Senior Thesis Seminar

Spring 2009

SOC 470-01

Westminster College

 

Mark Rubinfeld

Office: Foster 308; Office phone: 832-2430; Home phone: 364-1228

E-mail: mrubinfeld@westminstercollege.edu

Website: http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/mrubinfeld

Office Hours: Mon., Tues, Wed., and Thurs. 4:00-5:15, and by appointment.

 

All sociology majors will produce a senior thesis that examines a sociological phenomenon, problem, or question through original research, secondary analysis, and/or theoretical exploration. As part of their senior thesis, all sociology majors will participate in a senior thesis seminar or a senior thesis directed study in which they critically share their thesis work with their fellow students and/or thesis advisor.

 

Purpose of Senior Thesis:

 

Completing a senior thesis is your capstone achievement – your final step to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. In addition to exhibiting your sociological proficiency, it enhances your academic reputation and professional resume.

 

What Is A Senior Thesis?

 

Most of you have had to write formal research papers of varying lengths for many of your classes during your undergraduate career. Consider this, in some ways, a “super” research paper, which, utilizing social science research methodology and informed by social theory, explores a sociologically related phenomenon, problem, and/or question.

 

Choosing a Senior Thesis Topic:

 

As long as your senior thesis topic explores some sociologically related phenomenon, problem, and/or question, it is appropriate. In considering your senior thesis topic, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

 

What prior experience or knowledge do I have of this topic? How truly interested am I in this topic? How much time will it take and what amount of resources will be required to investigate this topic? What social theory or theories will be informing my investigation of this topic? What research methodology or methodologies do I plan to use to examine this topic? How much research has already been done on this topic and what new can I add to previous studies? How might my findings advance our knowledge of this topic in a significant way?

 

Some Examples of Senior Thesis Topics:

 

Here are ten representative examples of senior thesis topics that students have used in previous years:

 

            The Phenomenon of ‘Mr. Mom’: Redefining Masculinity”

 

            “Looking for Love in all the Right Places: Traditional Dating versus Internet Romance”

 

“Speak English! Culture Wars, Political Expediency, and American Immigration Policy”

 

“Truth or Myth: Can a Single Black Female Successfully Raise Her Son?”

 

“When God Says No: Religion and Social Policy in the Reddest of All Red States”

 

“Real Men Love Nursing: A Sociological Study of Male Nurses”

 

Hot Girls Here: Pornography, Gender Construction and Bedroom Intimacy”

 

No Place to Go: An Assessment of Social Policies Addressing Homelessness”

 

“Blood and Guts: The Subculture of Tattooing”

 

“Civil Rights Movement vs. Gay Rights Movement: Similarities and Distinctions”

 

Choosing a Senior Thesis Methodology:

 

The selection of your methodology is largely dependent on the nature of your chosen topic, along with your interests, objectives, and resources. Your methodology can be qualitative, quantitative, or both qualitative and quantitative. As such, it my include and/or incorporate surveys, interviews, case studies, content analysis, textual analysis, unobtrusive observation, participant observation, secondary analysis, and/or historical analysis, among many others methodologies.

 

Four Formats for a Senior Thesis:

 

You may choose any one of the following four formats for your senior thesis: a) original research, b) secondary analysis, c) theoretical exploration, and d) any combination of two or more of the above formats.

 

1)      Original Research – this is a senior thesis based on original research in which you design, conduct, and analyze your own social research study. This includes: a) developing a research design that will enable you to explore a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question, b) collecting data on that particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question; c) interpreting the data that you collected, and d) addressing the sociological implications and/or applications of your findings.

 

2)      Secondary Analysis – this is a senior thesis that is based on collecting, synthesizing, and analyzing other people’s studies on a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question. This includes: a) locating existing studies, data, and/or findings that address a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question; b) synthesizing and summarizing these previous studies, data, and/or findings; c) interpreting what the “combined insights” of these previous studies, data, and/or findings may be telling us about the particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question; and d) telling us how we may be able to apply these “combined insights” to future studies and/or social policies dealing with the particular sociological phenomenon, problem, or question.

 

3)      Theoretical exploration – this is a senior thesis that, utilizing and incorporating social theory, adds to our understanding of a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question. This may include: a) critically analyzing an existing social theory or theories in terms of its sociological relevance, b) synthesizing two or more existing social theories in a way that enhances our sociological understanding of these theories, c) applying an existing social theory or theories in a way that explains, explores, and/or addresses a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question; d) developing a new social theory or theories to explain, explore, and/or address a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question; and e) any combination of the above.

 

4)      Any Combination of Two or More of the Above Formats – this is a senior thesis that includes and/or incorporates two or more of the above formats. (This combination may be in relatively equal measures or, while primarily focusing on one of the above formats, includes one or more of the other formats, as well.)

 

General Components of Your Senior Thesis:

 

Although there may be some variation depending on your choice of topic, methodology, and format, as well as your writing ability and style, here are the general components of a senior thesis:

 

  • An abstract concisely describing and/or summarizing your senior thesis
  • A statement of the objective(s) of your senior thesis
  • A review of the literature relevant to your senior thesis
  • A discussion of the theoretical approach or approaches you are using in your senior thesis
  • A presentation of the research method or methods you are using in your social thesis
  • A presentation, analysis, and interpretation of your thesis’s findings and/or results
  • A discussion of the social implications and/or applications of your thesis’s findings
  • References

 

You may use any professionally recognized style (ASA, APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) for your senior thesis as long as you remain consistent in using that style. Except for your abstract, which is single spaced and italicized, the final draft of your thesis must be double spaced using a 12 pt. font with one inch margins on both sides. Your senior thesis should also include a cover page as follows:

 

[TITLE OF SENIOR THESIS]

 

by

 

[Your Name]

 

A SENIOR THESIS

 

submitted to

 

Westminster College

 

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for

the degree of

 

Bachelor of Science in Sociology

 

Presented [Date of Completed Senior Thesis]

 

Length and Grading:

 

Since the length of your senior thesis will vary depending on your topic, methodology, and/or format, the sociology and anthropology program is not establishing any minimum or maximum length requirements except that the final product significantly contributes to our sociological understanding of a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question. If your final product does not do this, you will not pass the senior thesis requirement. Your final grade will primarily be based on the quality of your final product (its overall competency, general level of sophistication, use of sociological perspectives and methodologies, complexity of discussions and interpretations, and quality of writing), as well as, in smaller part, the quality of your participation in the senior thesis seminar meetings and your final senior thesis presentation.

 

As a guideline, past experience suggests that for most students, a comprehensive, significant, and sophisticated senior thesis requires a length of approximately 30 pages, with some students able to complete their senior theses in slightly less pages and others, depending on the variables previously cited, needing considerably more pages.

 

Below are three sample outlines for the three major senior thesis formats (original research, secondary analysis, theoretical exploration). While your senior thesis must include all the listed components for each format, you do not necessarily have to present these exactly as they are presented in the outlines. These are just guidelines. You may choose to present your senior thesis sequentially in separate distinct sections (as detailed in the outlines) or you may choose to present your senior thesis in less formal terms – incorporating all the components in a smoothly flowing narrative that, while including each component, does not necessarily present them distinctly and/or sequentially. It is up to you whether or not you want to divide your senior thesis into subheadings and, if so, how many and what type of subheadings you use. Finally, the page lengths listed for each of the components may vary somewhat depending upon your topic, writing abilities, and presentation style.

 

An Outline You May Follow For a Senior Thesis Based On Original Research

 

A.    Abstract (200-400 words). This is a synopsis of your work, a condensed version of the entire thesis. Presented in italics, it should provide enough information for the reader to understand the rationale and significance of your study. It includes:

 

§  background (1-2 sentences)

§  rationale for the study (why is this study important)

§  methods

§  results

§  conclusion

 

B.     Background/Literature Review (6-10 pages). This section reviews pertinent literature in sufficient depth to provide a context for your study and should include findings of and/or references to approximately ten-to-fifteen relevant studies that have been done on your topic and/or topics related to your topic.

 

C.    Theory (2-4 pages). This section discusses what theoretical perspective or perspectives informed your study’s research, interpretations, and/or conclusions (functionalist, conflict theory, interactionist, feminist, critical theory, Marxist, neo-Marxist, structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytical, etc).

 

D.    Methods (5-8 pages). What particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question does your study explore? What specific research methodology or methodologies (surveys, interviews, case studies, content analysis, textual analysis, unobtrusive observation, participant observation) does your study use to explore this particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question? Why did you choose this methodology or methodologies? How did you choose the sample for your senior thesis and how representative is that sample? What specific questions did you ask and/or observations did you make of the people and/or phenomenon that you studied? (All of this information should be presented in enough detail so that the reader can assess the validity of your study and, if he or she chooses, can replicate your study.)

   

E.     Findings (5-8 pages). This should include all pertinent data, findings, and/or results of your study. If your study includes any figures, graphics, and/or tables, you may either incorporate those into the body of your study or present them at the end as an addendum.

  

F.     Interpretations, Applications, and Conclusions (6-12 pages). In some ways, this is the most important part of your study because this is your opportunity to present the social significance of your findings? What are the social implications of your findings? What are the some of the practical applications of your findings in terms of the sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question that you looked at?

 

G.    Bibliography/Citations/References (5-10 pages). In addition to your literature review, you must cite all the sources used in your study using a standard and consistent method of citation and include a bibliography and/or reference page at the end of your study. Remember to cite not only published sources but oral and Internet sources as well.

 

An Outline You May Follow for a Senior Thesis Based on Secondary Analysis

  

A.    Abstract (200-400 words). This is a synopsis of your work, a condensed version of the entire thesis. Presented in italics, it should provide enough information for the reader to understand the rationale and significance of your study. It includes:

 

§  background (1-2 sentences)

§  rationale for the study (why is this study important)

§  methods

§  results

§  conclusions

 

B.     Methods (4-6 pages). This section addresses the following: Why did you choose the particular studies that you chose to base your secondary analysis on? Where did you find these studies and how do you know they are credible? What particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question did you look at in your senior thesis and how do you know these studies are relevant to those?

 

C.    Background/Literature Review (10-15 pages). This section reviews pertinent literature in sufficient depth to provide a context for your study and should include an annotated bibliography of fifteen-to-twenty five studies (e.g., journal articles, books, literature) that you need to use for the basis of your secondary analysis, as well as a detailed report of those studies’ findings and conclusions.

 

D.    Theory (2-4 pages). This section discusses what theoretical perspective or perspectives informed your study’s research, interpretations, and/or conclusions (functionalist, conflict theory, interactionist, feminist, critical theory, Marxist, neo-Marxist, structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytical, etc).

 

E.     Interpretations, Applications and Conclusions (8-14 pages). Synthesizing the information from the studies you used, this section interprets what those studies’ data, findings, and/or conclusions may be telling us about the particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question you looked at. How do the “combined insights” of these studies increase our understanding of the particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question? What are the some of the practical applications of your findings in terms of the sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question that you looked at?

 

F.     Bibliography/Citations/References (5-10 pages). In addition to your literature review, you must cite all the sources you used in your study using a standard and consistent method of citation and include a bibliography and/or reference page at the end of your study. Remember to cite not only published sources but oral and Internet sources as well.

 

An Outline You May Follow for a Senior Thesis Based on Theoretical Exploration

  

A.    Abstract (200-400 words). This is a synopsis of your work, a condensed version of the entire thesis. Presented in italics, it should provide enough information for the reader to understand the rationale and significance of your study. It includes:

 

§  background (1-2 sentences)

§  rationale for the study (why is this study important)

§  theory

§  interpretations

§  conclusions

 

B.     Background/Literature Review (8-12 pages). Telling us what social theory or theories you are focusing on in your thesis (e.g., functionalist, conflict theory, interactionist, feminist, critical theory, Marxist, neo-Marxist, structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytical), this section reviews the pertinent literature on that theory or theories to provide a context for your study. It should include an annotated bibliography of ten-to-twenty classical or contemporary readings in the theory or theories you are focusing on in your thesis.

 

C.    Theoretical Analysis and Synthesis (8-12 pages). This section critically analyzes and synthesizes the theory or theories you are exploring in a way that enhances our sociological understanding of that theory or those theories, as well as what relevance that understanding may have to a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question. Having extensively examined the social theory literature, what new, critical insights can you provide about the social theory or theories that you are focusing on in your thesis?

 

D.    Interpretations, Applications, and Conclusions (8-12 pages). How can the social theory or theories you’ve critically examined in your senior thesis be practically applied to a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question? What social policy implications, if any, might the social theory or theories suggest? If you’ve developed a new social theory or theories in your senior thesis, how might that social theory or theories be practically applied to a particular sociological phenomenon, problem, and/or question, and what social policy implications, if any, may it have?

 

E.     Bibliography/Citations/References (5-10 pages). In addition to your literature review, you must cite all the sources you used in your study using a standard and consistent method of citation and include a bibliography and/or reference page at the end of your study. Remember to cite not only published sources but oral and Internet sources as well.

 

Role of Your Senior Thesis Advisor and Some Helpful Advice:

 

The senior thesis has the potential to be the most difficult course in your undergraduate career, but it doesn’t have to be. At first appearances, its requirements seem deceptively easy. No required readings. No sitting through long lectures. No taking notes. No quizzes. No midterm exam. No final exam. Just writing one paper with a lot of flexibility as to its topic and approach, as well as meeting once every few weeks with fellow students in a seminar format to “chat” about how the work on that paper is going. And if that isn’t easy enough, you have the entire semester to write that paper.

 

Of course, it is not that simple. What may seem easy about the senior thesis is what’s really hardest for many students. And that is that nearly all of the work you will be doing is self-directed. This means that you are solely responsible for keeping on schedule, doing your work, and maintaining the quality of your work. There is nobody but you who can stop you from falling behind. While your senior thesis advisor can offer you some guidance and support, he or she cannot do the work for you. If you don’t do the work – or if you do it but don’t do it well and/or on time – you won’t pass the course or, if you do pass it, you won’t achieve a decent grade in it.

 

As part of the course requirements, you will need to actively participate in the scheduled seminars, as well as individually meet with your senior thesis advisor at a minimum of once every four weeks throughout the semester. The seminars will provide you with peer feedback and support, as well as give you the opportunity to learn about what other students are doing with their senior theses. The individual meetings with your advisor are to provide you with guidance and, more importantly, help keep you on track with your work.

 

There are many resources that can assist you with your senior thesis. Westminster College’s reference librarian can help you access both in-library and on-line source materials, including journal articles for your literature review. The American Sociological Association website has an ASA style sheet that you can download and print out, as well as many helpful sociology-related links, as does Westminster College’s sociology and anthropology program’s website. The Writing Lab can proofread your drafts and assist you with your writing. In addition to your senior thesis advisor, you may ask another faculty member who specializes in your chosen topic if he or she would be willing serve as a secondary advisor, in either a formal or informal capacity. Finally, your fellow seminar students – all of whom are in the “same boat as you” – can and, hopefully, will serve as a collective support resource for you.

 

Timeline:

 

In working on your senior thesis, here are the steps that you will be required to complete, along with a suggested timeline for completing them. At each of these steps, you should be prepared to share your progress with your fellow seminar students and your senior thesis advisor.

 

(For those of you who are social science majors who are taking this seminar to complete the “sociology half” of your social science thesis, you should have already completed some of this material during your first semester work and, as such, are starting “ahead of the game.” You can use the earlier portions of this timeline to polish and refine the work you’ve already done, or continue to work on the work that you still need to do.

 

End of Two Weeks:

 

You should have already met with your senior thesis advisor and have his or her approval for your senior thesis. Additionally, by this time, you should have completed your abstract and begun your literature review. Finally, if you have previously completed a senior thesis proposal as part of your requirements for your Research Methods course, you should have decided if you still want to base your senior thesis on that proposal and, if so, you should have refined and/or expanded on that proposal, as needed.

 

End of Five Weeks:

 

You should have completed your abstract and literature review and detailed your theoretical orientation and methodology. If you are doing an original research thesis, you should have made significant progress on collecting and/or synthesizing your data. If you are doing a secondary analysis or theoretical exploration thesis, you should have made significant progress on collecting, synthesizing, and evaluating existing sociological studies, findings, or theories that deal with your topic.

 

End of Nine Weeks:

 

You should have finished collecting, synthesizing, analyzing, and interpreting your data, and have begun working on addressing the social implications of your findings. You should also have started writing up – or be very close to starting to write up – your final analysis and conclusions, as well as be orally prepared to describe where you are going with that analysis and conclusions to your fellow seminar participants and senior thesis advisor.

 

End of Twelve Weeks:

 

At this point, you should have completed all the steps involved in your senior thesis and be prepared to turn in a rough draft of your completed senior thesis to your advisor, as well as share that rough draft – for feedback purposes – with fellow seminar participants. Within seven days of turning in your rough draft, you should meet with your advisor for his or her feedback on that draft. (If there are any loose ends, you should be working on tying those loose ends together, as well as polishing up your writing, even before your meeting with your advisor).

 

End of Fifteen Weeks:

 

At the final seminar meeting at the end of the fifteenth week, you will orally present and defend your senior thesis to your seminar peers, as well as any other students and/or faculty who wish to attend that last meeting. You will need to turn in the final draft of your senior thesis to your senior thesis advisor no later than the last day of classes.

 

Good luck with your senior thesis. You’ve come this far, and we’re almost ready to celebrate!