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Skidmore College
Philosophy Department

Senior Thesis Guidelines

Why write a Senior Thesis?

For many of those who write a senior thesis and do not go on to graduate school, this activity may be the most sustained, rigorous, and challenging academic experience of their lives. A senior thesis not only builds upon the knowledge that you have gained in your program of study and utilizes the research and communication skills that you have mastered, it is also the opportunity to understand a topic that interests you at a very deep level. Further, by the end of the experience you should be an authority on the issue that you have chosen to research and able to communicate your opinion on it to others.  

Who may write a senior thesis?

Those students who have a reasonable expectation to graduate from Skidmore College with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher and who anticipate achieving at least a 3.5 GPA in their major meet the minimum requirements.

However, not all students who meet or are expected to meet these minimum requirements are allowed to write a thesis. Rather, only those students who have successfully presented a research proposal are invited to write a thesis. Further, in order to write a proposal, each student must have the support of a faculty member who is willing to guide her project proposal and the senior thesis. So in practice, only those individuals who meet the minimum academic qualifications and have developed a reputation in the program such that a faculty member judges them capable of conducting independent research in their discipline may write a thesis. 

Who should write a senior thesis?

You should consider writing a senior thesis if you are performing at a very high level in the 300-level classes that you are taking and if there is a topic or question that you would like to know more about. Further, you should consider writing a senior thesis if you are interested in working one-on-one with a faculty member with very difficult material and if you are interested in learning how to conduct a sustained examination of a topic using the methods you have learned about in your discipline.

What is the process for writing a senior thesis?

The senior thesis is a yearlong project and a very important learning experience, one to be mentored carefully by the faculty advisor and to be taken up very seriously by the student. The thesis is necessarily a unique process for each student and her/his advisor, and it must be customized, often by trial-and-error during the process itself. The following timeline and procedures are suggestions for the student and faculty to follow. However, the most important checkpoints are marked with asterisks and bolded. 

There are two basic tracks for writing a senior thesis.

  1. The first involves doing an independent study in the fall of the senior year, which results in a thesis proposal. Pending this proposal’s approval, the student continues with the writing of the senior thesis in the spring of the senior year.
  2. The second involves consulting with a faculty with whom one has taken a 300-level class or with whom one is taking a 300-level class and coming up with a proposal to expand a research paper into a thesis during the spring semester. Like the first track, this proposal will typically be presented for approval at the end of the fall semester of one’s senior year and, if approved, the student will write the senior thesis in the spring of his or her Senior year.* This option is only open to those who have achieved an A- or above in the seminar that is the jumping-off point for the thesis. 

*Note: Given approval of the department chair and for reasons typically pertaining to an accelerated graduation date or study abroad, the semester that these tasks are accomplished may be adjusted.    


Spring, junior year

  1. **Before April registration, chair distributes information to all junior majors about the senior thesis.
  2. **In April, interested students talk with individual faculty members and/or the department chair to identify a thesis advisor. 
  3. Students/advisors begin to focus topic.
  4. **Students who have not already written a major A or A- paper in a 300-level seminar on the chosen topic for the senior thesis will need to register in April either for an appropriate 300-level seminar or for an independent study (RE or PH371) to be taken in the fall.
  5. **Students will also need to register to take LI 371 in the fall if they have not already taken LI 371 or 372.
  6. May: faculty reconfirm with students, discuss any work to be done over the summer, and advise students to order books that they will need at the start of the fall semester so time isn’t wasted in the fall.

Fall, senior year

  1. First week of classes: Reconfirm intent with faculty. During the drop/add period, student reconfirms his/her commitment to a thesis and meets at the end of the first week to work out the schedule for meetings and readings (including a rough written schedule); any remaining books are ordered.
  2. **Meetings to explore the subject with the aim of focusing a topic by Thanksgiving.
  3. **In early November, students register for PH or RE 376 for spring (a student can drop this during drop/add week in January if later s/he decides against doing a thesis).
  4. Literature search on thesis topic during October/November in the context of taking LI 371, if not previously taken.
  5. End of October: students present brief descriptions of their topic to the department for feedback and guidance.
  6. November 15: first draft of thesis proposal due to advisor. The proposal should sketch out the following:
    i) The problem, issue, or theme that the thesis will explore.
    ii) Situate the thesis in terms of scholarly work on the subject.
    iii) Explain why this problem, issue, or theme is important and what about the thesis will add to our understanding of this problem, issue, or theme.
    iv) How the thesis will explore this problem, issue, or theme (introduction to methodology)
    iv) What the form of the final project will be.
    v) Explain how the thesis will approach the topic step-by-step using (i) and (iii) as a guide and taking care to explain what each section does and how each section compliments the one before and after it in terms of building the argument.
    vi) Timeline for completion, allowing time for multiple drafts
    vii) Primary- and secondary-source bibliography, annotated to show how each source informs the argument of the thesis.

  7. Monday before Thanksgiving: revised proposal due to advisor; revision process continues.

  8. **December 1: final thesis proposal (including bibliography) due to advisor and chair; chair distributes proposals to all faculty.

  9. **December 1–10: department meeting to discuss, approve/reject, and provide feedback on thesis proposals; discuss if second readers will be employed and if so, arrange for them.

  10. After approval of proposal, advisor meets with student to convey the faculty’s suggestions and to map out the work to be done during January break.


Students work on theses and enjoy it immensely.

Spring, Senior Year

  1. First week of classes: Faculty meet with students to discuss work done in January and to plan the writing schedule; discuss if student should go ahead with a thesis or drop it, and decide before the end of the drop/add period.
  2. Second week: develop a written schedule of due dates for drafts, revisions, and final drafts of chapters; perhaps a revised proposal topic or even a draft of the introduction to the thesis is due.
  3. **By the third week, the chair confers informally with advisors about the progress and prospect of the thesis.
  4. **Weekly (perhaps bi-weekly) meetings to discuss drafts and revisions of chapters.
  5. Discussion of architectonic of the thesis, transitions between chapters, thesis statement, introduction, conclusion, and scholarly form.
  6. Monday before spring vacation: Draft of substantial chunk of the thesis, including introduction and thesis statement, is due to the advisor; faculty return draft to student before vacation and discuss the work that will be done during vacation.
  7. **Second Monday after vacation: Complete draft due to advisor; advisor give progress report to the chair; if a complete draft has not been turned in at this time, the advisor and chair discuss how to proceed, such as sending an unsatisfactory work notice to the student, the chair talking with the student, etc.
  8. Second Friday after spring vacation: Thesis students, advisors, and the chair (and any other interested faculty) meet for students to present a progress report to each other about their theses; each student distributes a description of the thesis and its thesis (two pages maximum) to each student, advisor, and the chair; a good time is had by all.
  9. Within a week after the progress reports, the chair confers informally with advisors about each student’s progress and prospect, including any possible Periclean nomination; chair reminds advisors of Periclean deadline; advisors alert possible nominees about the deadline and plan a realistically impossible schedule for meeting it.
  10. Advisors discuss with students how they will do their thesis presentations. The presentation can take the form of either reading selected sections of the thesis or of presenting a synopsis of the main points and arguments. The presentation will be followed by discussion during which students will be expected to reply to questions and objections. Though not a defense in the strict sense that the grade of the thesis will depend on it, the presentation is considered an indispensable part of the senior thesis experience.
  11. **Chair advertises and invites departmental faculty, majors, and minors to thesis presentations. Typically these are held on a Friday afternoon during the last three weeks of class for the spring semester.
  12. **First Monday in May is the absolute deadline for a final version of the thesis to be due to the advisor for final review (advisors may set an earlier deadline).
  13. **No changes (in form or content) may be made to the thesis after the presentation.