Senior Thesis: Frequently Asked Questions

What kinds of topics do students explore?

Students writing theses in the department work on a broad range of issues, including health care; migration and refugees; gender and sexuality; photography and material culture; social media and politics. For some students, ethnographic research lies at the core of this project.  Others may choose to work chiefly with documents (popular or mass media, photography, film, digital texts, social networks, etc.). Some students conduct thesis research over the previous summer. Others base their study on a prior study abroad experience, fieldwork methods project, or final paper for a CA class. Alternately, you may certainly choose to work on something completely new.

Why should I write a thesis?

The senior thesis is a chance for you to put your classroom studies to work on something you care deeply about. Many writers attest that the experience is among the most rewarding in the course of their college career. 

Who is eligible to write a thesis?

Qualified juniors will be notified each year by DUS about their eligibility.

Can I join the CA thesis class as an IDM or Program II student?

Yes, with DUS approval.

How does thesis advising work and how do I select an advisor?

When you enroll in the seminar, you will work closely with a faculty advisor to design an independent program of original research culminating in a senior thesis. We encourage you to discuss your ideas with professors who know your work and who can help you think realistically about the feasibility of the research. These prior relationships generate the best advisor-advisee relationships.

What kind of approval is required for my research?

Ethnographic research often entails seeking “human subjects” approval through the Duke IRB, institutional review board. 

Is funding available for summer fieldwork?

Yes, it is available, on a competitive basis, through the Undergraduate Research Support Office.

Who is eligible to write a thesis?

The two-semester senior seminar (CULANTH 498S and 499S) is open to students with an overall 3.0 GPA in their academic record and a 3.3 GPA in the major. Qualified juniors will be notified each year by DUS about their eligibility.

Do thesis writers need to take the two-semester class?

Thesis writers must complete both terms of the course to receive credit. Students who wish to exit the Senior Seminar Distinction Program sequence after completion of 489S, must petition the course instructor, their advisor and the DUS. The student will be given course credit and a final grade given the instructor, their advisor and the DUS determine the student has done adequate work. 

Do thesis writers receive distinction?

The thesis must be judged to be of at least B+ quality by the student’s supervisory committee to receive distinction. In addition, the student must pass an oral examination on the thesis, which is given upon its completion by the supervisory committee. Students must also maintain their requisite GPAs.

How is the thesis evaluated?

The student forms a supervisory committee for the thesis during the fall of the senior year. It should consist of three faculty members who offer the student advice and support in preparing the thesis. At least two of the members must be faculty from the Cultural Anthropology department.

When is the thesis due?

In April of the senior year.

How do I apply? 

If you are interested in writing a thesis and taking the requisite courses (CULANTH 498S and 499S), please submit the following materials (hard copy, in box) to the current DUS in the spring of your junior year: 

  1. A 500-word proposal that outlines the direction of the thesis including topic; central research question; possible findings or hypothesis about the material; designation of the fieldwork site (where relevant) or primary materials that will be used as the basis of this analysis.  Please indicate whether your research will be based on ethnography. 
  2. Provisional bibliography of 10 works (essays or books) that will be drawn on during this project.
  3. Name and signature of the Cultural Anthropology faculty member who has agreed to direct your thesis and mentor you during the writing process.
  4. A one paragraph reference from a Cultural Anthropology faculty member attesting to your preparedness to carry out the thesis (someone other than your advisor for the thesis).