As part of the major in Sociology, students are required to complete a senior thesis under the supervision of the "Senior Thesis Professor" and a "Primary Reader" who has a related scholarly interest. The thesis is seen as a capstone experience for majors in that it allows them both to explore research and analytical skills that they have learned earlier and to develop these skills with direct application. In addition, in the process of research and writing, the student develops new skills for the analysis that grow out of the first-hand research tasks. Finally, the thesis process allows the department to assess how well it is doing in preparing students for critical and creative thinking, and for professional or allied careers using their major.
The topic of thesis research is chosen in consultation between the student and the faculty. Hands-on empirical research is encouraged, sometimes using available data sets -- including those developed through the surveys carried out in the Research Methods course in the department -- and sometimes requiring the full initiation and carrying out of data gathering in the form of a survey, participant observation project, content analysis or other research method.
Senior theses are completed largely during the fall semester of the sociology students' last year at Wittenberg. However, revision tasks normally run into the spring semester, and a presentation of the research paper in a student conference format is carried out in the middle of spring semester. The Senior Thesis Presentation is one of the programs in the departmental colloquium series, so an audience made up of students, faculty and local guests has an opportunity to hear about the studies carried out by the senior majors.
Outstanding and accomplished majors are encouraged to seek to earn department honors in Sociology by preparing a Senior Honors Thesis in place of the regular Senior Thesis. The honors thesis is more extensive and requires completion of a more complex and detailed research paper comparable to those found in journals in the discipline.