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Honors in Political Science

The departmental honors program in Political Science is designed to give highly capable students an opportunity to expand and deepen their theoretical, research, and writing skills.  The honors program is particularly appropriate for students who are considering graduate school in the social sciences, foreign affairs, or related fields.  Whether or not you go on to graduate school, completing the honors program will give you the satisfaction of developing a high level of knowledge about at least one of the subfields in Political Science, and the accomplishment of completing a polished research paper and thesis of high quality.  As an honors student, you will take three honors courses (9 hours) including a research seminar (495), a "pro-seminar" in one of the six subfields (496), and the senior thesis (497).  You will have opportunities in both the junior honors seminar and in the senior thesis to carry out sustained research on topics that interest you, in the process receiving intensive advising and feedback from members of the faculty.

The honors program is selective.  The program is capped at 10 students per year.  You should have a GPA in Political Science of 3.5 or above, AND an overall GPA of 3.2 or better.  Because good writing skills are essential for successful completion of the honors program, students wishing to begin the honors sequence are required to submit a writing sample to the departmental honors advisor prior to enrolling in PS 495.

Students interested in the honors program are strongly urged to contact Professor Christopher Butler (ckbutler@unm.edu), departmental honors advisor, to discuss their interest.  You should do this during the Spring semester of the year prior to your intended entrance into the program.  Previous honors students have reported that it is essential to begin thinking about possible research topics during the semester before beginning the honors program, and also to select courses for that semester that will help prepare you for the honors seminars.

To apply, please email Professor Butler the following by November 1st: (1) an unofficial transcript; (2) a writing sample from a previous class; and (3) a brief (maximum 280 words) letter of interest that discusses your interest in the program, as well as topics in political science that interest you (be sure to explain why the topics interest you).

The Honors Sequence

PS 495. Juniors Honors Seminar.  3 semester hours.  This is now taken in the Spring semester of one's junior year.  Note that this represents a change from previous years, when the junior honors seminar was in the fall.  The shift reflects feedback from honors students who felt they would get more from the 495 course once they have obtained experience with more advanced courses in Political Science.

PS 496. Undergraduate Seminar.  3 semester hours.  This is usually taken in the Spring semester of one's junior year or in the Fall semester of one's senior year, and offers an intensive survey of the literature in subfields of the discipline (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Politics, or Public Policy).  These courses meet together with the "pro-seminars" offered for graduate students, and honors students participate in seminar discussions alongside graduate students.  Undergraduate seminars will be offered in the following fields.  Please consult course listings, or contact the honors advisor, to determine which seminars will be offered in a given semester.  Note that not all the courses with the number 496 qualify as undergraduate seminars for the honors program.  Ask the honors advisor if in doubt.  All 496 courses are available only with permission of the instructor, and instructors may not admit you to a particular course if they believe you lack sufficient prior coursework in the subfield to successfully complete the pro-seminar.

PS 497.  Senior Thesis.  3 semester hours.  Students generally enroll for and complete the thesis during the last semester of their senior year, although some complete it earlier.

All 9 hours count toward the overall requirements of the major.  If a student's schedule does not permit completion of these requirements in the above order, the Department will try to assist the student in designing a sequence that meets her/his needs.  On rare occasions, other 400+ level courses may be substituted for the undergraduate seminar.  This can be done only with the prior permission of the honors advisor, and the student must notify the instructor of the course that he or she is taking the course for honors credit.  Most 400-level courses require a longer research paper and/or additional readings from honors and graduate students.

Additional requirements:  Honors students are expected to complete PS 280, Introduction to Research Methods, before beginning their thesis projects.  This may be waived for students focusing on political philosophy/theory, but such students are expected to take two upper division (300 or higher) theory-oriented courses before beginning the theory pro-seminar.

Senior Thesis

During the final semester of the senior year, honors candidates should enroll in Political Science 497 and select one member of the Department as their thesis advisor.  They should also select a second thesis reader from the regular Political Science faculty.  The thesis advisor will provide primary guidance to the student in developing, researching, and writing their thesis.  The second reader may also, at their option, provide input to the student along the way.  Some second readers prefer only to evaluate the complete first and final drafts.

The candidate should select a thesis topic and must inform the Department honors program advisor of the selection.  During the semester, the candidate must consult regularly with her/his advisor while completing the necessary research and writing the thesis.  Students should, in every case, expect to extensively revise their thesis in response to feedback from the thesis advisor and second reader.  The student should therefore plan to submit the first draft of his/her thesis no later than April 1 (for May graduation) or November 1 (for December graduation).  This will allow sufficient time for evaluation and rewriting.

Models for honors theses can be found in the major journals in which political scientists typically publish.  Journal articles have an average length of around 30 pages, but vary by 10 pages or more around this average.  Sixty pages is the upper limit for honors theses; if your manuscript exceeds this, find ways to shorten it by removing unnecessary detail and through careful line editing.  The key to writing an acceptable honors thesis is quality, not length.  The final product should be of near-publishable quality, with a clear argument, appropriate references to existing literature, and effective and convincing presentation of evidence.  Like a good journal article, a strong thesis will be deceptively simple--considerable reading and thought may go into a single sentence characterizing and criticizing a particular body of literature, and many hours of interviews may be summarized in a brief observation regarding opinions held by informants.  To achieve the needed degree of clarity and brevity will require repeated and extensive revision.

The first draft should be of a quality consistent with the final draft of a regular semester term paper.  That is, it should be virtually free of grammatical and typographical errors, it should include all appropriate section headings, page numbers, cover sheet, plus complete and properly formatted footnotes, endnotes, or list of references.  The final draft of the thesis must be submitted to the Thesis Advisor and second reader, plus one copy to the Department secretary (room 2059) no later than the second Wednesday before final examination week.  NB: Students should bear in mind that disaster occasionally strikes computers and peripherals, usually at the worst possible moment.  Students are solely responsible for maintaining multiple electronic and paper copies of their work, and for submitting the final drafts on schedule.

Grading of the Thesis

Each senior honors thesis will be read and graded by the thesis advisor and a second reader chosen by the Department.  Each reader will assign the thesis a numerical grade from among the following: 3.86-4.00 summa cum laude, 3.66-3.85 magna cum laude, and 3.45-3.65 cum laude.  The thesis grade will be the average of the two grades assigned by the readers.  The general expectations associated with each level of honors are as follows, paraphrasing Seymour Harris, Professor of Economics at Harvard University (1932):

A summa cum laude thesis is a contribution to knowledge.  It generally draws extensively on primary sources or data, and either addresses a new or little-studied question, or offers an original and perceptive reassessment of a familiar question.  It demonstrates sound intellectual judgement both in the selection of facts and problems for consideration, and in the manner and process by which conclusions are drawn from these facts.  The summa thesis represents a substantial amount of work and demonstrates that the student is clearly conversant with the literature on his or her subject.  The paper is well written and proofread, the arguments concisely put and logically organized, and sound judgement is used in the allocation of space.

A magna cum laude thesis need not be a contribution to knowledge.  It must, however, present a clear argument, demonstrate a substantial amount of work, draw on primary sources of data, and demonstrate sound judgement in the consideration of facts and arguments.  The magna thesis presents a coherent and well-integrated understanding of relevant literature, and is generally well written and organized.

A cum laude thesis demonstrates some industry, a limited amount of work with primary sources, a clear understanding of the subject treated, and reasonably clear writing and organization.  It must reflect a solid grasp of relevant literature in the field, but may lack the originality and clarity of a magna thesis.  It may be somewhat more discursive than a magna thesis, presenting information accurately but with a less-clearly formulated argument.

The Award of Honor

The final decision on the honors to be awarded a candidate is by vote of the Department's faculty.  The award of honors is not strictly based on a numerical score.  Yet, the Department is guided by the following considerations; the senior thesis and Departmental GPA of each candidate should (in most circumstances) be given equal weight.  The average of the thesis grade and Departmental GPA for honors candidates fall in the following ranges:

  • 3.86-4.0        Summa cum laude
  • 3.66-3.85      Magna cum laude
  • 3.45-3.65      Cum laude

To be eligible for Departmental Honors, a candidate must have an overall GPA of 3.2 or better.  (Moreover, the Department will consider the candidate's overall GPA to determine whether her/his academic performance supports the Department's recommendation for honors.