How It Works »      Different Fields of Study »      Support & Resources »

The thesis project is designed to be a culmination of skills developed during your time in the honors college, of questions asked and answers sought. It is your opportunity to strut your stuff, and contribute back to the pool of human knowledge that you have benefitted from during your time as a student.

The thesis embodies the defining characteristics of a Clark Honors College education:
  • Mental Discipline
  • Independence of Mind and Judgment
  • Capacity to Design and Execute a Complex Project
  • Skills of Analysis, Synthesis, and Clear Writing

The thesis is also the culmination of work in your major - a natural outgrowth from and expression of the ideas, problems, and approaches taught in that discipline. You will select a topic from within your major field, and work closely with your faculty mentor to creatively apply the methods you have learned, and present your topic in a clear and effective manner that is accessible to a diverse and non-specialist audience.

The information on this page is intended as an overview. For detailed, step-by-step guides for each stage of the process current students should see the Robert D. Clark page on Canvas (log-in required):

Step-by-Step Thesis Guides

Totally Worth It

An honors thesis is valuable not only in and of itself, but also because of how you will grow, personally and academically, throughout the process. There are also concrete ways that your thesis can continue to work for you down the road. Meet two CHC alumni for whom their thesis was just the beginning:

Sheila Miller

"Remember the lessons of your thesis and put it on your résumé. I kept my thesis on my résumé long after I graduated, and even after being advised not to by my Graduate School career counselor.

I did have to admit that the title—“The Ubiquitous Olive: Spain, the European Union, and Politics of Olive Oil”—really wasn’t relevant to the jobs in international development that I was applying for. But the lesson of my thesis was that I completed a rigorous academic program that not only required an undergraduate thesis, but also required a thesis defense.

When I interviewed at the Gates Foundation back in 2009, my hiring manager walked into the interview and the first words out of his mouth were, “I come from the land of the Ubiquitous Olive,” and I knew right then and there I had an in!" —Sheila Miller, BA '99

"I wanted to work on rhino arthritis for my thesis and, to the credit of my advisors, they did not dismiss it as naïve passion, but challenged me to explain why this was a good thesis topic. Two years of furious research, several trips to museums around the country, one Economist article, and two conference presentations later I presented my research to my committee and passed with distinction!

I'm now at the University of Chicago working on a PhD in Functional Anatomy and Evolutionary Neuroscience. This year my undergraduate work was published in PLOS One, an open access scientific journal, whose publication fee was partially funded by the honors college. The publication has also facilitated new networking opportunities and ideas for further research. There are always new pinnacles to reach, but I would have fallen long ago if not for the strong educational base I received from UO Paleontology and the Clark Honors College."
—Kelsey Stilson, BS '13

Kelsey Stilson

How It Works

Clark Honors College curriculum is designed to help you develop and grow the skills you will need to complete a successful thesis, beginning with the 200-level Research Course you took during your first or second year. While you may follow the timetable outlined below, it is never too early to begin thinking about topics you may like to pursue for your thesis, or to seek out professors who specialize in an area you are interested in.

Thesis Planning Timeline

#1: Choosing A Topic

The best theses often begin as term papers or as lab experiments, and the best advising relationships usually begin in the classroom or the science lab. As you select and explore your major, actively look for questions and ideas that you would like to investigate further, and choose courses or lab internships with professors who are expert in those topics. Additionally, much thesis research can be done during study abroad. If you intend to study abroad, think about how you may be able to tie your thesis topic into the framework of that experience.

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 1: Getting Started with Your Thesis

#2: HC 408H: Thesis Orientation

This course is optional, but highly recommended. You should take Thesis Orientation during winter or spring term of your second year, or during fall or winter term of your third year. A one-day workshop with follow-up meetings, the course looks at research questions in different majors, suggests tactics for identifying potential thesis advisors, and helps you map out your thesis timetable. 

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 2: Coursework Related to the Thesis

#3: Finding A Primary Thesis Advisor

Your primary thesis advisor will be a faculty member from your major department. They will be with you from beginning to end, helping you to scope and outline your project, providing input and edits on multiple drafts, and presiding over your oral defense. As a professional in the field, they will also be responsible for making sure that your work meets your chosen field's disciplinary standards.

The best advising relationships begin in the classroom. Working with an advisor who you've already taken a class with means beginning with a shared understanding of relevant questions and disciplinary standards, and a personal relationship that facilitates communication during the thesis process. Choosing a thesis advisor that you have not previously studied with should be an exception.

Begin by speaking with several professors you trust and respect, and who likely have knowledge about the topic you are interested in. It's a good idea to set up an appointment ahead of time, and go in prepared to ask each professor for input on your idea, as well as particular readings or relevant courses they recommend you look into. If the professors have labs or research projects you are interested in joining as part of your thesis research, this is a great time to ask about how you can get involved. After you have "interviewed" a few potential advisors you should be ready to formally ask one of them to be your Primary Thesis Advisor.

In the case of cross-disciplinary work: You must have taken two courses in the relevant discipline outside of your major before enrolling in Thesis Prospectus, and you must select a Thesis Advisor from the area where your thesis will be focused. For example, a math major who wants to write a play would have completed at least two theatre courses, and found a Thesis Advisor from the theatre department; the history major who wants to write a historical fiction novel would have completed at least two courses in creative writing, and found a Thesis Advisor from the creative writing department.

You must have a Primary Thesis Advisor confirmed before beginning the Thesis Prospectus class.

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 3: The Thesis Committee

#4: Get Pre-Authorized For Thesis Prospectus 

You should plan to take HC 477H: Thesis Prospectus at least two terms before you plan to defend your thesis. The term before you enroll in the Thesis Prospectus course (three terms before you plan to defend your thesis – generally winter term of your third year) you need to gain pre-authorization from your Primary Thesis Advisor in order to enroll in HC 477H: Thesis Prospectus the following term.

Submit the Thesis Prospectus Application form (signed by your Primary Thesis Advisor), with a one-page outline of your thesis idea, and bibliography to the Academic & Thesis Coordinator by 5:00 p.m., Friday of Week 6 the term before you intend to register for HC 477H.

No professor will sign-off on your pre-registration unless you have already established a working mentorship relationship with them as your Primary Thesis Advisor, and have discussed the general shape of your intended thesis project.

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 2: Coursework Related to the Thesis

#5: HC 477H: Thesis Prospectus 

This required course is pass/no-pass. Thesis prospectus classes in other departments cannot satisfy the CHC requirement. The course provides a framework for you to work with your Thesis Advisor to develop a prospectus and timeline for thesis work throughout the year. Ideally you should take Thesis Prospectus spring term of your third year.

You will develop your own prospectus document during this course, which will serve as a roadmap after the course ends for you to continue work on the project. A thesis prospectus generally includes:

  • Title Page signed by your Primary Thesis Advisor
  • Abstract
  • Background
  • Purpose of Study
  • Relevance
  • Materials and Methods
  • Literature Review (if applicable)
  • Project Development and Research
  • Timeline
  • Bibliography

During the Thesis Prospectus course you will be responsible for inviting an honors college core faculty member to be your CHC Representative – the second member of your Thesis Committee, in addition to your Primary Thesis Advisor. The CHC Representative is there to answer questions about the overall thesis process, time-management issues, deadlines, defense scheduling, and evaluation criteria.

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 2: Coursework Related to the Thesis and Step 4: Preparing the Thesis Document

#6: Independent Study

As you work independently on your thesis, following the timeline you developed as part of your prospectus, stay in contact with your Primary Thesis Advisor. You can't write a thesis in your spare time. You may want to enroll in thesis credits through your major so that your thesis work becomes part of your weekly work schedule.

If you encounter problems, speak up right away. Time lost can never be regained. It is better to address problems early in the thesis process when there is still adequate time left to handle them, than to ignore potential issues until later on when they’ve likely become far more complicated.

#7: Determine Your Second Reader

Selected in consultation with your Primary Thesis Advisor, the Second Reader will be the third and final member of your thesis committee. They are responsible for reading your Thesis Defense Draft, and attending your oral defense.

The Second Reader should be an expert in a field directly or closely related to your thesis project, and can be a tenured, tenure-related, or nontenure-track UO faculty member, a post-doctoral or graduate teaching fellow, or a professional with a Bachelor's Degree in a relevant field.

You can select your Second Reader as early as you like, but no later than the term before your scheduled thesis defense.

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 3: The Thesis Committee

#8: Thesis Defense

Usually held in the final term before graduation, this formal presentation identifies a thesis's most important parts – analysis, arguments, and conclusions – and "teaches" them to the audience. Meeting this challenge indicates true mastery of the project. The presentation of a Clark Honors College thesis is similar to the presentation of a conference paper. You will give a 20-minute presentation that summarizes the thesis and results, distilling the core concepts for an audience who hasn't read it, and engaging with the committee who has. 

Following the presentation, the Question and Answer period usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. You will field questions from your thesis committee and the audience. Note that a defense is public, and anyone may attend, including students preparing for their own defenses.

Find more information on Canvas (log-in required): Step 5: The Thesis Defense

Back to Top »

How To Approach the Project From Different Fields

A marine biology thesis is going to look different than an architecture thesis, or a music thesis. The thesis format is intentionally flexible to accommodate the specifics of your chosen field of study. The key is to choose a project where you can conduct original research, and to produce an academic work that meets the standards of both your major field and the honors college.

Humanities and Social Science

Thesis projects in the humanities and social sciences take the form of an extended exploration of a research question that is informed by focused inquiry into a topic, the review of relevant literature, and original analysis and argumentation. The contours of this type of thesis, as well as the methodological approaches employed, will vary according to the discipline.

Science and Math

Thesis projects in math and in the natural and physical sciences generally fall into two categories:

Theoretical: Theoretical theses are common in mathematics, and are also sometimes appropriate to physics, biology, computer sciences, and occasionally other sciences. This type of thesis should investigate and analyze some new problem, or approach a problem in a novel way. Examples include proofs, novel series of calculations, or mathematical and computer-based models of natural phenomena. It should not, however, be simply a review of the work of others; it's not a term paper or a book report, but a piece of original analysis that improves in some way on what was previously done.

Empirical: Empirical theses are common in all fields of science. This type of thesis is based on original research and data collection to address an original scientific question. The data collected can be experimental (collected in a controlled laboratory setting), historical, or literature-based surveys of data from the results of others' research. Meta-analyses, based on the results of others, are acceptable, but must be pursued with a novel question in mind.

Performance and Portfolios

Performance and portfolio theses are common for students majoring in theater, music, creative writing, art and architecture, and in some journalism and business areas. These theses also provide a place for cross-disciplinary work, such as a math major preparing to write a play, or a history major preparing to write a novel.

Back to Top »

Examples of Exceptional Theses

Each year during Clark Honors College graduation ceremonies, we celebrate exceptional theses that were both well written and presented at the highest level in the oral defense. A selection of these are highlighted below. You can view an extensive collection of CHC theses through Scholar's Bank.

Support & Resources

For complete step-by-step guidelines, current students should see the Thesis section on the Robert D. Clark Canvas site (log-in required).


Thesis Research Grant – For Research Within the US: Small grants up to $1,000 are available for students conducting research for a CHC thesis project through internships, workshops, and conferences within the U.S. Apply »

Study Abroad Thesis Research Grant: Small grants up to $1,000 are available for students conducting research for a CHC thesis project while studying abroad, either through an official UO program or through a program sponsored by another institution. Grants are awarded based on the merits of the project, especially the connection between the study abroad experience and the thesis topic. Apply »

Application Process: You must complete the CHC research grant application form, and have your Primary Thesis Advisor submit a brief letter supporting and endorsing your research project. If you have questions, please contact Dr. Raisanen before submitting an application. Applications are due to the CHC main office by 4:30pm. Applications received by the below deadlines will be considered for fund disbursement the following term:

  • November 14, 2016
  • February 27, 2017
  • May 8, 2017

Research Help

Miriam Rigby is Knight Library's CHC specialist. She has several years of experience helping honors college students throughout all stages of the research process, as well as the personal experience of writing her own undergraduate thesis at Reed College on the mythology of the Tiwi people of Australia, and her Master’s thesis in anthropology at the University of Chicago on the gift economy of the Burning Man arts festival and its year-round regional communities. 

Miriam can answer any questions regarding the library or your research project, as well as connect you with other research specialists and library services. (; 541-346-7202)
Miriam Rigby


Process Help

Miriam Alexis Jordan is the CHC thesis coordinator. She provides administrative and technical support on benchmarks and protocols as you progress through the thesis process. If you have questions around selecting your thesis committee, or scheduling your thesis defense, Miriam is the best person to help. (; 541-346-2511)
Miriam Jordan

Back to Top »