Senior Honors Thesis Policies and Procedures

Registration for the Senior Honors Thesis

Please keep these guidelines in mind:

  • You must register for the appropriate senior honors thesis course in your major (or as an interdisciplinary senior thesis). You must register for two consecutive semesters.
  • You must submit a Thesis Honors Candidate Form, within the first six weeks of the first semester of thesis.
  • Most students undertake this project during the fall and spring semesters of their senior year. However, if you intend to graduate early, or are one semester behind, you may opt to start the thesis in the spring semester and complete it at the end of the fall semester.
  • Students in the five-year combined-degree BA/BFA program may complete the honors thesis in their fourth or fifth year.
  • If you have had to take a leave for one semester, you can complete the senior honors thesis following a fall-fall or spring-spring schedule.
  • You may not register for the honors thesis during the summer session or while studying abroad.

Senior Thesis Alternatives

Besides the senior honors thesis, there are other kinds of independent research-based capstone projects you may undertake as a senior. A shorter, less intense senior capstone project is a good option for seniors who do not have the time to devote to a year-long honors thesis. These alternatives are generally for one semester, allow greater flexibility for non-traditional or creative approaches, and involve no committee, no defense, and no thesis honors. You should discuss your options with your advisor.

Senior Thesis Guidelines by Major Department

Check your department’s policies on thesis honors and deadlines for thesis proposals.

Arts and Sciences Majors

If your major or major department is not listed above, contact the department chair or department administrator to see if there are departmental sources of information about the senior honors thesis for your major. You can also do a senior honors thesis outside your major through the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Engineering Majors

Biomedical Engineering

The Honors Thesis in Biomedical Engineering is a two-semester research experience (BME 89 & BME 90) that involves experimental, computational, or theoretical work to test a scientific hypothesis or advance scientific knowledge. The Honors Thesis should be based on a critical survey of the scientific literature and is expected to contain new results that are suitable for a conference presentation or publication in a scientific journal.

The research nature of the Honors Thesis distinguishes it from the engineering design focus of the biomedical engineering senior capstone project (BME 7 & BME 8). The activities performed for the Honors Thesis must be separate and distinct from those of the Senior Capstone project.

The format of the Honors Thesis is the same as that of an MS thesis, with a typical length of 40-60 pages (12 pt font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins). The oral defense is a 30-minute power point presentation open to the public, followed by questions from the audience and from the Honors Thesis committee.

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Students should aspire to produce scholarly work that can be published in the peer-reviewed literature.     

Proposal: Students are required to submit a written research proposal to their thesis committee at the beginning of the spring semester of their senior year, no later than February 1. This proposal should be developed in consultation with the thesis advisor.

Length: The primary emphasis of the honors thesis is quality of work, and the typical length ranges from 40-60 pages (12 pt. font, double-spaced, one-inch margins).

Defense: Students are required to give an oral presentation before their thesis committee and answer questions related to their work. The defense is open to the public and must be announced two weeks in advance. The oral presentation should last approximately 30 minutes and is followed by questions from the audience and the thesis committee.

Computer Science

Honors theses can vary as to the amount of library versus lab research. The written component should be extensive, with a survey of past work, references, and an outline of future work.

Length: Minimum of 30-40 pages.

Defense: A talk with questions from the committee; format could be anything from chalk to PowerPoint.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

The honors thesis is intended to be a research (hypothesis-driven) experience, as opposed to the senior design course, which is a design and development (need-driven) experience. The senior thesis should consist of more laboratory/computer research (hypothesis testing) than the design course. The thesis doesn't necessarily result in the kind of tangible product the design course demands. The honors thesis should have a strong basis in the published literature, and the thesis itself is intended to have the formatting and style of a M.S. thesis, with the content and depth appropriate to an advanced undergraduate. Ideally the thesis document contains discoveries that become incorporated into a journal paper or conference presentation. These publications, of course, take a long time and are unlikely to be completed before the student graduates. The senior thesis is a stepping stone into the realm of graduate research. Of course, some senior theses are more product based, and result in new ideas to solve existing problems (and perhaps new intellectual property).

Length: 30-100 pages (including figures), but the actual length depends on the sub-discipline.

Defense:  A PowerPoint talk is given to the committee in a public forum. The presentation lasts roughly 30 minutes and is followed by approximately 30 minutes of questions from the committee and then from the audience.

Mechanical Engineering

The honors thesis is an optional course which takes the place of one ME elective. The thesis is formally one semester, but requires a lead-in semester of independent study (for credit), so it is effectively two semesters. The thesis requires a research project as opposed to simply a design. The end product is a written thesis as well as a presentation.

Proposal: Students are required to file a one-page proposal outlining the planned research, signed by your advisor and the chair of the department.

Length:  40-50 pages is typical.

Defense:  Students give a PowerPoint presentation before the committee and answer questions. The presentation lasts 30 minutes and is critiqued by your thesis committee.

Senior Honors Thesis Details

Interdisciplinary Senior Thesis versus Senior Thesis in Your Major

Many majors require a senior capstone in some form, and completing a senior honors thesis is one way to fulfill this capstone requirement. If completed within your major, the two credits earned toward your senior honors thesis will count toward your major. You may only pursue an honors thesis in one of your declared majors; you may not split your thesis among two majors. If you want to pursue a senior thesis in your minor instead of your major, on a topic that spans two or more subjects or that takes a non-traditional approach not supported by your major, you may apply to pursue an interdisciplinary honors thesis; however, the two credits earned will not count toward your major.

Senior Honors Thesis Faculty Advising Committee

In order to undertake an honors thesis, you must find professors willing to serve on your thesis committee, which consists of at least two people:

  • Committee chair (also called a primary thesis advisor)- this must be a full-time faculty member affiliated with your major.
  • Second reader-this must be a Tufts faculty member from the same department or another department.

Optional Third Reader

A few departments require at least three thesis advisors, and some students pursuing interdisciplinary topics prefer three people on their committee. The third member of the committee may be another professor from Tufts or a professor from another institution. In some cases, the third reader may be from outside academia. A full-time graduate student in engineering or arts and sciences may also be eligible to serve as your third reader (with permission from Dean of Academic Advising and Undergraduate Studies). The third reader may add an interdisciplinary perspective to your project. The reader should be Boston-based to participate in the defense and other committee meetings.

Part-Time Faculty Thesis Advisor Exception

In rare cases, the only person suitable to advise a student’s research is a part-time faculty member. In such cases, the part-time faculty member must be approved by the department chair and the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences or Engineering.

The Role of Your Thesis Committee

The most important decisions involving your thesis – its content, form, and length – are left up to your thesis committee.

  • The whole committee should meet with you two or three times during your thesis year.
  • Each committee member must be present for your thesis defense at the end of the second semester, but it is important for the entire committee to meet at least once or twice before the defense to resolve any differences about the direction of your research.
  • After the defense, the committee decides on your final grade and determines whether to award thesis honors.

Each thesis committee is unique, but the committee chair will usually have the most contact with you. You should work with your committee at the beginning of your senior year to determine the role of each member and how much feedback and direct guidance you should expect from each of them.

Here are some general guidelines for each committee member’s role:

Primary Thesis Advisor

  • Oversees your progress on the research and development of your thesis.
  • Meets with you frequently at regular intervals throughout the year.
  • Helps you resolve issues of research, focus, content, and form.
  • Assigns deadlines for bibliographies, drafts of chapters, and revisions.
  • Reads and comments on the various drafts and sections you submit.
  • Convenes the thesis defense and keeps it on track and on time.
  • Is responsible for submitting the grade and thesis honors form by the deadline.

Your Second Reader (and Optional Third Reader)

  • Gives you expert guidance on issues of content and methodology relevant to your topic.
  • Reads your thesis manuscript prior to the defense.
  • May or may not read earlier versions or drafts of sections throughout the year.
  • Must be present at and participate in your defense.
  • Assesses your work and deliberates with the committee chair to assign a final grade (and thesis honors, if merited).

Occasionally, the second reader may have more expertise on your thesis topic than the committee chair. In this case, the second reader will play a more active role in advising your thesis and should expect to read and respond to drafts regularly throughout the year.

The Thesis Defense

Your senior honors thesis will culminate in a final examination called a “defense.” The defense combines a formal presentation of your research and results, followed by a question-and-answer period and some discussion, and then deliberation among your committee about your grade and potential for thesis honors. Your defense may be open to the public or invited guests, or it may be behind closed doors with just you and your committee.

Thesis Honors

Your senior thesis may earn no honors, Honors in Thesis, High Honors in Thesis, or Highest Honors in Thesis based on the quality of the final product and your overall progress throughout the year. Thesis honors will be indicated on your transcript. If you earn no honors, you will still earn eight credits and your transcript will indicate “Senior Thesis” for those credits. Thesis honors are distinct from Latin Honors, but some departments require independent research or completion of a senior honors thesis for a student to be eligible for summa cum laude.

Archiving Your Completed Thesis Manuscript

Your completed honors thesis is considered an important scholarly work, and by submitting it to Tufts Digital Collections and Archives, you ensure it is accessible to future students.

After your thesis defense and before commencement, go to the MIRA website and upload your honors thesis as a PDF. This should be the final, completed, corrected version ready for posterity. Complete the deposit form and select “Agree and Deposit.”

Delayed Release of Archived Honors Thesis

In rare situations, you may want to consider a delayed release of your senior honors thesis. An “embargo” is a temporary delay in the online release of your honors thesis in order to avoid conflict with a pending patent or forthcoming publication, by you, your thesis advisor, or other members of your research team. You may select to delay the release of your thesis for six months to two years. Ask your thesis advisor about the embargo option and timeframe if one or more of the following situations applies to your thesis research:

  • Pending patent
  • Pending publication
  • Potential for future patent or publication by your thesis advisor or research team
  • Complicated situations (such as national security)

Institutional Review Board

If your senior thesis involves interviews, surveys, or the use of human subjects for social, behavioral, educational, or medical research, you will need prior approval (or a formal waiver) from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) before you may proceed with your research. The IRB “reviews all human subject research protocols to determine if they are assuring adequate protection of human participants.” These protocols apply to student research and may apply to interviews conducted in the United States or abroad, especially those involving vulnerable populations (such as children and refugees). If you think your research may fall into this category, talk to your faculty advisor or department chair or contact the IRB.

Petitioning for a Dean’s List Waiver

A student who has been on the Dean’s List fewer than two times but has the strong backing of a faculty advisor and department chair may appeal to Associate Dean of Undergraduate Advising, Caitlin Casey, to request permission to waive the Dean’s List requirement. This consideration is routinely extended to transfer students. The student should write the appeal in an email message to Dean Casey and copy their faculty thesis advisor and the department chair. If they do not meet criteria established by the department, the department chair may determine whether there is merit for a waiver to the usual policy. Submit the petition before the sixth week of the first semester of the thesis.