Honors Thesis

Students are encouraged to conduct original, empirical research and to submit their work, whenever appropriate, as honors theses. A thesis may qualify a student for graduation with distinction from the College of Arts and Sciences. Refer to the College of Arts and Sciences website for the GPA and other requirements for graduation with distinction.

The steps described below apply only to theses submitted to the College of Arts and Sciences for receiving a degree with distinction. The University Honors program has a thesis requirement for completing that program. However, although both the College and the University Honors Program refer to these as “honors theses” they are not necessarily the same. If you are in the Honors Program, consult with an advisor regarding their expectations. In general, a student who writes a thesis for graduation with distinction from the College can use the same thesis for the Honors program. However, the reverse is not necessarily true, so please check before you get too far into the process. Begin by going to the College of Arts and Sciences Advising Center (107 Oldfather) or to the Psychology Advising Office (235 Burnett) to pick up a copy of the forms and requirements for honors theses. Read them over carefully and get ready to start.

Preliminary steps

Most students enter the research enterprise through an “apprenticeship” process. That is, they find a professor or graduate student who is in need of research help and they then spend a semester or more reading the scientific literature on a research topic, followed by gathering and analyzing data. It isn’t always easy to find such an apprenticeship. One must talk to faculty, graduate students, and other undergraduates to find out who may need help. However, perseverance pays off. Start early and keep at it! Psi Chi and the Undergraduate Psychology Organization host a research fair once or twice a year that serves as a way of getting researchers who are looking for help together with students who are looking for research positions. Keep your eyes open for these sessions and attend if you can. It helps to take PSYC 350: Research Methods and Data Analysis to learn about research methods, so take that course as soon as you can, and follow up by taking Psych 450: Advanced Research Design and Data Analysis or PSYC 451: Multivariate Research Design and Data Analysis (or both). If you find a general research topic interesting, you will probably find yourself asking a variety of questions about the topic and about the data that you are collecting and analyzing. These are research questions. They are your questions, and they need to be answered. So, now you have an idea for your thesis research, and, although the idea may still be rough, at least it’s a start.

Research Proposal

Consult with your supervising professor in the initial stages of developing a research proposal. Discuss your ideas, modifying them as needed. Talk with as many others as you can and obtain feedback. If your research group has periodic meetings, volunteer to present your ideas to the group and ask for constructive criticism. Out of these interactions, your ideas will take stronger shape and methods can be hammered out. At some point these ideas need to go on paper. Write them in the manner of a manuscript, as you learned to do in Psych 350. Include a brief introduction to the topic with a literature review, a proposed method of collecting data, and a section on how you intend to analyze the data that you would collect, including the appropriate statistical techniques. If you are doing survey work or use other pencil-and-paper methods of gathering data, include these documents as appendices. Have your supervising professor critique your proposal.

Psychology Department Requirements

Although the Department of Psychology will not be involved in reviewing your thesis, the Department does some have some general rules for honors theses, and the student’s supervisory committee is charged with making sure that these rules are met.

Supervisory Committee Membership. The Department of Psychology requires that the two individuals who serve on your supervisory committee must have the Ph.D. and at least one of them must be a professor in the Psychology Department. In most cases both members of your committee will be UNL Psychology faculty; however, one member can be a faculty member from another department, an instructor, or a post-doctoral fellow. If you wish to have a third person on your committee, you may certainly do so. Advanced graduate students can serve in this capacity.

The nature of the honors thesis research project. The Department has a long-standing tradition of accepting only empirical research reports as theses. That is, data must be collected, analyzed, and interpreted. A thesis that involves only a review of the literature is not acceptable as a thesis in Psychology, regardless of how extensive it may be. In some cases the data may have been collected by someone other than the student (such as a member of your supervisory committee or a member of their research team), but in all cases the student must undertake its analysis. The research may involve true experiments, correlational analyses, or data description (quantitative or qualitative), or any combination of these approaches. Your supervisory committee will have a good idea about what is acceptable as a thesis, so follow their advice.

Academic credit. Students are not required to sign up for academic credit for a senior thesis or honors thesis research, but PSYC 399H: Honors Course or PSYC 499: Independent Study in Psychology are available for one or more semesters for those who wish to receive credit. Arrangements should be made with your supervising professor.


Thesis prospectus. After your supervisory committee has approved your research plans, fill out the Thesis Prospectus form.  Although you may need to submit an application to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) to conduct research on humans or to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) for animal research, the IRB or IACUC approval does not need to be completed before your prospectus.  Your prospectus should be completed in the year prior to your graduation (typically during your junior year), and submitted to the Departmental Office in Burnett 238. The department will keep a copy and forward the original to the Dean’s Office.  Your prospectus should be submitted 1 week (5 business days) prior to the College of Arts and Sciences deadline found here: http://cas.unl.edu/degrees-distinction.

The thesis. Your thesis should be written in any science journal format (such as APA) that your Supervisory Committee specifies. Ideally, the thesis will be written as if you are planning to submit it to a journal for publication. Generally, this means that the introduction should contain a tightly focused discussion of the rationale for your particular project. The thesis should also contain detailed methods and results sections, and a discussion of your results. Write and revise your thesis based on comments from your supervisory committee.

The examination. After writing your thesis, schedule a time (at least one hour) to meet with your Supervisory Committee for your final examination. The Supervisory Committee members will ask you questions about your research, including data analytic techniques and the relation of your findings to data or theory in your field. They may ask other questions as well. At the conclusion of the exam, the Committee will ask you to leave the room while they discuss your performance. The Committee will then tell you their decision (which is generally positive!) regarding the exam and thesis. Don’t be surprised if they want you to revise the thesis in some way. Following the examination the committee members will need to fill out and Thesis Evaluation form that is included with the Thesis Prospectus Form.

Submitting the thesis.  Attach Thesis Evaluation Form to your final thesis.  Submit it to the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office (1223 Oldfather) by the due date posted by the College.

Allow yourself plenty of lead-time in scheduling your exam so that you can make any needed revisions and get everything in to the College on time. Check with the College to make sure you know their exact deadline. In the past, the College has been extremely reluctant to grant deadline extensions.

Jensen Award. Please give an extra copy of your thesis to the Chair of the Department’s Undergraduate Issues Committee. Your thesis will be retained by the Department, and it serves as your nomination for the Donald D. Jensen Award, which is presented each year to the best undergraduate researcher in psychology. The Jensen Award is presented in April, and is based on theses submitted the previous summer or fall, and in March. The Departmental Office (Burnett 238) can give you the name of the current Chair of the Undergraduate Issues Committee.


As you have probably gathered, this process takes time. Begin looking for research opportunities as early as you possibly can in your career at UNL. Ideally, you should try to be involved in research during your sophomore year or at least early in your junior year. Getting the necessary background so that you can generate your own ideas will take a semester or longer. The data collection phase of your work can easily consume a full semester, as can the data analysis and writing phases. Research is notoriously time consuming, prone to “false starts” and “do-overs,” so don’t count on being able to do it all in a semester or even in a year.

The following is a rough timetable for a student planning to graduate in May:

  • January before graduation year: Discuss your ideas with your primary professor, reading the literature and beginning to write the proposal.
  • March before graduation year: Meet with your two supervising professors, finalize your proposal and the Thesis Prospectus Form and submit a copy to the department 1 week prior to the college deadline. Keep a copy for your records.
  • April before graduation year: Complete the IRB and IACUC forms and submit the approval package to the Department's Ethics Committee. If using the human subjects pool, complete the necessary paperwork.
  • Summer before graduation year: Make final preparations for gathering data.
  • Fall of graduation year: Gather data, conduct statistical analyses, and write one or more drafts of your thesis.
  • December of graduation year: Submit your draft thesis to your primary supervising professor (although called a "draft," make it as close to a final copy as you can).
  • January of graduation year: Make revisions on your thesis based on comments from your supervisor, and, once approved, give the thesis to your secondary supervisor.
  • February of graduation year: Schedule the final oral exam. Revise the thesis one more time, and submit all materials (Thesis Evaluation Form and Thesis) to the Dean’s Office in the College of Arts and Sciences prior to the deadline (typically in early March for May graduates). 

In closing, we are delighted that you are contemplating doing research that results in a thesis for graduation with distinction. Good luck with your work, and if you have any questions about the process, please consult with an advisor in the Psychology Advising Office.