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Honors Guidelines

Pursuing an Honors Degree in Symbolic Systems at Stanford:

Advice, Guidelines, and Policies for 2013-2014

[updated November 13, 2013 - all deadlines and other dates are subject to change with proper notice]

1. Overview of the Honors Program for Symbolic Systems majors

See also Preparing a Thesis for Symbolic Systems.

Any student pursuing a B.S. degree in the Symbolic Systems Program (SSP) can apply to graduate with honors. Entry into the SSP Honors Program is by application, and admission is based on the following criteria: (a) good academic standing at the time of the application, (b) an academic record indicating that the student is worthy of honors -- generally at least a 3.0 GPA, and (c) submission of an acceptable project proposal. Successful completion of the honors project then leads to a B.S. in Symbolic Systems (with Honors). This is a separate designation from graduation "with Distinction," which is based primarily on grades received in courses for the major, and for which there is no application process. More information and resources regarding honors at Stanford are available at the Undergraduate Academic Life site: Honors at Stanford.

The following is a timetable of milestones for both 2013 SSP honors program graduates and prospective 2013-2014 SSP honors students, with more details given in the sections below. Note that Symbolic Systems is not participating in the Bing Honors College this year due to a decline in SSP student interest in that program in recent years, but it may be possible for a student who has been admitted to the Symbolic Systems Honors Program to join the Honors College of a participating program. If you are interested in this, please apply by the early deadline, and mention that you would like us to try to find an appropriate program.

  • May 21, 2013, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis draft copy for 2012-2013 Firestone/Golden Medal consideration (460-040C)
  • May 28, 2013, before midnight - Early Deadline for 2012-2013 Honors Program, plain ascii files only please (s-y-m-s-y-s---d-i-r-e-c-t-o-r-s-@-l-i-s-t-s-.-s-t-a-n-f-o-r-d-.-e-d-u).
  • Date and time TBA -- Senior Honors Presentations
  • Date TBA (early June 2013) -- SSP honors dinner for 2013 graduates (location TBA)
  • June 12, 2013, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis final copy with two reader approvals for Spring graduation only (460-040C)
  • August 30, 2013, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis final copy with two reader approvals for Summer graduation only (460-040C)
  • September 29, 2013  before midnight -- Late deadline for 2013-2014 SSP Honors Program, plain ascii files only please (s-y-m-s-y-s---d-i-r-e-c-t-o-r-s-@-l-i-s-t-s-.-s-t-a-n-f-o-r-d-.-e-d-u)
  • Autumn Quarter 2013-2014 -- Senior Honors Seminar for students graduating in 2014 (Symsys 191, 2 units, S/NC only)
  • December 13, 2013, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis final copy with two reader approvals for Autumn graduation only (460-040C)
  • March 21, 2014, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis final copy with two reader approvals for Winter graduation only (460-040C)
  • May 20, 2014, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis draft copy for 2013-2014 Firestone/Golden Medal consideration (460-040C)
  • Date & Time TBA -- Senior Honors Presentations, followed by SSP honors dinner for 2014 graduates
  • June 11, 2014, 5 pm -- Deadline for submission of honors thesis final copy with two reader approvals for Spring graduation only (460-040C)

2. What is an acceptable honors project in Symbolic Systems?

Honors projects in SSP have been very diverse, ranging from philosophical analyses to studies involving human subjects to programming/design projects. Many projects combine two or more methodologies, drawing on different disciplines represented within the major. An honors project is an opportunity to pursue work over multiple quarters, often an entire academic year or more. Past theses that have been approved for honors in Symbolic Systems are available for viewing and borrowing in the SSP advising fellows office (Building 460, Room 040A).

Honors in Symbolic Systems requires a project that is connected in some way to the undergraduate program in SSP. The range of possible topics is therefore quite broad. As a rule of thumb, probably any project that fits within one of the four primary departments represented in the core (viz, Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics, and Computer Science) is likely to be acceptable. Topics in closely related fields such as communication, statistics, education, and neuroscience are also likely to be acceptable for an SSP honors project.

Project proposals involving other fields may well be acceptable too, provided that they make connections with issues addressed by the major and that the connections are explained in the honors project proposal. Nonetheless, there are some topics that do not really fit within the broad themes of the major, and students who wish to pursue honors projects on such topics would be advised to apply to one of the other honors programs at Stanford. If you have questions about whether a prospective honors project would be acceptable for SSP honors, feel free to send email to s-y-m-s-y-s---d-i-r-e-c-t-o-r-s@-l-i-s-t-s-.-s-t-a-n-f-o-r-d-.-e-d-u.

3. Finding an advisor and a topic for an SSP honors project

An honors project in SSP generally involves research under the guidance of a project advisor or supervisor. Your primary project advisor should have a teaching appointment at Stanford (consulting and adjunct faculty are okay). S/he does not have to be affiliated with the Symbolic Systems Program directly, but should be able to evaluate whether your final product is worthy of honors in SSP.

There is no one best way to find an honors advisor. For many students, research with a faculty member grows out of a course that the faculty member teaches in which the student is enrolled. Talking to faculty members during their office hours, reading their web sites and descriptions of their research in faculty listings, reading recent research papers and seeking out the authors, getting involved in research early in your Stanford career, and applying for programs like the Sophomore College and SSP Summer Internship Program are all good ways to try to make connections with faculty. For additional advice on getting involved in research as an undergraduate, see the Undergraduate Academic Life web site (

The topic you choose for an honors project is likely to evolve gradually. Some students begin as research assistants on faculty projects during their sophomore and junior years, or as part of a summer internship, and after learning more about the questions and methods of research in a given area they are able to pose a suitable research question for an honors project. Other students develop an idea for a thesis out of coursework or independent reading, and must find a faculty member who is willing to act as an advisor for their honors project.

Research, up through the completion of the honors thesis itself, may be either more or less faculty-directed. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of project, and different norms depending on which field a faculty member is in. You should carefully consider, in consultation with your advisor, which approach will work best for you.

For the honors thesis itself, you will also need a second, qualified person to act as the second reader. See sections 5 and 6 below for more information.

4. Honors Program admission requirements

Applications to the SSP Honors Program for 2013-2014 will be admitted in two rounds -- an early deadline (May 28, 2013) and a later one (September 29, 2013).

To apply to the SSP Honors Program, please send a plain-text (ASCII only, no attachments) message to s-y-m-s-y-s---d-i-r-e-c-t-o-r-s-@-l-i-s-t-s-.-s-t-a-n-f-o-r-d-.-e-d-u before one of the two deadlines above, with the following information:

  • Your name
  • A tentative title for the project
  • Your honors project advisor
  • The name of a second reader for the project
  • A description in the 500-1000 word range of what the objectives and methods of the project are, and research that you have done on it to that point.

Your honors project title, advisor and second reader may change after you have been accepted into the program, but you should notify SSP of these changes.

5. Requirements and deadlines for honors students

The main requirements for honors, once your application has been submitted and approved, are

  1. The completion (and submission to the SSP coordinator's office, 460-040C) of an honors thesis prior to graduation, and
  2. Approval of your final project for honors conferral by both your project advisor and a second reader before the deadline for submitting graduation lists (i.e., by the last day of finals).

The project advisor should be on the faculty at Stanford (consulting/adjunct faculty are okay). The second reader should be a faculty member or other researcher familiar with your general area of inquiry.

During any quarter when you are working on your honors project, you may also sign up for 1-5 units of Symsys 190 (Senior Honors Tutorial) in order to get units and a grade for your thesis work.

Students doing honors projects may also sign up for Symbsys 191 (Senior Honors Seminar) during the Autumn Quarter following admission to the honors program. In the honors seminar, students working on honors projects meet, under the coordinator's leadership, to discuss and present their work. Symsys 191 is offered for 2 units, S/NC only.

Each year, about 10% of senior honors theses across the university receive awards. To be considered for an award for the 2013-2014 academic year, a hard-copy draft of your honors thesis (no electronic submissions) will need to be received in the coordinator's office (460-040C) no later than Tuesday, May 20, 2013 at 5 pm. Honors projects submitted for graduation during any quarter after Spring 2013 (i.e., Summer, Autumn, Winter, or Spring 2013-2014) may be submitted for awards consideration.

Each year, the final Symbolic Systems Forum features presentations by senior honors candidates. Each student completing an honors project is asked to give a 10-minute oral presentation (including questions and discussion) at this event. Students considering doing honors projects in a later year are strongly encouraged to attend. The presentations of honors projects for 2012-2013 will be given on a date and time to be announced. Students who present their work at the forum are invited to the annual SSP honors dinner afterward. A message regarding these end-quarter events will be sent to all students in the SSP Honors Program in the Spring of each year.

A copy of your final honors thesis, signed and approved by both your primary thesis advisor and second reader, must be turned in by the last day of finals during the quarter when you expect to graduate.

See: Preparing a Thesis for Symbolic Systems for more information


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