Thesis Guidelines

All MMSS Program seniors are required to write an acceptable senior thesis as part of their graduation requirements. In their senior year students must register for at least two quarters of the senior thesis seminar MMSS 398 (MMSS 398-1,2,3 are offered, respectively, in fall, winter and spring) and may register for all three quarters if they wish. Regardless of which quarters they register for, students writing their theses must attend all meetings of the thesis seminar held over the entire year. The seminar typically meets a number of times in the fall quarter when students begin writing their theses, less frequently in the winter quarter, and then a number of times in the spring quarter for students to present their thesis research to one another. The Senior Thesis Coordinator determines whether students have submitted an acceptable thesis and participated satisfactorily in the senior seminar and assigns students a grade for the senior thesis seminar based upon this evaluation.

The senior thesis must be an original contribution to social science analysis and must consist substantially of independent research performed by the candidate. A paper that only summarizes a body of literature will not be acceptable unless it provides a provocative synthesis of ideas. The mere collection of data without analysis and interpretation will also not qualify as an honors thesis.

Any of the following approaches are acceptable and may result in a successful thesis:

  • Develop a specific hypothesis concerning social behavior and test it using appropriate data.
  • Analyze and describe the social behavior implicit in an existing data set or construct and analyze the implications of new data for social behavior.
  • Construct and study a formal model or class of models using mathematical and/or simulation methods.
  • Apply economic and social reasoning to arrive at new insights about issues of social policy.
  • Develop new methods or refine existing methods of mathematical or statistical analysis.
  • Design and analyze a social experiment.
  • Students may choose an alternative approach if acceptable to the advisor and the Honors Seminar Coordinator.

Careful preparation of the final thesis is essential. The thesis must include the following:

  • a title page
  • acknowledgments
  • a one-page summary
  • an introduction
  • body text, arranged in major sections and subsections, as appropriate
  • a concluding section
  • endnotes or footnotes where appropriate references
  • the document must be typed, carefully proofread and the final version in pdf format

Each student must acquire a thesis advisor from among NU's social science faculty who is an expert on the topic of the student's research. Advisers may be chosen from other schools or institutions with the permission of the Honors Seminar Coordinator. Most students select a thesis topic related to their social science major. Students having trouble identifying a topic are urged to discuss possible topics with the instructor of a course they especially enjoyed. Students with a topic but no advisor are usually directed to the undergraduate adviser for their major department for a suggested thesis adviser. In the rare case of a student without a thesis topic, the instructor of the honors seminar course helps the student find a topic and suitable adviser.

In addition to advising and assisting the student, the adviser will be responsible for reading and evaluating the finished thesis. The evaluation will take the form of a letter addressed to the MMSS Senior Thesis Coordinator. The evaluation must describe the original contribution of the work and comment on its strengths and weaknesses. It should also provide a recommendation of whether or not the thesis is of sufficient quality to warrant the award of Honors in MMSS (see Honors Guidelines). The recommendation made by the adviser will be a major factor in the evaluation of the senior thesis by the Senior Thesis Coordinator and the MMSS Committee on Honors.

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