a coherent manner? (Results Section)
- Are the data interpreted and applied to the original problem in such a manner as to show that the candidate knows what was found and what it means? (Discussion Section)
- Has the candidate incorporated or otherwise dealt with departmental feedback (e.g., department's respond to the proposal, the first version of the honors thesis)?
II. Criteria for Literature Review Theses
- Is the review thorough, including both relevant classic work and contemporary publications?
- Is the review coherent? And is the review a well-organized synthesis that is both informative for readers who do not know the area and stimulating for readers who do know the area fairly well?
- Does the candidate use the review information effectively in making valid inferences, justified generalizations, and reasoned conclusions about the problem area?
- Has the candidate incorporated or otherwise dealt with departmental feedback in response to the proposal, the December progress report, the first version of the honors thesis, and so forth?
Honors Examination and Evaluation of Candidates
The final milestone in the Honors program is the oral Honors examination conducted by an outside examiner. Prior to the examination the candidate's thesis will have been read by all members of the Department Faculty, who also participate in the Honors examination. The criteria outlined in this document are those of the Department Faculty; the outside examiner is not required to use the same criteria, but he/she will have a copy of this document and will be encouraged to use it as a guide.
Following the Honors examination the outside examiner and the faculty jointly evaluate the candidacy, judging its success or lack thereof, and if it is successful, determining the degree of Honors (honors, high honors, and highest honors) to be awarded. In the evaluation the following two factors will be carefully considered, with the priority of the factors indicated by the order of listing.
- The quality of the Honors thesis, judged according to the criteria noted above.
- The candidate's performance in the oral examination. In the event that a serious deficiency is found in either the Honors thesis or in the candidate's comprehensive examination, the candidate's performance in the oral with respect to the problem area will be given added consideration in evaluating the candidacy; this does not imply that deficiencies can be completely remedied in the oral examination.
In order to ensure that the candidate's work receives full and careful attention, and to ensure that candidates maintain a rate of progress sufficient to complete their work, deadlines are established for completion of the proposal and the Honors thesis. These deadlines are stated on the calendar that accompanies this document. Failure to satisfactorily meet the deadlines of either sort may constitute grounds for dismissal from the Honors program. Moreover, as stated above, Honors students are expected to do well on the comprehensive examination (Senior Exercise) and to maintain their Psychology GPA and overall GPA at the honors' levels.
Withdrawal from Honors Program
If for some reason a candidate wishes to withdraw from the Honors program, he/she should discuss the matter with his/her advisor and with Dr. Levine. In general, a student wishing to withdraw, or required by the Psychology Department to withdraw, from the Honors program may at any time during the academic year convert from registration in Psychology 497-498 to Psychology 493-494 (independent study/directed reading).