Guidelines for the Honors Program

Guidelines for the Honors Program and Theses in The Department of Sociology and Criminology

One of the goals of the Schreyer Honors College is to improve the thesis process for students and faculty.  Toward that end, each department is asked to provide a guideline document to clarify key aspects of the thesis process and requirements for students and faculty in that department.

The Schreyer Honors College also provides a good general thesis project guide that is not discipline-specific.  That document is located at:

We highly recommend that students read both the general Schreyer guide to the thesis project, and our specific departmental guide to the thesis.

Requirements for Honors in Sociology or Criminology

In addition to the requirements of the Schreyer Honors College, the department of Sociology and Criminology has these additional requirements for honors students:

In addition to the requirements of the Schreyer Honors College, the department of Sociology and Criminology has these additional requirements for honors students:

  1. Who can get honors:
    1. You must be a major or minor in Sociology or Criminology
    2. Most students obtain Honors in the area of their major or minor.
  2. Recommendations for minors:
    1. If you are a minor you should have familiarity with statistics and research methods. Recommended courses are Soc 207, Crim 250W, Soc 470, and Soc 400W.
  3. Required thesis preparation seminars (2 credits): 
    1. All sociology and criminology honors students are required to take 2 thesis preparation seminars during their junior year.  These help students develop research ideas, find a thesis advisor, learn about IRB submission and begin to plan their thesis research. 
    2. These 1 credit seminars are sequential and generally cannot be taken at the same time, except with permission. In fall of junior year students take Soc 381H/Crim 480H (1 credit).  In spring of junior year students take Soc/Crim 481H (1 credit).  These seminars operate like regular classes and students receive a grade in both.
  4. Required thesis research hours (6 credits): 
    1. All sociology and criminology honors students are required to take up to 6 thesis research credit hours during their senior year.  These research hours guarantee that students block out time in their schedules to successfully complete their thesis.
    2. Students must sign up for either Soc 494H or Crim 494H under the direction of their thesis supervisor.  Usually 3 hours are taken in fall semester of senior year and 3 hours in spring semester of senior year but in some cases, such as when a student is studying abroad, a student may take 6 hours in one semester with permission of their thesis supervisor and the honors advisor.
    3. Students receive a grade for thesis hours from their thesis supervisor based on their effort and progress on the thesis work. This is not an automatic ‘A’. Beginning in Fall 2015, Honors students must receive a grade of B or above for their thesis hours in order for them to count toward graduation credit and fulfillment of graduation with honors from the Schreyer Honors College.   
  5. Soc 400W requirement:
    1. Beginning with the cohort entering PSU in fall 2013, all Schreyer Scholars and Paterno Fellows in sociology are required to take Soc 400W.  This course will help students gain valuable skills in logical thinking, problem formulation, data analysis and professional writing that will help with their thesis research.
    2. Students should discuss with their Soc 400W instructor the possibility of doing a Soc 400W project that could overlap with a later thesis project. 
    3. To maximize the benefit to the thesis process, we recommend that students complete Soc 400W before fall of the senior year.  
  6. Thesis presentation to department:
    1. All sociology and criminology honors students are required to make a short (15-20 minute) conference-style presentation of their completed thesis research to members of the department. 
    2. This occurs in April after the thesis is completed and has been approved by the thesis supervisor and the honors advisor.
  7. Leaving the Schreyer Honors College:
    1. A student who decides to leave the Schreyer Honors College becomes a ‘regular’ sociology or criminology major and may lose any special arrangements and substitutions they received as a Schreyer student. 
    2. This means they may have to fulfill other major requirements or take additional classes in order to graduate.  If you are thinking of leaving please discuss this with the Honors Advisor well in advance of graduation. 

Expectations for The Honors Thesis

All Schreyer Honors Scholars are required to complete a thesis.  The goal of the thesis is for the student to learn about the research process by conducting their own independent research project under the close supervision of a faculty member, who is their thesis supervisor.

The thesis is a demonstration of what the student has learned and it is where they will stretch their abilities by working more independently than in a classroom setting.  The thesis demonstrates that the student understands at a basic level how to think about, plan, and conduct research in sociology or criminology and gives them a chance to practice those skills on a topic that they care deeply about. The thesis is also a contribution to previous scholarly research on the topic and it tells future employers, admission committees for graduate school and law school something about the student’s interests, intellectual abilities and work ethic.

The honors thesis is typically the first major research project a student conducts.  As such, the thesis should be on a much smaller scale than an MA thesis.  Experience suggests that in the majority of cases simpler thesis projects are best.  For example, quantitative projects that use multivariate techniques with 1 dependent variable, 1 main independent variable of interest (with a small number of control variables) and 1-2 hypotheses are appropriate for an honors thesis.  Theses using qualitative methods or content analysis should be on a similarly limited scale.  In the thesis we seek to combine intellectual rigor and challenge with the opportunity for students to learn about each step of the research process as they successfully complete the thesis project.

All thesis projects, including qualitative projects, must be empirical, that is they must have a clear research question and use and analyze some form of existing data or data collected by the student.  Though they have their own value, literature reviews and theoretical pieces are not acceptable as thesis projects in sociology or criminology.

Honors theses are evaluated on student effort, learning, and basic research ‘literacy’.  Theses are not evaluated on the specific findings (or lack thereof), or potential for meeting presentation or publication.

IRB Evaluation Required

The Penn State Office for Research Protections states that because the thesis is intended to meet the definition of research with the goal of developing and contributing generalizable knowledge on a topic, and is conducted under the auspices of The Pennsylvania State University, all honors thesis research projects must be submitted to the Penn State Office for Research Protections for evaluation by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to data collection or analysis. This includes projects using existing or publically available data as well as original data collection.

In the second thesis preparation seminar (Soc/Crim 481H) students learn about the importance of conducting ethical research and become acquainted with the IRB submission process.  Because the review time for original data collection projects can be lengthy, students are encouraged to begin the submission process with their thesis supervisor during summer of their junior year if possible.

Approval from the IRB office signifies that the thesis project meets Federal regulations for the ethical conduct of research with human participants and allows the student to continue to analyze the data after completion of the thesis (such as in graduate school) or attempt to publish thesis research results.

Students are required to discuss the IRB ruling on their project in the Data and Methods section of the thesis and to include the email containing their IRB ruling as an appendix to the thesis.

Thesis Formatting and Writing Style

The thesis should follow the format and writing style of an academic journal article in sociology or criminology.   Your thesis advisor will provide guidance on specifics such as writing style, headings and references.