Thesis Expectations

In the Department of Psychology, thesis research involves collaborations between students and a faculty member, and sometimes a community partner as well. The thesis experience is a long-term process that begins in April of the junior year, continues during the summer before the senior year, and in most cases ends with the successful write-up and formal presentation of the thesis during the senior year.  The grade for thesis is based on cumulative performance at ALL stages of this process, not just the semester in which the student is registered for the thesis course.  To help insure a successful experience for you and your advisor/instructor, we provide here: (1) an overview of this process, (2) more detailed information regarding the important role of the thesis proposal in this process, (3) expectations related to your knowledge of the topic, the methodological and/or integrative approach chosen, and your discussion of the findings, and (4) our expectations related to honors projects.  

It is important that each rising senior psychology major review this overview of process and expectations carefully.  This is important to ensure that you gain the multiple benefits of a thesis experience.  Thesis is an opportunity for you to learn and to develop.  It is a chance to deepen your understanding of a set of psychological phenomena through close study with a mentor, and in many cases, through practical application.  It is a chance to develop and demonstrate your capacity to do independent work, and to do so conscientiously, which is critical to your future.  It is a chance for you to strengthen your ability to reason effectively and your ability to write clearly and persuasively, abilities that will also prove valuable after Bates.  As a capstone experience, thesis is one of your final chances as a Bates student to become stronger and to show what you can do.  This process and these expectations are designed to help you make the most of your thesis experience.

1. Overview of the process

The thesis process begins in April of your junior year when you submit potential thesis ideas to the department.  The department will assign you a thesis advisor based on your pre-proposal interests so it is important that you think carefully about the type of thesis (integrative review, community-based, or empirical) and topic areas you would like to pursue.

Students should work with their advisor to devise a schedule and be timely with their completion and submission of work.  Students should also talk with their advisor to determine whether this work should begin during the summer between the junior and senior years.

Students must have their thesis topic approved (for any type of thesis) before they can begin their thesis work.  For seniors doing a fall or yearlong project the proposal is due by 4:00 pm on the Thursday two weeks after classes start.  For seniors doing a winter semester thesis the proposal is due by 4:00 pm on the second Thursday in November.  Additional details about this important step are expanded upon in section 2 below since failure at this stage could result in a student not being allowed to graduate.

To maximize the success of the work, students should be conscientious and responsive to their advisor’s suggestions.

Students should exhibit independence and creativity where appropriate.

The thesis should be well-written and carefully edited. Students should know and use APA style in writing the thesis.

Students should follow ethical guidelines for psychologists, which include ethical practices in conducting research and in engaging with members of the wider communities beyond Bates as well as being careful to avoid plagiarism throughout the process.

Thesis students should have the ability to communicate with their advisor and with diverse audiences about their research, including but not limited to writing an abstract describing their work, and delivering a well-organized poster or oral presentation at a college-wide event. Students completing a fall-semester thesis are expected to present their work at an event that is held at 5:00 pm on the Thursday before the last day of classes in the fall semester.  Students completing a winter-semester or year-long thesis are expected to present their work at the Mount David Summit.  In addition, CBR students may be expected to describe their research to community partners or agencies.

A community-based research thesis may include additional materials, such as an evaluation from the community partner, a student reflection on the impact of the community based work, a journal, or other supplementary documents.

A community-based research (CBR) thesis requires at least 50 hours of on-site work in addition to class meetings or regular contact with the advisor.

2. The role of the thesis proposal

Senior psychology majors must have their thesis topic approved by the department (for any type of thesis) before they can begin their thesis work.  The chair of the department will email seniors with details about how to submit the proposal.

Students should treat the thesis proposal very seriously and should make every effort to submit a proposal of high quality by the appropriate due date.  Failure to submit a passable proposal by the due date (1) may result in the student not being allowed to complete his or her thesis that semester , and (2) will result in a decrease in the thesis grade in the semester the thesis is completed (typically by an entire letter grade but this may differ depending upon the circumstances).

In some instances the proposal is simply rejected (with no invitation to resubmit).  When this happens, the student is not allowed to complete their thesis that semester.  In other instances students are asked to revise their proposal and are given a deadline for submitting the revision.  When this occurs, students are allowed to complete their thesis during that semester so long as they submit a passable proposal by the new deadline.  Failure to submit a passable proposal by the new deadline will result in the student not being allowed to complete their thesis that semester.

If a student is not allowed to complete their thesis during the fall semester then the student will likely be down a course credit in the fall (if the proposal is rejected after the add/drop deadline) and will likely need to pick up an additional 5th course in the winter semester.  If a student is not allowed to complete their thesis in the winter semester then the student will not be allowed to graduate.

To avoid problems, we expect students to work with their thesis advisor on the proposal.

3. Expectations related to (a) knowledge of the topic, (b) the methodological and/or integrative approach used, and (c) discussion of findings.

a. Knowledge

Students should demonstrate knowledge in a selected content area.

Students should know and use the search indexes in the field and should be able to read the research literature.

Students should demonstrate an understanding of the literature by identifying relevant sources and by reading those sources with a critical eye to important methodological and analytical details.

Students should also be able to identify information that is missing from the literature, e.g., lacunae.

Students should be able to write an integrated review of the literature, and should use this literature to generate a research question or focused argument.

Students should be able to articulate the ways in which their research question and/or argument relates to the literature.

The thesis should define a problem, research question or, when appropriate, a research hypothesis that flows from the review of the literature.

b. Methodological and/or integrative approach

The thesis should include a well-written focused argument with an appropriate method section or integrative technique that will be used to examine the topic to insure replicability and to allow informed readers to evaluate it.

The thesis should, when appropriate, recognize alternative approaches and justify the methodology and/or approach used.

Students should have mastered technology, (e.g., SPSS, Microsoft Word, PsychInfo), and techniques (e.g., nonhuman animal surgery) necessary for the study.

Students should match the method, variables, and design to the research question or focused argument.

In their thesis, students should use analyses that are appropriate to the data collected and should convey the results and statistical tests clearly, accurately, and in tables and figures where appropriate.

Students should use best practices for describing, analyzing, and presenting the data, including tables and figures where appropriate.

c. Discussion of findings

The Discussion section of the thesis should restate the findings and situate these findings in the context of the theoretical or empirical work covered in the literature review.

The Discussion section should explain the implications of the evidence, the claims that come from the evidence, and may include implications for future research.

In the Discussion section of the thesis, the student should summarize and discuss the limitations of the research, within reason.  What are those issues that affect a student’s ability to draw conclusions from the research?  Students should recognize and discuss the limitations of their data.

4. Expectations related to honors projects

In the department of psychology honors is awarded to students who both distinguish themselves academically and who complete an exemplary honors project.

Students who complete an honors project will exceed expectations in all areas outlined above.  In addition:

The student’s findings and conclusions should be defensible and the honors student should be able to write and speak compellingly about the data.

Honors students should be able to field challenging questions about their work and the literatures to which they are contributing.

Honors thesis work is more complex.  For example, it may involve a more comprehensive literature review and/or the integration of multiple literatures.  Alternatively, it may involve more complex procedures or analyses (e.g., surgical techniques, designing interventions, or analysis of MRI data) than a typical thesis.

An honors thesis is written in elegant and meticulously edited prose.

Students should be aware that the thesis advisor may withdraw the student from the Honors program at any time before the thesis defense is held and that the honor committee panel members, often in consultation with the thesis advisor, are the ones to make the final determination on whether the student has satisfactorily earned Honors.