Writing a Senior Honors Thesis & Graduating With High/Highest Honors

Undergraduates are encouraged to take advantage of all the exciting and groundbreaking research taking place here in the UCD Psychology Department.

Graduating with Honors requires a qualifying GPA. The GPA cutoffs represent the top 8-16% of UCD students in the College of Letters & Science. Check the most recent GPA cutoffs HERE.

To graduate with High Honors or Highest Honors, you must complete these steps.

1. Check that you meet the GPA criteria for Honors in the College of Letters & Science.

2. Find a faculty sponsor.

3. Take PSC 194HA and 194HB. During this time, conduct your research and write your thesis.

4. Submit your thesis.


How do I find a faculty sponsor?

A faculty sponsor can be any faculty member in the Psychology Department. See a complete list, along with faculty research interests HERE. Here are some ideas about who to ask:
  • If you are a research assistant, ask your Primary Investigator (PI).
  • Consider PSC courses that you loved and who taught them.
  • Read about faculty research interests and approach a faculty member who shares your interests.

How do I get units for my thesis?

Writing an Honors thesis is a year-long commitment, and these courses (6 units total) account for the work you dedicate to your thesis. PSC 194HA and 194HB are taken separately during two quarters of your senior (or final) year.

I don’t meet the Honors criteria. Can I still write a thesis?

If you have a potential faculty sponsor, then maybe.
  • You and your potential sponsor should discuss your research interests, why you desire to do write a thesis, and the level of commitment involved to determine if a thesis is right for you.
  • If you and your sponsor agree to proceed, you would earn units via PSC 199, instead of PSC 194HA/HB.
  • If you do not do a thesis, check out the Undergraduate Research Center (URC) for ideas about other ways to present your research, such as the Undergraduate Research Conference.

What kind of research does a thesis involve?

To obtain High or Highest Honors, you must complete an original empirical investigation designed and executed by you.
  • It’s more than a literature review
  • It should emulate a scientific journal article (e.g. the APA journal)
  • Collaboration is permitted, but you must be the first author and primary investigator
                      • Only one person can gain credit for a single thesis
                      • Your thesis should be primarily your contribution and ideas
                      • Using a grad student’s existing project is NOT appropriate
                      • Basing a new experiment on existing work is permitted and must show evidence of your input and ideas

Honors vs. High/Highest Honors

What is the difference between Honors, High Honors, and Highest Honors?
  • Students can graduate with honors based solely on their GPA. Check the most recent GPA cutoffs HERE.
  • High or Highest Honors is based on the quality of your thesis, see below.
  • If a thesis is unacceptable, or if no thesis is submitted at all, and you meet the Honors GPA, you will earn Honors.

Who will be reading my thesis?

Your faculty sponsor and a committee of other Psychology faculty will evaluate your thesis. The Honors thesis advisor will administer the review of your thesis.

When is my thesis due and how do I submit it?

Your thesis is due no later than the last day of instruction of the quarter you filed to graduate. Follow these submission instructions:
  • Save your thesis as a PDF. The file name should be [Last Name]HonorsThesis.pdf (e.g. GarciaHonorsThesis.pdf).
  • Complete an Honors Thesis Cover Sheet, and save as a PDF. The file name should be [Last Name]CoverSheet.pdf (e.g. GarciaCoverSheet.pdf). Your sponsor’s comments and recommendation should be sent separately by your sponsor directly to Joy Geng (jgeng@ucdavis.edu).
  • Submit BOTH your thesis and cover sheet via email to the Honors thesis advisor, Joy Geng at .

How will my thesis be graded?

Each thesis is read and evaluated by a committee of Psychology faculty at the end of the quarter in which you filed to graduate. The committee will apply objective evaluation criteria to all submitted theses, and they will also consider your sponsor’s recommendation.

Attributes of a “Highest Honors” thesis:

  • Well-written with a clearly described problem that is addressed throughout the thesis
  • Ample evidence of original work in the form of new data collection and/or new analyses addressing a problem in the literature
  • A statistical approach suitable for the problem at hand
                      • Sufficient quality of data and sample size to show convincing positive or negative effects, with many appropriate controls
                      • The data should provide clear and unambiguous support for the main conclusions in the discussion
  • Findings reported in context of relevant literature
  • Final product should be at least 70% ready for submission to a respected low- to mid-impact journal in your field
  • Sample theses that received Highest Honors are available online here: 2006; 2011.

Attributes of a “High Honors” thesis:

  • Some of the “Highest Honors” thesis qualities remain true, but not all.
                      • Thesis addresses an interesting and novel problem but some relevant control conditions are lacking, thereby complicating interpretations
                      • Evidence of new data collection and/or analyses but insufficient in quality or sample size, thereby complicating interpretations
                      • Analyses make use of appropriate statistical techniques some of the time
                      • The data supports some aspects of the interpretation but not all
                      • Findings sometimes reported in context of relevant literature, but other work may be missing or overlooked
  • Final product should be compelling and novel, but may not be ready for publication any time soon

Not High/Highest Honors quality:

  • Significant flaws
                      • No evidence of original data collection and/or analyses
                      • Poorly defined problem with minimal controls and analyses to address it
                      • Insufficient data quality or sample size to address the problem in any meaningful way
  • Misunderstanding of issues basic to the field that renders the thesis difficult to interpret and problematic
  • Final product is not a passable thesis

I read everything and am still confused.

The advising staff and the thesis advisor can help with additional questions.
Additional samples are available in the Advising Office in 101 Young Hall.