SMU Department of Political Science

Departmental Distinction

The Department offers selected undergraduate majors an opportunity to undertake a special program of study and research, as a candidate for award of the B.A. or B.S. degree with Department Distinction.  This program affords an appropriate scholarly challenge and reward to outstanding students in the Department.

Criteria for Department Distinction are:

  1. A minimum 3.0 over-all grade point average at graduation.
  2. A minimum 3.5 average in courses taken for the Political Science major.
  3. Preparation for a departmental distinction thesis under the supervision of a faculty distinction thesis advisor.  The faculty advisor’s grade for the thesis must be A-minus or higher.  This work will be accomplished by taking PLSC 4307, and will be in addition to all other requirements for the Political Science major.
  4. A minimum 3.5 average in at least two advanced courses related to the topic of the thesis; one of these may, but need not, be a course taken outside the requirements of the Political Science major.
  5. Passing “with distinction” an oral examination of at least one hour, conducted by a faculty distinction examination committee, which reviews the candidate’s thesis and major curriculum.

A departmental member volunteering to serve as distinction thesis advisor will: 

  1. recommend the student’s request for admission to candidacy and accept the candidate into PLSC 4307;
  2. advise the student on developing a topic and thesis on research methods, and on writing the thesis;
  3. assure that the student makes regular progress toward completing the thesis, or withdraws from PLSC 4307;
  4. schedule the oral examination;
  5. arrange with the Department Chairman or designated representative for appointment of a distinction examination committee, not later than two weeks prior to the candidate’s oral examination;
  6. assure that the student submits sufficient copies of the thesis (including the original typescript) for members of the examination committee, no later than one week prior to the oral examination;
  7. chair the oral examination and submit a report of examination results signed by each member (see evaluation form, Attachment 2); and
  8. assign a grade for PLSC 4307.

The distinction examination committee shall consist of the thesis advisor (chair), at least one other departmental faculty member, and any other faculty member the candidate wishes to invite (if from outside the Department, invited faculty shall be non-voting members). 

The committee will:   

  1. examine the student orally, for at least one hour, on the topic, research and arguments of the thesis and on other topics that are relevant to the student’s major curriculum; and
  2. evaluate and report the results of the oral examination to the Department chairman or designated representative, in writing.

The Department Chair or designated representative will: 

  1. assure that outstanding students are afforded the opportunity to meet distinction criteria;
  2. approve the student’s request for admission to candidacy;
  3. assure that each candidate is registered in PLSC 4307 with the appropriate distinction thesis advisor;
  4. assure the examination committees are appointed early enough to complete all oral examinations prior to the semester’s final examinations;
  5. review the complete evaluation forms; and
  6. report to the Dean the names of all students who successfully meet criteria for Departmental Distinction.

Oral Examination

The oral examination will last at least one hour.  Each member of the committee will have an opportunity to examine the candidate on topics relevant to the thesis and the student’s major curriculum.  All oral examinations for Departmental Distinction must be completed before the first day of the semester’s final examination period.

Departmental Distinction Thesis

The departmental distinction thesis must be written under the guidance of a full-time member of the Political Science faculty.  Research for the preparation of the thesis must be accomplished by taking PLSC 4307, with the thesis advisor as instructor of record; this work must be in addition to all other requirements for the Political Science major.

Standards of scholarship in researching and writing the thesis must exceed those displayed in writing regular course term papers.  The specific topic, thesis, research methods and organization of the thesis must be approved by the thesis advisor.

The finished thesis must be submitted to the advisor at least one week ahead of the scheduled oral examination, including the original typescript and sufficient copies for members of the examination committee.  The original typescript copy will be retained in departmental files for at least five years following the student’s completion of graduation.

Evaluation and Grading 

The distinction thesis advisor will assign a regular letter grade for PLSC 4307, reflecting the advisor’s judgment of the quality of work done in developing, researching and writing the thesis. If the advisor has not determined a grade for PLSC 4307 prior to the oral examination, and anticipates that the grade may fall below A-minus, the examination committee should be so informed; the committee may then, by unanimous vote only, decide not to conduct the examination.

The distinction examination committee, by unanimous agreement of its voting members, will report in writing whether the student has (or has not) passed the examination “with distinction.”  The committee’s decision should reflect members’ judgments on the quality of the thesis, of the student’s defense, and of the student’s responses to questions on other relevant topics.

The Department Chairman or designated representative will review the report of the committee and other evidence on the evaluation form, consulting as needed with the thesis advisor, and will make the final decision on whether the student has met all criteria for Departmental Distinction.

If the examining committee recommends against distinction, it shall report the reasons in writing to the Department Chairman or designated representative.  No decision to deny distinction will be entered in the student’s permanent file or transcript; but a grade for PLSC 4307 must be reported to the Registrar.