Honors Thesis Seminar

High-achieving students in majors within the Department of Political Science may be eligible for academic honors recognition.

pol 194 students

The academic honors program offers a means through which students can demonstrate their intellectual capabilities applicable to teaching political science or advancement to graduate school.

Every year the Department of Political Science runs an Honors Thesis Seminar, which spans the Fall and Winter quarters. The seminar, which enrolls only a relatively small number of students, provides undergraduates with the opportunity to conduct their own research at a much deeper level than is possible within a regular course structure. Each student develops and pursues a research project with the close and careful support of a dedicated faculty advisor, who is an expert in the student’s chosen topic area. A different faculty member runs the seminar and guides students through the various stages of developing and pursuing a research question. It is an immersive and challenging experience, but students also enjoy the camaraderie of their cohorts.

Through the process of writing a thesis, students learn how to formulate and rigorously investigate research questions, and develop their analytical, writing, and presentation skills. Writing a thesis can be an extremely rewarding intellectual experience and for many students it is the academic high point of their undergraduate degrees. It can also help students figure out whether they might be interested in pursuing research (whether within a university or beyond) after they graduate. Many students also use the finalized thesis itself as the required writing sample in their applications to postgraduate programs.

Participating in the Honors Thesis Seminar gives those students who already have the requisite GPA to earn “honors” the chance to graduate with “high honors” or “highest honors” (depending on their final grade for the thesis). That said, any student who has a minimum grade-point average of 3.5 in major courses at UC Davis can apply to the Honors Thesis Seminar.

We encourage all students who have the requisite GPA and who would like a challenging research experience under the close supervision of a faculty member to apply to the Honors Thesis Seminar. We know that the Honors Thesis Seminar can sound daunting and that the process of developing a topic and finding a faculty mentor can be intimidating, but the undergraduate advisors and the faculty member in charge of running the Honors Thesis Seminar are here to support you in navigating the application process. 

Click here to watch our info sessions online! Our 2024 information sessions are hosted by Dr. Ethan Scheiner. Our general information session covers the value of completing a thesis and taking part in research, and our 2024-25 Application info session goes over the application process for this year's honors thesis seminar in detail. 

  • Stage 1 applications for the 2024-25 seminar are due on FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 2024 BY 12:00 PM noon.
  • You should read all information provided below prior to opening/completing the Stage 1 application.
  • During Fall 2024, the seminar will be held in-person (Wednesdays 12:10-2pm). For 2024-25, the course instructor will be Professor Ethan Scheiner. The seminar will continue in-person in Winter 2025 (Wednesdays 12:10-2pm). You should not fill out an application or plan to take the class if you are unavailable to attend in-person during the planned class times. 
  • As students await notification from the review committee, they should create a full schedule that does not include the Honors Thesis Seminar. We recommend that, if you schedule another class during the same day/time as the Honors Thesis Seminar, it be a class that you are willing to drop if you are accepted into the Seminar.
Basic Information on the Course
  • Details of the application process are provided at the end of this webpage.
  • The Honors Thesis Seminar is an intense two-quarter (Fall and Winter) course requiring a large amount of work on a single research project. The class requires that students put in much more work than in a typical course at UC Davis.
  • In the seminar, students narrow their research question, develop a deep understanding of the literature on the question, set up a professional research design, conduct substantial analysis, and repeatedly edit and revise, all culminating in a major research paper (“honors thesis”), which emulates research at the graduate level.
  • The final paper is usually 20-30 double-spaced pages (not counting cover, tables, figures, footnotes, and bibliography) of tightly-written, carefully-edited, polished text.
  • Seminar participants work closely with the course instructor and a faculty advisor on that project. Throughout the entire process, students are held to a series of strict deadlines in completing the project.
  • Only students prepared to put in significant amounts of intense work and meet the regular class deadlines should consider applying. (Students who do not keep up with the work during the first quarter are asked to drop the course prior to the start of the second quarter.)
Other Research Opportunities

For students who are interested in pursuing research, but who are unable to enroll in the Honors Thesis Seminar or who do not feel like the Honors Thesis Seminar is the right fit for them, there are a number of other research avenues available. For example:

More Specifics on the Honors Thesis Program
  • Eligible undergraduate students majoring in Political Science, Political Science - Public Service, or International Relations may apply to take the Honors Thesis Seminar in either their junior or senior year. However, priority will usually be given to seniors.
  • In order to apply, a minimum grade-point average of 3.5 in MAJOR COURSES AT UC DAVIS is required. 
  • Enrolled students from all three majors (Political Science, Political Science – Public Service, and International Relations) all meet in the same class with the same instructor and receive the same general instruction. However, Political Science and Political Science – Public Service majors officially enroll in POL194HA (Fall) and POL194HB (Winter). International Relations majors officially enroll in IRE194HA (Fall) and IRE194HB (Winter).
  • For the Fall, students who fulfill the course requirements receive a “grade” of “In Progress.” After completing both quarters, the students receive a single grade that gets applied to both Fall and Winter.
  • Students interested in enrolling in the seminar must complete the formal application (link above and details below) during Spring term of the year leading up to the course. Refer to direct emails from your major advisor for the most up-to-date information on how to acquire the application and the application deadline.
  • Please check in with your advisor to learn how the Honors Thesis Seminar may apply to your major requirements.
You Will Need a Faculty Advisor
  • The seminar is taught by a faculty member from the Department of Political Science. However, you will also need a separate faculty advisor for your thesis.
  • The process of acquiring a faculty advisor only begins in Stage 2 of the application (see below). However, in your application you will provide a list of possible faculty advisors you may want to work with.
  • In addition, to complete Stage 1 of the application, you will need to get the support of a faculty member for your project. It is recommended that you attempt to get that support from a faculty member that you would like to have as your faculty advisor.
  • Please do not feel shy about approaching faculty. Supporting undergraduate student research is a part of being a faculty member at UC Davis. If you have difficulty identifying or contacting a faculty member who has expertise in your chosen topic area, please contact the undergraduate advisor in your major for help.
  • Your faculty advisor is expected to offer you guidance on each phase of your work on the thesis, as well as evaluate your final product.
  • Political Science and Political Science – Public Service majors must work with an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, or Professor Emeritus from the Department of Political Science. See the Department Faculty page for a full list. Your faculty advisor may not be a graduate student or temporary lecturer.
  • Because of the course content/expectations for the thesis, International Relations majors are encouraged to find a faculty advisor from the Department of Political Science – but that is not required. However, International Relations majors must work with a professor-track faculty member in a partner department (i.e., a department whose courses are included in the major curricula, for example: POL, HIS, SPA, or others). Again, your faculty advisor may not be a graduate student or temporary lecturer.
  • Your faculty advisor should have general research/teaching expertise and/or interest in the general topic area of the project you are considering. Please read the faculty bio webpages to get a sense of who might be an appropriate advisor for your project. If there are no available faculty members with expertise/interest in an area that you are considering for your thesis, you may want to change topics to one closer to the expertise/interests of a faculty member.
  • If you have questions, please reach out to your major advisor.
Earning Honors
  • Any student who attains the cumulative (i.e., for all classes at UCD) grade point average required for honors in the College of Letters and Science will receive honors at graduation.
  • The specific GPA required for honors at graduation is calculated at the end of each Winter quarter and varies according to the number of units taken at UC Davis. For additional information, please consult the UC Davis General Catalog and the College of Letters and Science.
  • Only students with the requisite GPAs (both overall and in the major – both calculated upon completion of all coursework at graduation) are eligible for any form of honors. Be sure to see the Political Science or International Relations major advisor to ensure that you have the requisite GPA.
  • To qualify for high honors or highest honors, students must meet specific grade point average requirements (both overall and in the major – both calculated upon completion of all coursework at graduation), must have enrolled in and completed a two-quarter sequence in POL/IRE 194HA/HB, and must produce a thesis. High honors designation is equivalent to magna cum laude. Highest honors is equivalent to summa cum laude.
  • Students who meet the criteria for honors (see above) will be awarded:
    • High Honors if they earn a letter grade of A- or higher on the Honors Thesis; 

    • Highest Honors if their Political Science or International Relations GPA (upon completion of all coursework at graduation) is 3.85 or higher and if they earn an A on the Honors Thesis. 

General Application Process
  • Access the link to the application under the “Application” heading above.
  • The application process involves two stages. In Stage 1 (to be completed early in Spring quarter), students provide information on their academic background and their proposed project.
  • A faculty review committee will evaluate all submitted applications.
  • Because the success of the seminar relies upon a very low student-instructor ratio – so that the course instructor can give each student’s project close attention – most likely, the committee will not be able to offer all applicants admission into the seminar.
  • The committee will evaluate applications according to the quality and feasibility of the research proposal, the students’ overall record, and the students’ academic trajectory (e.g., perhaps your early record was not terribly strong but you have done extremely well in the past year).
  • If there are more strong applicants than slots in the class and we are unable to admit you into the seminar, the committee will strongly encourage you to investigate one of the other research opportunities linked above.
  • If, after reviewing your Stage 1 application, the committee would like to consider your application further, you will be invited to submit a Stage 2 application (which will ask you to sharpen and/or possibly even substantially alter your proposal). In addition, it is in Stage 2 that you will need to find a faculty advisor.
  • It is also possible, after reviewing your Stage 1 application, that the committee may decide to offer you a spot on a waitlist, whereby you might have an opportunity at a later time to submit a Stage 2 application if additional openings in the class emerge.
  • Expected Timetable:
    • ​​Friday, April 26, 2024 @ noon: Stage 1 applications due
    • Friday, May 10, 2024: Notifications regarding whether students are invited to do Stage 2 application
    • Friday, May 31, 2024 @ noon: Stage 2 applications due
    • Friday, June 14, 2024: Final notifications