Format of Defense

Structure of the Honors Thesis Defense:

  1. Once the advisor and readers consider the thesis ready for defense, the student is responsible for putting up a few signs in his or her major department and elsewhere announcing the time and place of the defense along with the title of the thesis. A copy of this sign should be sent to the Director of the Honors Thesis Program. The student may also wish to provide other faculty members who wish to attend the defense with copies of the final draft of the thesis, so that they can read it before the defense.
  2. The advisor of the thesis normally acts as convener of the defense, welcoming the student and readers, as well as other faculty members and students who have come.
  3. For about 10 to 20 minutes (usually no more) the student summarize the issue researched and the conclusions he or she reached. The student may also give a short account of how the project evolved: What was the original proposal? What difficulties or dead-ends did I encounter along the way? What were the positive surprises or unexpected discoveries? How is the final thesis different from the proposed project? What might I have done differently, if I had the chance to do it again? What are the strengths of the thesis? What are the areas that need more research or thought? (This last question allows the student to talk about perceived weaknesses of the project before members of the panel point them out.)
  4. One of the readers begins by asking questions about the thesis, the methodology used, the conclusions drawn, etc. This may last up to 10 minutes.
  5. The second reader does the same.
  6. The student's major advisor for the thesis does the same.
  7. Other members of the audience, both teachers and students are asked for their questions as time permits.
  8. At the end of the questioning and discussion, the audience is thanked for coming and dismissed, and the student is asked to wait outside while the panel (advisor and two readers, the Honors Thesis Director, if present and requested, and perhaps the department chair if he or she is present) evaluates the project.
  9. The advisor leads this discussion and takes notes on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the project. These notes should be used when the advisor writes up a short evaluation of the project. This evaluation will be kept in the Honors Program file and used in writing future letters of recommendation for the student.
  10. The panel decides the appropriate grade for the thesis (usually A or AB). Students who have received a grade of A or H on their Honors Thesis will receive special recognition on their transcripts and at commencement: "Graduated with Departmental Distinction." or: "With Distinction" if the thesis is interdisciplinary. Please keep in mind that this is a B.A. thesis or project, not an M.A. project.
  11. The student is asked to join the panel members for a brief report of their reactions to the thesis and defense. If the student has received departmental distinction (a grade of A or H), the panel may tell him or her at this point. The panel congratulates the student for having passed the defense.
  12. The advisor writes up a short evaluation and submits this immediately, along with the grade for the thesis, to the Honors Thesis Program Director, who will be responsible for reporting all thesis grades to the registrar.


After you have finished work on the final product, fill out the top half of the Senior Honors Thesis evaluation. A few sentences are enough. (See Appendix G.)

Both your half of this form and your advisor's half are important. Your half is an integral part of the project itself, since your advisor may draw on what you say there in evaluating your work as a whole.

After you have written your self-evaluation give it to your advisor. When your advisor has finished writing his or her half of the evaluation, pick up the completed form and make three copies. Return one to your thesis advisor, keep one for yourself, and turn in the original and one copy to the Director of the Honors Thesis Program. The original will go into your file with the project proposal. The copy will be compiled with other Honors evaluation forms to form a record of the year's independent work in the program. It must be turned in with the signed, bound, thesis by the deadline at the beginning of May for inclusion of your honors on the commencement program.