All students majoring within the Department of Sociology at Whitman College are required to submit a senior thesis during the last (spring) semester in which they are enrolled at the College, and to defend this thesis orally before a committee composed of faculty members of the College. The thesis process takes place over a year in a two-course sequence: Soc 490 in the fall and Soc 492/8 in the spring.

GENERAL PROCEDURAL MATTERS 

Students take Soc 490 (Current Issues in Sociology) in the fall of their last full year at Whitman. This course is meant to be a capstone experience that includes: readings across a wide variety of topics, theories, and methods in current sociological research; the development of an intellectual community among sociologists; and progress on the senior thesis via a sequence of written assignments. 

Students take Soc 492/498 (Thesis/Honors Thesis) in the spring of their last full year at Whitman, after taking Soc 490. In this course, students conceptualize, design, and carry out a senior thesis. The major emphasis in this course is upon the student’s own individual thesis project, which may be completed under the supervision of any full-time member of the department. In addition, students also will be expected to participate in evaluations and critiques of the theses being written by the other senior majors in the course. The grade for Soc 492/8 is the grade received on the thesis. 

Application for Honors in Major Studies: Sociology majors do not need to formally apply for Honors. Honors in Major Study will be granted to any student who completes all of the following requirements: 1) achieves an overall GPA of 3.3 upon graduation, 2) achieves a GPA of 3.5 in their Sociology major upon graduation, 3) receives an A- or higher on their written thesis, and 4) passes their oral comprehensive exam with Distinction. If a student meets all of these requirements, the registrar will change their enrollment to Sociology 498 on their transcript. For students who receive Honors, an acceptable digital copy of the Honors Thesis must be submitted to Penrose Library no later than the second Reading Day. 

A reminder about IRB Review: Any student planning to conduct research involving human participants must submit their IRB application by a winter deadline set by the Soc 492 faculty in consultation with the IRB Chair. Students should consult the Whitman IRB website for detailed information and work with their Chair in writing their IRB proposal.  

THESIS COMMITTEE 

Thesis Committee Composition: Sociology thesis committees are (almost always) made up of two sociology faculty members: a Chair and a Committee Member. The Chair (chosen in the Fall) plays the primary role in guiding and advising the development and implementation of the thesis research, and provides more extensive feedback on thesis drafts. The Committee Member (chosen early in the spring semester) typically consults with the student as needed and provides feedback on the student’s full draft. For the Committee Member, students will complete a “Committee Selection Form” identifying two possible members of their committee from a list of possible faculty members provided. Students should identify possible Committee Members based on substantive and/or methodological expertise. The sociology department will then assign a single Committee Member based on student preference and department division of labor. In some rare circumstances, students may want to have an additional Committee Member from another department. Students should discuss this decision with their Chair. While an additional Committee Member can provide valuable insight, a larger committee is more logistically challenging and can delay timely feedback. 

Sociology-Environmental Studies majors: Each Sociology-Environmental Studies thesis committee must include a representative of the Environmental Studies Program. Professor Cordner meets this requirement. 

THE THESIS 

A senior thesis is an original written work produced that investigates a question of sociological importance using sociological theories and methods. A thesis builds upon relevant earlier work to provide a somewhat unique and original contribution to the field. The choice of topic appropriate for a senior thesis is virtually limitless. Students should pay close attention to the alignments between their research question, theories, methods, and sources of data. 

All senior theses in sociology are required to 1) be clearly anchored in sociological theory, and 2) to engage with data in some way. The chosen methodology depends on the student’s interests, objectives, prior training, and resources, and may include, but not be limited to: theoretical analyses, surveys, case studies, analyses of existing datasets, content analyses of secondary sources or curated documents, historical analyses, cross-cultural studies, experimental techniques, qualitative interviews, and/or participant and non-participant observation. 

There is no single correct way to write and organize a senior thesis. The final formats of theses will vary substantially, according to such factors as the question being investigated, the methodology being utilized, and the writer's personal style of writing. However, students should be familiar with and follow norms and styles of sociological writing, and citations should follow the American Sociological Association (ASA) style, including parenthetical citations and the reference list. Students are encouraged to consult their American Sociological Association Style Guide for questions about sociological style and formatting. 

Sociology theses typically contain the following sections, though not necessarily with these titles or in this order: 

  • Front matter: includes title page, abstract (approximately 250 words), table of contents, and acknowledgements
  • Introduction: includes an introductory statement, explanation of why this topic merits sociological investigation, and overview (roadmap) of the thesis
  • Review of the literature and Theory: includes a thorough but concise review of the relevant scholarly literatures and discussion of theories relevant to the thesis; these may be two distinct sections or combined into one section
  • Methods: includes a thorough and clear description of methodological procedures, data sources, analytical procedures, hypotheses (if applicable), and ethical considerations
  • Analysis/Findings/Results and interpretation: includes a well-organized presentation of the results, support for hypotheses (if applicable), and connections with prior sociological research
  • Implications and conclusions: includes a summary of findings, connections with theoretical arguments, applications for the broader social world (including policy or practice recommendations, if applicable), comments on strengths and limitations, and proposed future research suggestions; Sometimes students include part or all of this in a Discussion section
  • References: a complete list of all cited sources, clearly listed in correct ASA style
  • Optional appendices: includes more detailed empirical information such as copies of data collection instruments (surveys or interview guides), more detailed tables or charts, consent forms, and/or brief executive summaries or reports that may be used to communicate with audiences outside of the College. 

Thesis length: The department expects that the main text of a sociology thesis will be 10,000-15,000 words (approx. 40-60 double spaced pages), excluding the front matter, references, and appendices. 

THESIS WRITING PROCESS 

Thesis Drafts: The Rough Draft of the thesis is due two or three weeks before the final thesis is due. Students should check with their Committee about the preferred format for submitting the Rough Draft. In addition, students are encouraged to submit preliminary drafts of thesis sections to their Chair for feedback throughout the spring semester (and perhaps also to their other Committee Member(s)). Thus, the “Rough Draft” should not be the first draft. 

Final Thesis: The Final Thesis is usually due in mid-April.

THE ORAL COMPREHENSIVE EXAM

Students participate in an oral comprehensive exam after submitting their thesis. The oral thesis defense/exam is 60 minutes in length and is attended only by the Chair and Committee Member(s). For 50 minutes students will be questioned on material specific to their thesis, connections between their thesis and sociology, and important sociological topics (theories, methods, concepts, etc.) from the entirety of their sociology coursework, with an aim to assess achievement of the major learning goals. Sociology-Environmental Studies majors should also expect general questions related to Environmental Studies. Students may want to consult the Sociology and Sociology-ES Major learning goals. Faculty members on the thesis committee meet immediately after the exam to deliberate about the written thesis and oral exam, and then tell students right away whether they have passed the written thesis and passed the oral exam. Letter grades and orals distinction details are shared after all orals are completed. Students receive letter grades on the written thesis, which constitute the grade for Soc 492/8. Students receive a grade of “Pass” or “Pass with Distinction” on the oral defense. If either the thesis and/or the oral defense are evaluated as unacceptable, the student will be notified immediately. If a student fails their written thesis, the highest possible grade that can be earned on a re-written thesis is a D-. If a student fails their oral defense, they will have the opportunity to do a second oral defense and can only earn a “Pass” grade.