Honours Thesis Handbook

St. Francis Xavier University
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Honours Students Handbook for 2020-21 (pdf)


The Department of Political Science has introduced significant changes to its programs and regulations over the last two years to strengthen its curriculum and offer new opportunities to students. The programs and regulations outlined in this Handbook are in effect for all new students who entered StFX in the current 2020-21 academic year. For continuing students who entered StFX in a previous year, any new regulations introduced subsequent to their admission into StFX apply to them only in the most advantageous way: they can choose to take advantage of them or be grandfathered from them. Continuing students who opt to be grandfathered are subject to the departmental regulations specified in the Academic Calendar of the year of their admission into StFX—e.g., if you entered StFX in 2018, the applicable degree requirements are found in the 2018-19 Academic Calendar. A summary of all new regulations introduced over the previous two years is provided below:


New Regulation



  • Major, advanced majors, joint majors, and joint advanced majors: 3 credits of PSCI 397 or 399
  • Honours and honours with subsidiary: 6 credits of PSCI 397 and 399
  • Applied to students who entered StFX in 2020-21 or thereafter
  • Grandfathered for students who entered StFX in 2019-20 or earlier


  • Majors, joint majors, advanced majors, and joint advanced majors: 9 credits of 200-level subfield survey courses; 18 credits of PSCI at the 300 level or above
  • Honours and honours with subsidiary: 12 credits of 200-level subfield survey courses
  • All degree programs: optional subfield concentrations in political theory, Canadian politics, comparative politics, and international relations
  • Applied to students who entered StFX in 2019-20 or thereafter
  • Grandfathered for students who entered StFX in 2018-19 or earlier
  • Optional concentrations available to all students



Research Areas

Don Abelson (Professor, Hudson Chair in Canada-US Relations & BMIG Director)

International Relations Comparative Politics

Canada-US relations, American politics, US foreign policy, think tanks, public policy

Nathan Allen (Assistant Professor)

Comparative Politics International Relations

Political economy, public opinion, institutions, methods

Jim Bickerton (Professor & Coordinator of PGOV)

Canadian Politics

Federalism, regionalism, regional development, parties & elections

Youngwon Cho (Associate Professor & Department Chair)

International Relations Comparative Politics

International political economy, financial globalization, international institutions, East Asia

Yvon Grenier (Professor)

Comparative Politics

Latin American politics (Cuba, Mexico, Central America), Canada-Latin America relations, art & politics

Jamie Levin (Assistant Professor)

International Relations Political Theory

International security, disarmament, Arab-Israeli relations

Lavinia Stan (Professor)

Comparative Politics

Transitional justice, religion & politics, European politics

Gabrielle Daoust (Assistant Professor (Limited Term))

International Relations

International security, development, African politics

Ryan McKinnell (Assistant Professor (Limited Term))

Political Theory, Canadian Politics

History of political thought, Canadian constitutional order, political ethics

Department of Political Science
Honours Thesis Handbook (pdf version)

As a fourth‑year Honours student in Political Science, your major projects will be your Thesis. You should register in Political Science 490, a six‑credit course, in your senior year. As with any other course, your mark for 490 reflects not just the “paper” (the thesis) but the whole year’s research and writing effort. Therefore, fulfilling the deadlines, meeting regularly with your advisor and regularly submitting chapters for comment are all factors in the final grade. It is important to think of the thesis project as a full year endeavour, beginning at the end of your third year and culminating at the end of your senior year. In fact, one of the keys to success is to spread your efforts across all twelve months. The discussion below will sketch out the various stages of work involved, and give you a calendar of key dates. Samples of theses may be provided if you wish - please ask your advisor or the department secretary.

What is a thesis, and how does it differ from a conventional research paper?

An Honours Thesis is an exploration of a more complex topic than can normally be handled in a research paper. Inevitably, this leads to a more extended study. The Political Science Department “Procedures” statement (appended below) suggests an overall length of 12,000 to 18,000 words, or 50 to 75 pages. But more than length alone, the thesis project is distinguished by the need for a disciplined, multi-stage investigation of a subject. Thus a thesis is composed of a series of chapters, each addressing a necessary element of the total picture. Taken together, these chapters complete your investigation in a rounded fashion. Once your overall approach has been settled, you might think of thesis work as a series of related research papers to be completed over the academic term.

How to settle on a topic and find a Supervisor:

During your third year, you should feel free to drop in on any members of the Department to discuss potential thesis ideas. You may have some areas of interest, or you may be looking for suggestions. This is an informal process: talk to as many Faculty members as you wish, ask for suggestions about topics and possible supervisors. This will also help you visualize how a “topic” can be transformed into a researchable thesis question. If in doubt, the Department Chair will point you toward potential supervisors in different subject areas. It is important that you sort out your thesis topic and advisor before leaving the campus at the end of your third year, as you must prepare and submit a draft thesis proposal to the Department Research Ethics Committee (DREC) by 15 May, to meet any research ethics requirements that your thesis may entail. Ultimately, the Department will confirm with you who your supervisor will be, either before the end of your junior year or early in your senior year.

First steps:

By the end of April in your junior year, you should have settled on a topic and a supervisor. The next step is to prepare a draft thesis proposal (following discussions with your supervisor), which outlines a preliminary plan for your subject, approach, proposed chapters and content, a short preliminary bibliography, and a research ethics statement. In order to visualize the end result of the project, you may wish to examine completed thesis works from past years - these may be borrowed from the Secretary’s office in Mulroney Hall 4047. There are two stages to proposal submission: a draft proposal to clear research ethics requirements, and a final proposal. The draft proposal is due on 15 May, to be submitted to the Department Chair and your advisor by email. The Chair will forward the proposal to the DREC, which will review it and report back to the Chair concerning any research ethics approval requirements. The draft proposal should reflect your discussions with the thesis supervsor and should amount to a workable thesis plan. A final thesis proposal, revised based on your supervisor's feedback, is due for submission to both your supervisor and the Chair during the first week of classes at the beginning of September.

Managing the Workload

Given the nature of the thesis as a year-long project, it is imperative that you manage your time wisely and efficiently, so as to ensure that your workload is spread out relatively evenly throughout the year rather than tilting heavily toward the second term. There is more to your thesis than just researching your topic and writing your initial drafts. Equally important are the revisions that you will need to make, based on your supervisor's feedback and comments, to improve your thesis and bring it to its final version. This process of revision can be highly time-consuming, requiring your focused attention and sometimes even a fundamental rethinking of your plan for the thesis. To allow sufficient time for ths process and other requirements in the second term, you should have the draft version of the first two chapters of your thesis completed and submitted by the end of the Fall term. A mid-year progress report on your work is due for submission to the Chair and supervisor when classes resume in January.

How the thesis is graded:

A draft of your completed thesis is due for submission in mid-March. It will then be read by your supervisor and by a second reader (a Political Science Faculty member). They will meet to discuss the final grade, which must be submitted to the university's registrar along with other final grades. The second reader may or may not provide you with written comments on your thesis. As stated previously, the thesis mark represents an evaluation of the whole year’s research and writing effort.

The Thesis Presentations:

Toward the end of the second term, the Department convenes a seminar to enable thesis writers to present the results of their work to a general audience of fellow students and faculty. Traditionally these sessions have been quite informal, aimed at giving researchers an opportunity to take 15-20 minutes each to describe the topic, approach, key findings and conclusions. This presentation is not included in the grading process.

At the end:

Following the grading process, your draft thesis will be returned to you. Any corrections or revisions can be done at this time, and a final hard copy must be submitted to the Department Assistant along with a disc/electronic copy (editable). This will be bound and placed in the Department's collection of honours theses.

Preparing a Thesis Proposal

This is your first attempt to define a topic, an approach, and a set of stages for the inquiry (chapters). After discussions with your supervisor, you need to set down a preliminary statement of the project. This is useful for a number of reasons. It provides you with an ongoing guideline for the sequence of activities to be tackled. It also gives you a standard against which you can measure your progress through the year. Furthermore, it can be a useful reminder of the “big picture” at times when you are immersed in the fine detail of researching or writing any one chapter. Preparing the bibliography offers useful information about those materials which are available locally, as opposed to those that must be obtained through InterLibrary Loan. Since it is wise to allow at least two weeks between ILL orders and receipts of material, the bibliography will help you schedule these orders to best advantage.
Obviously, the structure of the thesis may evolve over the course of the year, as you and your supervisor discuss the draft results. But this does not take away the crucial role of this early planning exercise.


1. Your name and student number

2. The name of your thesis supervisor

3. Proposed title of thesis

This is your suggested working title. It is often difficult to find the exact phrase to reflect the subject, but wrestling with this problem can be very profitable in clarifying your intentions.

4. Statement of topics

Identify the subject, the question, or the problem you seek to explore, and your proposed approach. In a paragraph or two, outline your objectives for the thesis, and sketch out the relevant dimensions.

5. Proposed table of contents

In a paragraph each, map out the purpose and the subject matter for each proposed chapter. This divides your project into a series of stages, whose sequence will guide the discussion from beginning to end. It may be helpful to think of each chapter as the equivalent of a research paper (approx. 10-15 pages). Please include tentative chapter titles.

4. Bibliography

Compile a preliminary bibliography, listing relevant books, articles, government publications, internet sources, etc. Update and expand your bibliography as the work progresses. 

KEY DATES, 2020-21

Initial Meeting of Honours Students & Chair

April 2020

Draft Thesis Proposal to Chair & Supervisor for DREC

15 June 2020

Final Thesis Proposal to Chair & Supervisor

14 September 2020

Draft of First Chapter to Supervisor

31 October 2020

Draft of Second Chapter to Supervisor

31 December 2020

Progress Report to Chair & Supervisor

11 January 2021

Draft of Remaining Chapter(s) to Supervisor

22 February 2021

Complete Draft to Supervisor

15 March 2021

Oral Presentation of Thesis

Tentatively, 26 March 2021

Final Revised Version of Thesis

12 April 2021


Preparing the Progress Report

The January progress report is meant to inform the Chair and the Department of what you accomplished during the Summer and Fall terms in terms of researching and writing your thesis, and to explain what additional steps you need to take in order to bring the thesis to a successful completion. The report gives you the opportunity to reflect on where you stand in terms of thesis completion, and take additional steps to meet subsequent deadlines.

Elements of the Progress Report

The progress report should include the following:

1. Your name and the name of your supervisor

2.  Proposed title of the thesis

3.  A brief description of the thesis topic and argument

4.  A summary of what you've accomplished so far (which chapters were completed, which other information you gathered for which other chapters)

5.  A summary of what you plan to do during the Winter term (which chapters still require your attention).



(May, 1991; Amended 2011, 2017)


¨ Honours theses in the Department of Political Science must be between 10,000 and 18,000 words in length (50 -75 pages).
¨ Complete drafts will be submitted to the Thesis Supervisor no later than the end of March.
¨ Theses will be evaluated and given a final grade by the Supervisor and a Second Reader jointly. Grades and reports on each thesis will be submitted to the Chair of the Department before the deadline for final grades.
¨ Honours theses should demonstrate sufficient sensitivity to the literature, critical skill, familiarity with library and other research tools, writing ability, and ability to organize a large block of material to earn at least a 70 in a 400 level Political Science course.
¨ Selection of a topic for an honours thesis will normally be made in consultation with faculty during the academic year preceding that in which the student is to graduate. The final version of the thesis proposal must be registered with the Department Chair by the end of the first  week of classes of the senior year. Students will present a written progress report to the Supervisor and Departmental Chairperson during the first week of the winter term.
¨ Second Readers should be designated early in the second term. As well as contributing to evaluation of the thesis and the determination at a final grade, Second Readers will have the option of providing written comments to the Supervisor and student. The Supervisor will convey the final grade assessment to the student.
¨ Honours students will present the results of their work to a Department seminar organized for this purpose between the deadline for submission of final drafts and the end of classes. 

List of previous theses (available for consultation - see faculty advisor) 

SENIOR PAPERS (Advanced Majors) 

¨ Senior papers are a requirement for the Advanced Major degree in the Department of Political Science.
¨ Senior papers should be approximately 6,000 words in length.
¨ Senior papers will be done in the fourth and/or final year of the student's program of studies, in conjunction with the senior seminar. It is your responsibility to inform your seminar professor that you are an advanced major student and that you are planning to write your senior paper in this class.
¨ The topic of the senior paper will be determined through consultation between the student and the Seminar Instructor, who is responsible for supervising and evaluating the Senior Paper

Ethics Approval: Undergraduate Research Projects

Ethics approval is required for all undergraduate research with human participants

Honours Students: In accordance with Tri-Council policy, all honours students' research with human participants must be approved by the University Research Ethics Board. Once the Department of Political Science Research Ethics Board (REB) completes its review of such files, the Coordinator of the Departmental REB, on behalf of the student, forwards the file to the University REB for final deliberation and approval. This two-part process is intended to recognize departmental expertise in subject areas and to meet the Tri-Council guidelines. The StFX REB does not wish to delay honours students' research, so every effort will be made to review these projects in an efficient manner. However, special attention will be paid to research projects involving high risk and/or particularly vulnerable groups of participants.

Other Undergraduate Research: Ethics approval for other undergraduate research and for course-based research will continue to be reviewed at the departmental level only.

Students are required to complete the “StFX Research Ethics Board Application”, available: http://www.mystfx.ca/research-ethics-board/forms-and-templates

For additional information of the University REB, please refer to:   https://www.mystfx.ca/research-ethics-board/

Please submit completed forms and attachments to:

Human Participants Review Committee, Research Ethics Board
Department of Political Science
Email:  ycho@stfx.ca