As a leading research university, Penn State is home to cutting-edge research and state of the art research facilities. During any given year, over $800 million in funding is committed to Penn State faculty working across a broad range of departments throughout the University.
These faculty are often leading experts in their disciplines and embrace the opportunity to engage Schreyer Scholars. Working side-by-side with top academics, Scholars gain research experience at the undergraduate level, which is often key to unlocking their own research contributions in the future.
This opportunity to connect with research faculty extends to completing the Honors Thesis—an independent, research-driven, scholarly contribution required of all Schreyer Scholars. Research faculty mentor Scholars through the thesis process, offering guidance and one-on-one advising.
In addition, thinking and talking about research, engaging in research and scholarly writing are also key skills to becoming a successful researcher. Opportunities like the Penn State Undergraduate Research Exhibition help Scholars gain experience and confidence and set them apart from their peers.
All the resources are in place at Schreyer Honors College. All you need to do is step up and do the work!
When is the thesis proposal due? By the end of your junior year, assuming you're on a four-year path to graduation, you must file a Thesis Proposal with the Schreyer Honors College via the online Student Records System. It's never too early to open that part of your SRS dashboard to see what it will entail. The end-of-junior-year requirement is from the SHC, but your major may expect a much earlier commitment so be sure to talk to your honors adviser as early as sophomore year about this. The thesis proposal needs only two things:
- What the thesis will be about
- Who will be supervising you
The SHC staff doesn't review the content of the proposal, so the intended audience is your would-be thesis supervisor and the honors adviser in your intended area of honors.
Your thesis supervisor is the professor who has primary responsibility for — wait for it — supervising your thesis.
Ideally your thesis supervisor will be the single most appropriate person in the whole university, or at least at your whole campus, in terms of specialization and, where relevant, resources. How far you can stray from that ideal depends on the nature of the thesis. If specific lab resources are needed then you can't stray too far, but if general intellectual mentoring is the extent of the required supervision then you have more flexibility, including the flexibility to choose a topic that doesn't align closely with the supervisor's specialization.Apart from unavailability — the professor says no for whatever reason — the biggest reason to consider bypassing the “single most appropriate person” is that you have doubts about whether you'd get along with them. Don't put too much stock in second-hand information about a professor, but if after meeting him or her you have concerns then you should certainly consider continuing your search. While a good thesis can come of a strained supervisor-student relationship, it's not likely.
Area of Honors
Major as Area of Honors
The standard scenario is that a Scholar has one major and writes the thesis under the supervision of a thesis supervisor in that major. The Scholar will then “get honors” in that major, as expressed on the thesis cover page and the diploma. In this case, the required approvals are the thesis supervisor and the Scholar's current honors adviser in the major.
Non-Major Area of Honors
The SHC does not limit your area of honors to your major. It can be another major, a unique minor (one without a major version, like Astrobiology), or a unique graduate program (like Demography). It can't be a certificate (like Nanotechnology) or an option (like Vertebrate Physiology). Remember, the thesis itself, or at least its title, is your “calling card” for future schooling or employment, so don't get too hung up on the area of honors beyond the fact that every thesis needs one.
The “area of honors” approval comes from the appropriate honors adviser. This approval is vital because it's the University's formal statement that the thesis project you propose represents adequate accomplishment in a given field, not just as an isolated piece of work. If you propose as your area of honors a minor or graduate program that does not have an honors adviser listed on the University Park or campus honors adviser lists, contact SHCAcademics@psu.edu.
The honors adviser is the gatekeeper for any area-specific policies or requirements beyond the thesis itself. For instance, some majors require that their students take specific coursework to graduate with honors, and this is enforced via honors adviser approval of the thesis proposal. Some majors will only grant honors to their own majors and minors, while others will more or less automatically grant honors for any thesis supervised by one of its faculty. The SHC does not keep an official collection of these policies, so if you are considering honors outside of your major, you should contact the appropriate honors adviser.
An honors adviser from the area in which you are pursuing honors must read and approve your thesis. If the thesis supervisor and honors adviser are the same person, you must find a second eligible faculty member from your area of honors who will read and approve your thesis.
If you have more than one major, you can do one of the following:
- Pick one major and write a thesis for honors solely in that major
- Pick a topic that can legitimately earn honors in both majors
- Write multiple theses, one for honors in each major
The first scenario is the most common, followed by the second depending on how closely related the majors are. You can also pick a non-major area of honors.
If you were admitted to the SHC via the Gateway or the Liberal Arts Paterno Fellows program, you are expected to write your thesis for honors in your entrance major. You do have the right to pursue honors elsewhere, for instance in a concurrent major for which you were not admitted to the SHC, but there is no guarantee of approval.
Topic, Not Professor
Typically, the area of honors suggested by the topic aligns with the professor's affiliation, as when you seek honors in history based on a history thesis supervised by a professor of history. But if the supervisor happens to be a professor of literature, you are still able to pursue honors in history based on the substance and methodology of the thesis.
This is especially worth remembering in the life sciences, where faculty expertise is spread among many different departments and colleges. As always, the honors adviser in the intended area of honors is the gatekeeper about whether a given thesis topic and supervisor are acceptable.