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«HONOURS THESIS HANDBOOK Introduction Third and fourth year students majoring in psychology at York often ask for additional information about the ...»

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Third and fourth year students majoring in psychology at York often ask for additional

information about the Honours Thesis. The purpose of this handbook is to provide some of this

information along with some useful advice about completing your thesis work. It is a good

source of information, but it is not the only available source of information. If you have a question or a problem that pertains to your thesis work, you may consult a number of sources, including your thesis supervisor, your academic advisor, the Psychology Supplemental Calendar, and the Psychology Undergraduate Office in Room 291/292 BSB. Also, the Workshop series described toward the end of this handbook may deal with many of your questions. If necessary, you can also speak with one of the staff in the Undergraduate Office to get in contact with a faculty advisor for fourth-year psychology students.


You are not eligible to do an Honours thesis unless you are in the fourth year of one of the BA or BSc Psychology Honours Programmes. In addition, you cannot enrol in the Honours Thesis course until you have in your possession an Honours thesis agreement form that has been signed by a valid thesis supervisor. If the thesis arrangement does not materialise for whatever reason, you will have to satisfy your degree requirements by taking the Advanced Research course (PSYC 4170 6.00). The Undergraduate Office (291/292 BSB) will help you to enrol if you succeed in finding a supervisor.

Please note that you should not use the Web-based enrolment system to register for the thesis course (PSYC 4000 6.0) until you have submitted the completed contract to the Undergraduate Office.


PSYC 4000 6.0, Honours Thesis, is a full-year six-credit course that is open only to fourth-year psychology students in the Faculty of Health completing a BA or BSc degree. It is described more fully in the York University Undergraduate Calendar and in the Psychology Department Supplemental Calendar (4000 level). Please go to http://www.yorku.ca/health/psyc/undergraduate.htm in order to download copies of these calendar’s. The Honours Thesis course differs from other courses in several respects. First, there are no required lectures, seminars, textbooks, tests, etc. Instead, the course consists of an ongoing series of meetings between you and your thesis supervisor, during which you talk about each phase of your research (selecting a topic, designing your study, collecting your data, analysing your data, and writing up your results).

The end product of the course is the written document, the Honours Thesis. These may vary in length, although most theses are around 30 pages. The length will vary depending on the nature of the project and the expectations of your supervisor. In the case of a thesis, bigger is not necessarily better. The thesis itself is similar to an M.A. thesis, but it is considerably less ambitious in scope. The purpose of a thesis is to make a contribution, however small, to the existing body of knowledge in the field of psychology. Consequently, it is quite different from the kind of course paper that is just a summary of published research, designed to show that the students have done their work. In contrast to this, the goal of a thesis is to add some new finding or new insight to what is already known. Some students fear that they will have trouble coming up with an original idea. Fortunately, psychology is still a very young science and not everything has been done already. Moreover, in comparison too many other disciplines, modest but meaningful research in psychology does not require a tremendous amount of background knowledge and technical training. The possibility of making a small, but significant contribution to psychology is well within the capabilities of most fourth-year Honours students. The question

is how to go about it. Here are three pieces of advice:

First, one way to get an original idea is to spend some time searching topics that interest you using PsycINFO. For the most recent research, you can also browse through the current periodicals section of the library. Look through some of the more recent psychology journal articles and get some idea of what sorts of things are being done today. You may be able to spot a methodological problem with a recently published paper, or you may be able to think of another variable that could be of some importance.

Second, you should visit the Psychology Resource Centre in 162A BSB. Why? Copies of Honours theses from past years are stored in this room. Have a seat and take look at past efforts. This is one of the best ways to learn what a feasible project is and what may be expected of you.

A third bit of advice is simply to approach a potential thesis supervisor and say that you are interested in their field of study (check out their research interests and some publications first), but that you are having problems narrowing down a research idea. Typically, you will find that a potential advisor can at least point you in the right direction by suggesting some helpful readings. Taken a step further, a professor will probably have several good ideas that need to be tested and that would make wonderful projects.

The main point of the above discussion is that you should not base your decision of whether to do an Honours thesis on the fear of an inability to come up with your own unique idea.


On what criteria should you base your decision? This question is difficult to answer because it strongly depends on three things: your personality, your goals, and your degree of time pressure. If you consider yourself to be relatively resourceful, self-disciplined, and motivated, then you may be the type of person who should do a thesis. These are personal characteristics that are often associated with your psychology grades. If you have an average of B+ or better, it is likely that you are quite capable of doing a thesis. You will experience more difficulty if your psychology average is much lower than B+. A common misunderstanding is that you must have an A average in order to do a thesis. This is not true. There are examples of students who did not have the highest grades but were still able to do fine theses. How? Usually through a great deal of hard work!

Is it necessary to do a thesis if you plan to apply to graduate school? Doing a thesis may be very helpful for at least two reasons. First, if you want to go to graduate school, you will need letters of recommendation from professors who know you well enough to comment on your ability, motivation, knowledge of psychology, research experience, etc. Your thesis supervisor would be in a better position to appraise your efforts and write you a recommendation letter than would one of the instructors of the Advanced Research in Psychology course (PSYC 4170 6.00).

More importantly, doing a thesis will provide you with some much needed information about yourself. Almost every graduate programme requires that you do a research based thesis of some sort. Some students take a few years to complete a thesis at the Master’s level and many more to do a doctoral dissertation. Your fourth year Honours thesis experience should give you some indication of whether you enjoy this type of work and whether you would ever want to do it again.

As for time pressure, you should realise by now that students who do an honour’s thesis usually become quite involved in their research project and spend more time and energy than they would in PSYC 4170 6.0, the Advanced Research course. Students who have serious outside commitments, a heavy course load, or who want to finish off their degree requirements as easily and efficiently as possible might be advised to take the Advanced Research course (please note that doing a thesis in the PSYC 4170 course is also an enormous commitment). It is a real mistake to do an independent thesis simply because there are no required lectures or seminars.

In summary, you are not disqualified from applying to graduate school if you don’t do a thesis. However, it may be helpful to do a thesis for the reasons outlined above.


Only the following people are allowed to supervise Honours Thesis and Independent Reading courses in our Department.

a) Full-time members of the Psychology Department in Health and Glendon;

b) Full-time members of other York departments who are appointed to the York Graduate Programme in Psychology;

c) Retired members of the full-time faculty in Health Psychology.

People outside the above categories cannot supervise. You should avoid signing up with a valid supervisor “in name only” on the understanding that the actual supervision is to be done by someone else. This too easily leads to trouble because there is no material commitment on the part of the “phantom supervisor.”


Since it is your thesis, it is your responsibility to find a supervisor. Many students are unable to find a supervisor, and so there are no guarantees. If you cannot find a supervisor, then you will need to enrol in the Advanced Research course (4170 6.0) in order to fulfil your degree requirements. You should be aware of the fact that professors do not have much material incentive to undertake the considerable work that Honours thesis supervision entails. This does not mean the professors are unwilling to supervise one or more students. Many faculty members enjoy supervising thesis students. However, it does mean that students must show a good deal of initiative, persistence, and ingenuity in getting a supervisor.

Your prospects for getting a supervisor will be enhanced if you follow the tips listed


1. Do your homework. It is best to be familiar with professors’ areas of interest before you approach them. In this regard, there is a list of Faculty Research Interests available from the Psychology Undergraduate office (291/292 BSB). This list will give some idea of the things that are studied by the various professors. Also, you may want to track down their graduate students to find out what is going on in their lab. Finally, check out their publications using PsycINFO.

You should note that most professors prefer students to work on topics that are closely related to their own research interests. This is not an attempt on the part of the faculty to stifle creativity or to get their own research completed. Rather, professors realise that they will be more helpful to students if they have some degree of experience and expertise in the area.

2. Be flexible. It is important for you study a topic that you find interesting. However, you should realise that you will dramatically increase your changes of landing a supervisor if you are willing to be flexible in terms of your thesis project. This is the best way to end up with a project that is tailored to both your interests and the professor’s interests.

3. A proposal. One way of impressing a potential supervisor is to prepare an Honours thesis proposal. The proposal will show the professor that you are serious about doing a research project. It will also provide an indication of your writing ability, so you should be careful about its content. It should be concise (about 200 words in length) and it should not include any grammatical or spelling errors. It is essential that you conclude your proposal by stating that you are flexible and willing to consider alternatives.

4. Timing. It helps to start seeking a supervisor as soon as possible. Ideally you could obtain a supervisor at the end of your third year (April to June) rather than waiting until September of your fourth year. Some professors will already have their allotment of students by September and they would be unable to accommodate Sigmund Freud if he walked in the door and asked for supervision. There are other obvious advantages to obtaining a supervisor in the spring or summer. In addition to no longer having to worry about getting a supervisor, you can get an early start on your project by doing some reading over the summer. Nonetheless, it may still be possible for you to find a supervisor in September and to do a good thesis in September. You should realise, however, that you are getting a later start than some other students, and should be prepared to put in the time and effort required to catch up to them.

5. Sensitivity. You should try to be sensitive to the fact that professors may be busy when you first approach them. If you use e-mail, which is probably the best first contact approach, you should provide a brief description of yourself and your research interests, and ask if they could suggest an appropriate time for a meeting.

6. High profile professors. You should be aware of the fact that certain “high research profile” professors doing research in popular areas may already have a full complement of graduate students. These professors usually receive more requests from students than they can possibly handle. Obviously, you have a better chance of getting a supervisor if you approach someone who is not already overloaded with students. This is not to suggest that the professor with the lower profile is not capable of supervising your thesis. In fact, you may receive more attention from this type of individual than from someone who has many “irons in the fire.”

7. Fill in the document entitled the “Honours Student Data Sheet” found at the end of this handbook. This sheet can be filled out, copied, and handed in to prospective supervisors when you meet with them. As well, feel free to hand in a copy to the undergraduate office to be placed in a binder for prospective supervisors to look at it. It is possible that someone may notice your availability that way and get in touch with you.


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