A Guide for Thesis Advisors

The following guidelines are provided for faculty who have been asked to serve as thesis advisors for candidates for the Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) degree.

This degree is conferred jointly by the University Honors College (UHC) and the home school of the candidate (e.g., Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, College of General Studies, Swanson School of Engineering, College of Business Administration, School of Nursing, etc.). In most cases the degree title of "Bachelor of Philosophy" replaces the standard bachelor's degree a student would receive, but some schools (e.g., Swanson School of Engineering and School of Nursing) retain the standard degree title jointly conferred by that school and the UHC. Specific questions about the degree title should be referred to David Hornyak in the UHC.

All candidates for the BPhil degree must satisfy the general degree requirements (curricular requirements) and the special degree requirements (independent scholarship).

General degree requirements

Students must complete the degree requirements of their home school and complete a program of study demonstrating that the student has not only met but also exceeded the requirements for a standard undergraduate departmental degree. This includes maintaining a 3.50 cumulative GPA.

In general, it is expected that the student’s curriculum will reflect significant breadth, depth, or focus around a coherent intellectual theme.

Special degree requirements

These requirements are to be met by the completion of a thesis. A student presents and defends his/her thesis before a faculty examining committee selected in conjunction with the thesis advisor. It is the expectation that the thesis advisor provides the student with the same research/scholarship experience as graduate students at the master's level in the thesis advisor's academic discipline and that the final thesis document be of the same caliber as a master's thesis in the discipline.

The UHC divides the progress of a thesis into the following three rough stages:

  • Development of the project;
  • Research and writing of the thesis; and
  • Presentation and examination of the completed thesis.

Development of the project

During this stage the thesis advisor should work closely with the student in developing a research topic and a plan for investigating it. Since the thesis will in many cases be the first substantial piece of independent scholarship the student has produced, the thesis advisor may need to provide the student with general assistance in research methods and strategies; in particular, the advisor should help the student to frame a question of reasonable scope. Moreover, the advisor will be invaluable in assuring that the work the student seeks to undertake is truly independent and of similar caliber to that of a gradaute student at the master's level within the thesis advisor's academic discipline.

The advisor and student should develop a reasonable chronology, setting a number of short- and long-term deadlines for the completion of various stages of the project. This is an especially important role for the advisor since novice researchers may lack reliable intuitions as to the length of time that any particular part of the project is likely to require.

The advisor should take time to review the courses the student has yet to complete and to recommend other courses (within or outside the advisor’s department) that could be of benefit to the student. The advisor should also recommend other faculty with whom the student might consult as the details of the project become clearer. Once the project plan is in place, the student should submit an application to be admitted into BPhil degree candidacy to the UHC.

Research and writing of the thesis

The advisor should be available to meet regularly with the student to evaluate the progress of his or her research, to discuss the problems that inevitably arise, and to provide whatever encouragement or direction proves necessary. These meetings should naturally evolve into regular meetings to review the student’s progress in writing the thesis. At this stage, too, the advisor may suggest that the student pursue additional formal course work in areas where further thought or expertise would be helpful.

It is the advisor’s responsibility to approve the student’s final draft of the thesis as complete prior to review by the examining committee. As previously noted, the thesis should be of similar caliber to that of a graduate thesis (master's level) within the faculty member's academic discipline. If the thesis advisor believes the student will not be able to defend the thesis successfully, the thesis advisor should stop the process at this point and not send a final draft of the thesis document to the examination committee.

Presentation and examination of the completed thesis

Before the student completes the thesis document, the student and advisor should begin to choose an examining committee. The thesis advisor has final authority over the composition of the examining committee. The committee will consist of four faculty members with relevant expertise: the thesis advisor, two University of Pittsburgh examiners, and an additional examiner from another institution within the United States (the external examiner must also be a US citizen). The thesis advisor assumes the role of the committee chair and is responsible for arranging the logistics of the examination.

The UHC provides for the travel expenses and lodging of the outside examiner and provides an honorarium. The outside examiner, as a distinguished visitor to the University, should be available to present a lecture to the appropriate department.

The format for the presentation and examination is similar to that of a master’s or doctoral defense. The student presents an overview of his or her work in a speech open to the public in addition to the examining committee. Following a brief period during which the public may ask questions, the committee examines the candidate privately. The chair of the committee is responsible for dismissing the public and for convening and ending the examination. The chair also has charge of the ETD Approval Form and must secure the signatures of the committee.

Additional information

Thesis advisors may also find useful information on the following webpages:

Thesis Defense and Graduation Procedures

Graduation Checklist (updated every semester)