Out of thousands of students at UNC, only about 350 are willing to spend six credit hours and months of research to complete an honors thesis.
UNC offers students the opportunity to complete an honors thesis in their major fields of study. To start working on the project, students must be in the second semester of their junior year or the first semester of their senior year. According to the senior thesis guidelines posted on the Honors Carolina website, the final product can be a research, performance or creative project as long as it is deemed original and substantial.
Students spend two semesters researching, writing, editing and revising under the supervision of a faculty advisor. At the end of the process, the project is evaluated by a committee of faculty who can choose whether or not to award the student with honors.
James Leloudis, the associate dean for Honors Carolina, believes the program provides students with four key skills: the ability to ask incisive questions, to find relevant data, to extract meaning from that data and to share their discoveries in a clear and compelling way.
“It’s an opportunity to pursue a topic, a question, that you’re passionately curious to investigate,” Leloudis said. “There’s a certain joy and fulfillment in that intellectual endeavor.”
First-year Karen Huang, a psychology major in Honors Carolina, plans to do an honors thesis. She’s considering looking into topics related to biology or the medical field, possibly having to do with the heart or heart disease.
“In the honors program, honestly, you don’t get a lot of benefits,” Huang said. “So I feel like the honors thesis is a really good opportunity, even though people not in the honors program can still do it.”
Students can choose to do a senior honors thesis project whether or not they are a part of Honors Carolina. Leloudis said for those pursuing a master’s degree or a Ph.D., the opportunity to conduct original research may be highly beneficial. But for those who would benefit more from taking other classes or starting an internship, taking on an honors thesis might not be the best choice.
“For some students, doing an honors thesis may clearly be the thing that they should do given how they’re thinking about their life post-graduation,” Leloudis said. “But there’s also lots of other ways to use that academic time.”
Senior Frances Reuland, an environmental sciences major, was one of those students that chose to undertake the task of writing an honors thesis. It was her first time taking on a project of that size.
“It feels good to put something together and have somewhat of a final product and hope that the work that you’re doing might inform future work,” Reuland said.
Senior Emily Lowe, an English and communication studies major, wrote her thesis about grief and grieving. Because she also has a minor in creative writing, she got special permission to structure her thesis as half analytical research paper and half creative writing response. With the busy nature of senior year, Lowe said managing time was a difficult of aspect of the project.
“The thing I was so surprised by with my honors thesis is I definitely hated it at the end,” Lowe said. “Not the content, but just having worked on something for so long, you’re so ready to let go.”
In her 55-page thesis, she drew on the work of people like Joan Didion and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and applied it to the grief she personally experienced after her father had a stroke.
"To know that I did all of this research, and I came out with a really profound piece of work that I'm very proud of — I wouldn't trade that," Lowe said.
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