Cornell University

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Honors Thesis Research

ILR students talking in front of Ives HallSome ILR Faculty who have supervised Honors Thesis Research (ILR 4950), recommended that guidelines be developed for use by faculty supervisors and candidates for Graduation with Honors. They are suggestions drawn from experience in the supervision of honors research, not requirements. The requirements are stated in Faculty Legislation (II.D.f.3.). They are as follows:


The Academic Standards and Scholarships Committee believes that an Honors Thesis proposal should be a full statement of the topic, the scope of the study, the methodology, and the materials to be used in the research. In length, a proposal should be approximately five pages, including the reading list. The proposal is a demonstration of a commitment to an extensive study, so it should be developed in close consultation with the faculty supervisor. Some faculty have suggested that an initial proposal be prepared at the end of the spring term, and refined in reading and research in the summer months. The Academic Standards Committee now expects that proposals will be submitted for review at the end of the spring term prior to the fall registration for Honors Research or, at the latest, the first week of the fall term.

Schedules and Expectations

While the proposal is being developed, the faculty supervisor and the candidate should agree upon a schedule of meetings, target dates for the submission of interim reports (or preparatory papers or chapters of the study) as well as the expected date for the submission of the near-final copy of the thesis to be defended. Revisions may be completed well before the thesis defense if a near-final copy is available to the supervisor and the Second Reader in March. The defense is to be conducted before the last day of classes in the spring term. Experience indicates that a regular schedule of meetings and submission of interim papers or chapters for review continues the progress of the study and prevents misunderstandings about the scope and direction of the study.


Concern about the criteria to be used throughout the thesis research has been expressed by faculty and by the candidates. The Academic Standards Committee recommends that the faculty supervisor inform the candidate of the criteria to be used in evaluating interim papers or chapters and the completed thesis. In general, the Committee believes that an Honors Thesis should demonstrate the student's capacity for quality research and should give evidence of mastery of the material. More important than any general standard is the mutually accepted understanding of the criteria to be used by the faculty supervisor in evaluating all of the work of the candidate.

The Second Reader and the Thesis Defense

The thesis should be examined and defended before the Faculty Supervisor and the Second Reader before the end of scheduled classes in the spring term. The Committee recommends that the Second Reader be involved early in the study, preferably early enough to be named as a reader when the proposal is submitted for review and surely no later than the March submission of the near-final draft. The faculty supervisor and the candidate should discuss the defense in advance, particularly clarifying the role of the supervisor as advocate or as critic of the paper, the role of the Second Reader, and expectations of the scope of the defense.

Grades and Honors

Candidates for Honors should be aware that the Faculty Supervisor must make two judgments about the completed thesis research: what grade is appropriate, and does it merit Graduation with Honors? While those evaluations tend to be symmetrical, it is possible that thesis research earning a superior grade does not, in the assessment of the faculty supervisor, warrant Graduation with Honors.

Expenses and Funds

When the faculty approved Honors Thesis Research, they also approved the establishment of a small fund of money to defray some of the costs of research. They did not want promising candidates to be prevented by financial considerations from pursuing honors research. Neither did they believe that the School should pay all of the costs involved in pursuit of an elective honor. Funds are available to assist with some expenses, among them: travel and duplicating costs.  The Academic Standards Committee reviews requests for these funds and decides upon equitable allocations based on estimates before the expenses are incurred.

Signatures and Approvals

The Honors Thesis Research proposal submitted to the Academic Standards and Scholarships Committee should be accompanied by the Honors Thesis Signature Form which has the signatures of the applicant, the supervising faculty member, and the Chairperson of the faculty member's department. Those signatures attest to the common understanding of the signatories concerning the scope of the study, the commitments of time necessary to complete and to supervise the research, and the faculty member's judgment that the applicant has the ability to complete the proposed study in a satisfactory manner.

Grades and Eligibility

Undergraduate students completing their Junior year with a 3.7 cumulative gpa at the end of the spring term are eligible to request candidacy for Graduation with Honors and to propose Honors Thesis Research. Students accepted to candidacy are required to maintain this standard during both of the semesters in which they are conducting research and writing the thesis. If a candidate drops below 3.7, eligibility for Graduation with Honors ends; the supervising Faculty member must then determine if the research done to that point is sufficient to qualify for four credits per semester of Independent Study (ILR 4990).