The honors project, or thesis, provides an opportunity for students to engage in independent research in economics.   Each year, about ten seniors choose to pursue a thesis in economics, doing independent research on a topic of their choosing under the supervision of a faculty member.  The final product – the thesis – follows the same form as a published research paper in economics.

Writing a thesis can be a fabulous intellectual experience.  If you are thinking about doing this, you should talk with economics faculty to learn more about the process.  Below, we provide information about how to prepare and what to expect.

Preparing for the Economics Thesis

First, there are a number of requirements you must satisfy to be eligible to write a thesis in economics.  You must:

  • Finish the core theory courses by the end of junior year
  • Have an average grade of B+ (11.00) or higher in the core theory courses
  • Take at least one upper-level economics elective before senior year
  • Notify the department of your intention to do a thesis by May 1st of junior year
  • Read up on your areas of interest in the summer before senior year
  • Turn in a preliminary plan for your thesis by September 1st of senior year

Second, there are additional things you can do to lay a strong foundation for this capstone experience.  You should:

  • Discuss the thesis process with your academic advisor and professors in your junior year
  • Learn about the thesis process by talking with faculty and students and consulting the materials available online such as the thesis timeline
  • Take additional upper-level economics electives
  • Take one or more of the advanced versions of the core theory courses
  • Gain some experience doing economic research
  • Read some past theses
  • Attend the thesis presentations given throughout the year
  • Attend departmental seminars and talks by guest speakers
  • Read articles and books in the particular areas of economics that interest you

The Thesis Process

While the thesis itself “happens” almost entirely in the senior year, the process begins much earlier.  A detailed timeline for the thesis process is available on the department website.  Here are the essentials:

  • Junior year:  talk  with  peers  and  faculty,  start  investigating  areas  of  economics  that interest you, and begin the creative process of developing potential research questions.  Take at least one upper-level elective in an area of economics that interests you.
  • Summer before  senior  year:  read  in  your  areas  of  interest,  and  develop  a  research question (or several).
  • Fall of senior year: enroll in the Departmental Honors Seminar, Economics 498. The seminar introduces you to current research in economics, supports you in developing your own project, and prepares you to undertake original research.
  • Winter and Spring of senior year: enroll in the Senior Departmental Honors Project, Economics 499. Working closely with a faculty advisor, research your topic, and write an original paper fifty pages in length.  Present your work to faculty and students.

Some Considerations

Major requirements for students doing honors: as discussed above, honors students must take 10 economics courses (including Econ 498 and Econ 499). The minimum set of economics courses for an economics major doing honors is thus: Econ 111, 3 core courses, 2 lower-level electives numbered 200-290, 2 upper-level electives numbered 400-490, and the 2 thesis-related courses 498 and 499. Note that, while the thesis classes do count towards the major, they do not count as upper-level electives. Also note that many honors students take additional upper-level electives beyond those required, and most take at least some of the advanced versions of the core classes.

Note for “E”-class students: because of the scheduling of Economics 498 and 499, students in “E” classes (graduating in January rather than May) do the honors sequence on the same schedule as those graduating in May: they take Economics 498 in the Fall semester (their 6th semester) and Economics 499 in the Spring semester (their 7th semester).