Defending a Thesis

An honors thesis will be evaluated by a verbal defense before a thesis examination committee. Each committee should consist of a minimum of three examiners:

1) The primary adviser.

2) Co-adviser or second reader selected by the adviser and student.

3) An outside member assigned by Honors Council.

The student candidate bears the primary responsibility for communicating with the committee and determining the defense date that works for the entire committee and reserving a room for the defense (consult your adviser and the academic assistant for your major department or program for assistance). The adviser should only step in on behalf of the student when the student requests their help. The student should speak with your adviser to determine if the defense will be open to the public or will be closed. In a closed defense the audience could consist of your major department or program faculty and chair, in addition to the thesis examination committee members, at minimum.

The student candidate should deliver a copy of the thesis to all members of the thesis examination committee by the date specified on the Honors Program calendar. If the student requests consideration from the committee for a later submission, it is the prerogative of the entire examination committee to permit this request and set a modified date of submission that is at least one week prior to the defense date. The examination copy need not be bound, but it must be in a conveniently readable form and should be formatted according to the Honors Program guidelines.

Defense Committee Members: If you have not received a copy of the thesis by the specified dates, please contact the adviser or the honors candidate or Chair of the Honors Council. Late submissions without communication from the student will result in discharging the student from the Honors Program.

What to Expect

Your thesis defense should take about an hour. It usually begins with brief introductory remarks made by adviser followed by your presentation (approximately 30 minutes) illustrating your thesis and the contribution that it makes to relevant academic community. The audience (general audience and thesis examination committee members) has an opportunity for questions at the conclusion of your presentation. The general audience is then asked to leave and the examination committee has an opportunity to ask the student additional questions in private; the department/program chair is welcome to stay and participate. The student is asked to leave and the thesis examination committee discusses the thesis and determines the outcome: pass, conditional pass or fail. At this time the committee should make a note of any revisions that should be made before the final submission. You (the student) are then called back to learn the outcome and, if necessary, discuss the requested revisions. Defenses of creative theses may follow an alternative framework. Contact the Honors Council Chair to learn more about creative thesis guidelines.

Instructions for the Adviser

The thesis adviser bears formal responsibility for conducting the thesis examination and delivering the defense form to the council chair. The Honors Council recommends a public defense whenever possible. The entire thesis examination committee should agree beforehand whether consensus or majority vote will determine the outcome of the defense. The thesis examination committee should also briefly discuss if they wish to nominate the thesis for the Miller Prize (See below).

The signed and completed honors thesis defense form must be returned by the last day of classes to the Honors Council chair (electronic via email or paper version is acceptable).

Instructions for the Miller Prize (Best Honors Thesis)

If a student is nominated for the Miller Prize (description) a letter making a case for consideration must be signed by all thesis examination committee members and submitted to the Honors Council chair. The letter that requests consideration of a candidate for the Miller Prize must be accompanied by a copy of the thesis, including an abstract. The thesis and the supporting letters will be made available to Honor Council members. Theses submitted in paper version will be returned to the adviser after the final decision has been made.

The Honors Council, including the representatives of the Honors Council on thesis examination committees, will meet on Reading Day to consider nominees and construct a short list of candidates. If any member of the Honors Council has signed a letter for a candidate, they will be expected to recuse themselves at any appropriate times during the discussion. If necessary, the adviser of the Honors Thesis may be asked to attend a portion of the selection meeting to present the merits of their candidate's thesis. If the adviser is unable to attend the Honors Council meeting on reading day, the second reader may be asked to present the merits of the thesis.

Contact Details

Honors Council


Professor Robert Jacob, Honors Council Chair: 570-577-1791