FAQs for Faculty and Departmental Staff

*Please note that these FAQs have been updated to reflect policies that will go into effect for the 2023-24 academic year.*

Who is the point of contact for the Honors Thesis Program? The Office of Undergraduate Research manages the Honors Thesis Program. You may write to us at ntcthesis@tulane.edu

How do students register for the Honors Thesis? Unlike other Tulane courses, students may not register themselves for the Honors Thesis through Gibson. Students register in their department office each semester (so a student writing a thesis in English would register through the English department). For the thesis to be approved, students must also submit a prospectus to Newcomb-Tulane College and adhere to scheduled deadlines throughout the academic year. 

Are there specific course numbers for the Honors Thesis? The Honors Thesis is a two-semester project. 4990 is the fall course number (3 credit hours) and 5000 (3-4 credit hours, depending on major department) is the course number for spring. A student writing for Political Science, for instance, should be registered for POLS 4990 during the fall semester, and POLS 5000 for the spring.

Students in the fine arts (e.g., studio art, dance, music, theatre) have the option of completing a Senior Honors Project in the Fine Arts instead of a traditional written thesis (see below for more details). For the Senior Honors Project in the Fine Arts, 4991 is the fall course number (3 credits) and 5001 is the spring course number (3 credits). 

What are the learning objectives for the Honors Thesis?  The traditional Honors Thesis and the case study option have the following learning objectives:

  • Through a substantial research project, students must apply discipline-specific knowledge to formulate a central argument.  
  • Because all honors theses and case studies fulfill the Tier-2 Writing Core Requirement, they must include revision and reevaluation by the instructor of record.

The Senior Honors Project in the Fine Arts has the following learning objective: 

  • Students must undertake a substantial creative project that demonstrates their achievement in their chosen field of artistic expression. Students completing such a project are expected to be able to provide a rationale for their work. Senior Honors Projects in Fine Arts will not fulfill the Tier-2 Writing Core Requirement. 

What departments may offer the case study option? Is there a separate course sequence?  Any undergraduate major or program may choose to offer a case study option. Students will register for the standard 4990-5000 course sequence.

How does the grading for the thesis work across the two semesters? The thesis should be set up as a two-semester course with “IP” being the correct fall semester grade. (Please contact classschedule@tulane.edu for additional information on how to do this.) The thesis is not graded until the student has passed the oral defense and submitted the final thesis. The grade for the fall semester will show as “IP” (In Progress) until the final grade is submitted and applied to both semesters. No letter grade should be given at the close of the fall semester. 

Can an Honors Thesis be written for two majors? How does credit registration work? Students may write an Honors Thesis in two majors. Rather than a first and second reader, students writing for two departments will have a co-director for each major. Students who are writing theses in two major departments register for 4990 in one department and 5000 in the other. From the perspective of Newcomb-Tulane College, it does not matter in which order the credits are registered, but it’s recommended that students check with their major advisors. Please note that students will be working with both co-directors throughout the year, even though they are registered through one department for the fall and the other in the spring. The instructor of record for the spring semester will be responsible for assigning the final grade, which will be applied to both semesters. 

Who is the instructor of record? The first reader will be the instructor of record for the thesis, and responsible for assigning a grade (in consultation with the other readers). The first reader serves as the director of the thesis committee. If the thesis is being written for two majors, the reader from the department that the thesis credits are registered for in the spring semester will assign the final grade for the thesis.

Are there deadlines for thesis credits to be enrolled Fall and Spring?  Thesis course credits are unlike other course credits and do not adhere to the regular add/drop deadline. These credits can be scheduled more flexibly, not unlike independent study credits.

Can students write a thesis on a spring/fall schedule? Yes. Students should consult with the Office of Academic Enrichment about electing this option. 

Can students write the thesis in the third year if graduating early? Yes. Students should consult with the Office of Academic Enrichment about electing this option.

Can students who were not admitted as First-Year Honors Scholars or through the former Honors Program still write a thesis? Is there a minimum GPA? Students do not need to be designated as Honors students to write a thesis. To be eligible to write an Honors Thesis, students are generally expected to have an overall GPA of 3.4, and a GPA of 3.5 in the major for which the student is writing for honors. Departments may make exceptions to the GPA threshold on a case-by-case basis where warranted. 

Do departments need approval from NTC to register a student whose GPA is below the suggested thresholds? No. Departments should adopt their own procedures to approve allowing a student with a cumulative GPA below 3.4 or major GPA below 3.5 to write an Honors thesis; they do not need additional approval from NTC. 

Is the Honors Thesis Workshop course (formerly Honors Thesis Bootcamp) required to write a thesis? No, this course has been discontinued.

Are students who were admitted as First-Year Honors Scholars or through the former Honors Program required to write an Honors Thesis?  No. The Honors Thesis is required in order to earn departmental honors in the major in which the thesis is written. 

Which faculty are eligible to serve on thesis committees?  The first reader must be a regular NTC faculty member within the department(s) in which honors will be granted (e.g., tenured, tenure-track, and professors of practice). An exception will be made for students completing a project in an NTC-approved major in the School of Professional Advancement, such that SoPA faculty may serve as a first reader. In addition to regular faculty, Visiting Assistant/Associate Professors, administrative faculty, and non-NTC Tulane faculty (e.g., SoPA, Law, Medicine, & Social Work) will be allowed by policy to serve as second or third readers. Non-Tulane faculty and other professionals within the field will be allowed by policy to serve as third readers; such faculty are to be approved for inclusion on the committee by the first reader. Adjunct professors will be allowed by exception to serve as second or third readers with the approval of the relevant department chair. Post-docs will be allowed by exception to serve as second or third readers with department chair approval, provided their principal investigator is not also serving on the same thesis committee.

If the student's PI is not a regular faculty member in the department for which the student is writing the thesis, can they serve as the first reader? In this case, the PI should not serve as the instructor of record (first reader). For administrative purposes, they should be the second (or third) reader, and a faculty member representing the student’s major department should serve as the first reader. The PI can be listed as a co-director on the final thesis submission. 

What is considered the passing grade for an Honors Thesis? A or A-.

If a student decides to stop writing their Honors Thesis or does not achieve satisfactory progress, what is the process for dropping the credits or converting the thesis credits to independent study credits? The Honors Thesis credits may be dropped at any time WITHOUT RECORD. The student should work with their NTC Academic Advisor and the Registrar’s Office to drop the credits officially from the transcript. With permission of the thesis director, independent study credits may then be added to the transcript for one or both semesters through the major department. This process is sometimes referred to as converting thesis credits to independent study but is in fact two separate steps—one through Academic Advising and the other through the department.

Does the Honors Thesis fulfill the second-tier writing requirement? Yes, the 4990-5000 course sequence fulfills the second-tier writing requirement. 

The 4991-5001 course sequence for the Senior Honors Project in the Fine Arts does NOT fulfill the second-tier writing requirement.

Can the Honors Thesis fulfill the second-tier service requirement? Yes, if the thesis constitutes an educational experience based upon a collaborative partnership between the university and the community. Students must submit a petition to the Center for Public Service. Visit https://cps.tulane.edu/about/graduation-requirement for more details. 


Additional Information For Faculty Serving On Thesis Committees

What are the standards or expectations for a successful Honors Thesis? We expect students to aim high in their research proposals. We also expect that if they aim high enough, they will sometimes fall at least a little short of their aspirations.  (On the other hand, some students every year will produce work that meets, or exceeds, the standards for MA theses.)

The minimum passing grade for the thesis is normally “A-.” A thesis that deserves a lower grade should not be considered a passing thesis. (Any ambiguities in such situations should be discussed with the Office of Undergraduate Research.) Similarly, if the student’s work in progress does not suggest an A- outcome, you should not signify your approval on the progress reports in November and January.

It is up to the faculty of departments and programs to determine what constitutes legitimate research in their majors.  (For instance, is research in this field defined by laboratory experiments?  Is field research required?  What are the norms for scholarly writing in this field?)

Students who write Honors Theses should have sufficient preparation through coursework or other experiences so that they understand the scholarly terrain onto which they are venturing. The thesis prospectus, for example, demands that students formulate a research question or hypothesis, and explain how the question or hypothesis has been addressed by scholars in the field.

Faculty are not obliged to take on students for honors theses. If you think the student is not adequately prepared for a thesis, or for the particular project the student wants to propose, you should not sign on to the thesis.  

How long must theses be? The length of the thesis will depend on the nature of the project and the expectations of the field in which the thesis is written. Students in the more discursive fields (History, for instance) should usually aim for around 60-75 pages. Theses in subjects where research is usually expressed in large part through formulas and figures (Math, for instance) tend to be shorter.  

What sorts of credit and recognition do students receive for the thesis? Students who complete theses and meet the GPA requirements outlined above receive departmental honors in the major or majors for which they write the thesis; they graduate “with honors in” the major or majors.  The Honors Thesis counts as a writing intensive course in its second semester (5000).  The thesis fulfills the capstone requirement in many, but not all, majors.   

What are the roles of the three readers, and what is expected of them? The first reader also referred to as the thesis director, is the instructor of record for the thesis course, and usually the student’s main advisor for the research. The first reader assigns the grade for the thesis, in consultation with the second and third readers.  First readers should approach their responsibilities for thesis students the same way they would approach their responsibilities for students pursuing independent studies.  It is ultimately up to the student to maintain contact with the first reader and to submit work-in-progress in a timely fashion. But faculty should set some sort of expectations for meetings or other ways for the student to report on progress during the thesis year.  And of course, faculty who direct theses should plan to be available to thesis students on a fairly regular basis. The first reader also decides whether to require a third reader.

Readers, and first readers in particular, are obliged to evaluate students’ work-in-progress several times during the year: the first progress report (November); the second progress report (January); and the oral defense (April).

The second reader normally plays a supporting role.  But in some cases, students work as much with a second reader as with a first one.  The second reader is also obliged to evaluate the work-in-progress through the progress reports and oral defense reports.

In the case of a thesis written for two majors (Joint Thesis), the first and second readers serve, in effect, as joint first readers or co-directors, each representing their major department. In this case, the first two readers should be equally involved in the evaluation of the thesis, from their different disciplinary perspectives, throughout the entire academic year.  

Beginning in AY 2023-24, the first reader decides whether a third reader is required. The third reader serves as an observer of the thesis process, in particular the oral defense. Sometimes third readers can advise students substantively on the thesis research, but that is not a general requirement.   

What do I do if a thesis is not working out? The answer depends on when you decide there is a problem.  If you are not satisfied with the progress at the time of the first or second progress report, do not sign the progress report.  You might also let the Office of Undergraduate Research know that there is a problem, but we will follow up with the student anyway when he or she fails to submit a signed progress report.  Sometimes this evaluation itself can serve to get a student back on track, especially if it comes at the first progress report.

If in your judgment at any time it becomes necessary to discontinue the thesis (or the student decides not to continue it) there are several options.  If you judge that the student has done enough work to warrant it, you may allow the student to convert the thesis to one or even two semesters of independent study.  Because students sometimes depend on the thesis for other requirements (writing intensive, and capstone, for example), the earlier this determination is made the better.

The Honors Thesis courses can be dropped at any time, without record.

What are the requirements and expectations for a thesis in the fine arts (creative writing, art studio, theater, music performance)? Starting in AY 2023-24, students in the fine arts may choose to write a traditional Honors Thesis with a written component, or they may choose to pursue a Senior Honors Project in the Fine Arts that does not require a written component. Both of these options will allow the student to earn departmental honors in the major. 

The schedule, requirements, and expectations for traditional Honors Theses in the fine arts are essentially the same as for those in the laboratory sciences, humanities, and social sciences. As in other majors, students who propose theses in the fine arts should have experience in upper-level courses or other relevant instruction in their chosen fields and prior experience in the genre or medium of the proposed thesis. Students without relevant experience should not expect faculty members to agree to advise them on honors theses. Furthermore, students should understand that fine arts theses, like theses in other subjects, are directed projects where faculty judgments as to the quality of work submitted for honors are not only helpful but also authoritative. Theses in the fine arts, like theses in all other majors, are expected to demonstrate a high level of mastery in the relevant field. Where the honors thesis prospectus asks students to frame their projects as questions or problems in terms of the state of relevant scholarship, students proposing theses in the fine arts should identify and discuss the main artistic problem or challenge in terms of how other authors or artists have confronted the same or similar problems. The main body of the thesis should reflect the relevant form or medium of the field for which the student is completing the project: a collection of short stories, a portfolio of images, a musical score, etc. But whatever the main form or medium of the project, all theses in the fine arts must include a substantial analytical or critical discussion of the project as a problem or challenge in the student’s chosen field. (For example, a student writing a novella with a coming-of-age theme might introduce his or her work with a chapter analyzing several examples of that genre, as a way of introducing the student’s own distinctive approach to the creative challenges of the genre.)  The final thesis should include at least 20 pages of prose, in addition to the main focus of the thesis project. In most cases, it should be possible for students to coordinate thesis defenses with performance dates, exhibitions, or other relevant events.  In cases where it seems to the readers best to hold such an event after the deadline for the thesis defense, please contact the Office of Academic Enrichment—or ask the student to contact the Office of Academic Enrichment—so that we know what is being planned.  Unless the adjustment to the schedule will cause some other problem, we will normally give the student an extension on the thesis defense.  

How should the final thesis be formatted? Honors theses must be formatted according to the guidelines set by Newcomb-Tulane College in consultation with Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.  Students must defer to these guidelines (which do not cover disciplinary-specific issues like citation styles) when there is a conflict between the thesis style and the usual practice of a given academic discipline.