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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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You can do your thesis on anything that both you and your supervisor consider appropriate. Obviously, it must have something to do with psychology and it should be a substantial piece of work. As noted above, the thesis should make a contribution to existing knowledge rather than a recapitulation of existing work. Once you have selected your topic, here

are some important goals to keep in mind:

1. On creating your own monster. It is great to be ambitious, but students usually underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into completing a thesis. Keep your thesis manageable and avoid creating your own monster. A small project that is well done and completed on time is more impressive than a grandiose project that is late and incomplete. It is better to focus effectively on a topic of limited scope. You should ask yourself two questions when designing your project; How difficult will it be to get research participants for your study, and will the study’s design necessitate the use of statistical skills that you have never been taught? Aim to do your project with a readily available population of research participants, and structure it so that only basic statistics such as correlations and analyses of variance are required.

2. Keep it clear. Get your topic defined as early as possible and as clearly as possible. There is a great temptation to reach agreement on a topic that is extremely vague in the hopes that the mist will clear somewhere down the road. You could waste two or three important months in the process. It is better to work out a more specific topic at the outset and then revise it as necessary.

The details of the agreement can usually be renegotiated with your thesis supervisor, either formally or informally, without any problem. Your supervisor is aware of the fact the best-laid plans of mice, women, and men often do not work out the way everyone expects. It is okay to change the focus of your project if you encounter difficulties.

3. Empirical is the best. You have the option of doing an empirical thesis (quantitative or qualitative) or a theoretical paper that involves an integrated review of some area of the literature. If your thesis is empirical, it involves the collecting and analysing of data. There are two reasons why most students find this more rewarding than the second type of thesis, the theoretical thesis. First, it is better to do something empirical if you want to go to graduate school because you will gain some much-needed experience. Most theses at the graduate level are empirical. Second, it is very difficult for a fourth year student (or anyone for that matter) to do a theoretical paper. This paper has to be comprehensive, organised, and well written. Most importantly, it must still make an original contribution to the literature and provide a unique perspective on our current knowledge. This is a difficult challenge even for famous scholars. Of course, there are exceptions, and you may encounter a professor who favours this type of thesis.

You can still have a successful experience, but be aware of the enormous undertaking involved in this type of project.


There are many ways to answer this question. As noted earlier, one important source of information is available in the Psychology Resource Centre in Room 162 BSB. This room contains Honours Theses from past years and may someday house your thesis as well. You can get a good idea of the nature of an Honour’s thesis, both in terms of content and style, by spending an hour or two in the Resource Centre with these efforts from the past. Some theses are better than others are so you should look at a broad sample of previous theses. Another way to prepare for the thesis is to read any basic text on research methodology in Psychology. A third way to prepare for the thesis is to become familiar with APA format. Your final edition of the thesis must conform to the publication guidelines set out by the American Psychological Association. These guidelines are outlined in the APA Publication Manual. Copies of this manual are usually available in the Psychology section of the York Bookstore. You are especially advised to purchase the publication manual if you plan to continue in psychology.

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Starting date. You should get started as soon as possible. The ideal strategy is to work out a thesis agreement, get it signed, and then register in Psychology 4000 6.0 during the Spring Enrolment period. One of the worst scenarios is to get the agreement form signed and course enrolment completed at the last minute (which is sometime in October according to the Faculty regulations). The worst possible nightmare is to not get enrolled in either of the courses required of Honours students, PSYC 4000 6.0 (Honours Thesis) or PSYC 4170 6.0 (Advanced Research in Psychology)..

First draft. A draft of the Introduction (literature review) and Method (proposed methodology) sections must be submitted by the last day of the December examination period and when this is not possible, no later than January 15th by permission of your supervisor. The supervisor will grade this work and the mark received would go toward 20% of the final grade.

This deadline will ensure that you begin writing in the first term, that progress has been made in the development of your methodology, and will give you the opportunity to receive feedback about your writing from your supervisor.

Final version & finishing date. In order to give the second reader enough time to evaluate your work and provide his/her grade to your supervisor, you will be required to submit the final draft of your thesis some time in mid-April. Another faculty member who evaluates the final product (the written thesis) and not the process (e.g., the amount of work that was involved in getting to the final product) will provide the external evaluation. The Thesis Coordinator(s) will be responsible for assigning a second reader to your thesis. When planning for your finishing date, remember that everything connected with the thesis will take much longer than it should. Aiming for an early completion date will provide a little extra time if anything goes wrong. You should leave enough time to make revisions to your thesis. Most students write a first draft and then revise it several times before giving it to their supervisor. If you leave enough time, your supervisor may be able to read it over and suggest revisions that should be incorporated into the final draft. It is reasonable to aim for a mid-March date for completion of the first draft.

Other dates. It is a good idea to make a date for a formal progress report at midyear and to work out a week-by-week completion schedule with your supervisor. If your supervisor is willing, we strongly recommend setting regular weekly or biweekly meeting times where you meet for 30 minutes or so to report on how the work is going and to ask questions.

Poster Day. Poster Day is usually held in early April (the exact date will be announced).

Participation in Poster Day is mandatory. If you have a class scheduled at the time of the poster session, you should have someone put up your poster for you. Poster Day represents an opportunity for you to show off your work and to learn about the work of others. A poster representation is relatively easy. You summarise your information on a poster and people will stop, read, and maybe ask a few questions. Most questions are requests for either clarification or more information about your study. No sweat. The poster presentation will provide you with an opportunity to receive feedback about your thesis before submitting your final draft (about one week later). A pass (5/5) or fail (0/5) grade will be assessed by your supervisor.

Ontario Undergraduate Psychology Thesis Conference. Another important event occurs either on the last Friday in April or the first Friday in May. This is the Undergraduate Thesis Conference for the province. This conference is held at a different university and it involves students from all over Ontario. It is not compulsory that you present your work at this conference. If possible, however, you should plan to attend this conference and give a 10-15 minute presentation of your work. If you hope to attend graduate school or expect to be in a career that involves public appearances, this conference is a great opportunity to get some much needed experience in a very friendly atmosphere. Also, your willingness to present is important because it represents an opportunity to let others know about the good research projects done in the Psychology Department at York.


Note that there is little financial support for your thesis. At best, the Psychology Department budget allocation provides limited funds for reimbursing a portion of students’ legitimate research expenses. A little money may be available but there are no promises. The lack of money is unfortunate but it reflects a funding situation over which the Psychology Department has little or no control. Also, you are expected to bear much of the cost because there are no expensive textbooks for this course. One of the challenges in doing your research may be to figure out how it can be done cheaply. You can take some solace in the fact that this is a problem that your professors also encounter.

Other support is available in the form of a series of Wednesday afternoon workshops dealing with various aspect of thesis work. Typically, the workshops begin at 11:30 a.m. and most usually occur in the first half of the year. Some workshops will be of interest to all thesis students, whereas other workshops will be of interest only to those students who are aiming for graduate school. Information on these workshops including dates and details will be posted near the Undergraduate Psychology Office. You can also refer to Dr. Susan Murtha’s website http://www.psych.yorku.ca/smurtha/courses/4000/index_4000.html Some of the workshops are listed below.

Applying to Graduate Schools: This workshop will discuss graduate school training and the application process. This is a must for anyone who is interested in applying for graduate work. It is open to students in all years.

Preparing and Writing the GRE: This workshop will deal with the admission tests that must be completed in order to gain admittance to most graduate schools.

Preparing Posters and Conference Presentations: Tips will be provided on poster and oral presentations, as well as an example of posters.

Awards/Scholarships Workshop: This workshop will involve a visit from someone in the graduate school who will describe the various Awards/Scholarships available to those students who wish to apply to graduate school.

Jobs in psychology: What can you do when you finish your degree and how do you find employment where you can use your skills?


Once your thesis is finished, you must hand in two copies of the finished product. One copy is destined for the Resource Centre, Room 162 BSB. Therefore, your thesis supervisor (along with his or her final grade) must submit one copy in the special Honours Thesis Binder that you can get from the Undergraduate Psychology Office in April. You will also receive a cover sheet and a sticker that will go on the front of the binder. The other copy of your thesis is for your thesis supervisor.


There is a Fourth Year Honours Bulletin Board located outside Room 249 BSB. It carries some notices and information for Fourth Year Honours Students including scholarships, stipends, and awards (Ontario Graduate Scholarships), the Fourth Year Workshop Series. You should check this board regularly for notices of the workshops outlined above. You can also go to http://www.psych.yorku.ca/smurtha/courses/4000/index_4000.html for further information about multiple topics such as how to apply to graduate school, tips on writing your GRE, where to go for help with your analysis, etc..



The Senate of York University affirms that investigators must respect the safety, welfare, and dignity of human participants in their research and treat them equally, fairly, and not only as a means to an end. The University values the academic freedom of its researchers, and the ethics review process should not be used unfairly to censor research. However, academic freedom is complemented by the requirement to respect the rights of human participants. Information on the ethics review process can be found at the following website (this site is in development and will change periodically) http://www.psych.yorku.ca/ethics/. Please pay attention to all of the information provided on this web-page, and pay particular attention to the information for Undergraduate Student’s. In order to insure that you satisfy all ethical requirements, you must do

the following:

NOTE: The first 2 steps must be completed BEFORE you begin to collect data; the third step comes after the data collection.

1. Complete the online Introductory Ethics Tutorial for the Tri-Council Policy Statement:

Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS), http://pre.ethics.gc.ca/english/tutorial/ and when all Sections of the Tutorial have been completed correctly, please print out two copies of your "Certificate of Completion". Keep one copy for yourself and give one to your supervisor.

IMPORTANT: This tutorial is a MUST for ALL PSYC 4000 students, even those who have already received ethics approval for their thesis projects or who are collaborating with their supervisor or with graduate students on a pre-approved project.

2. Complete the “Ethics Form 2: Individualized Protocol” that has been modified by the psychology dept (http://www.psych.yorku.ca/ethics/Form2forHonoursThesisUndergraduateStudents.htm). Keep one copy for yourself and give one to your supervisor for his/her approval.

IMPORTANT: Again, as a PSYC 4000 student, you MUST complete this form even if your thesis supervisor has received prior ethical approval for the research that you will be conducting. This is an important learning exercise in research ethics.

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