GSF Honors Thesis / Graduation with Distinction

Graduation with Distinction is a term that accords recognition to students who have excelled in both Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies coursework and a completed GSF thesis project developed over the final year and a half of study. Pursuing Graduation with Distinction in the Program in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies is separate from graduating with Latin Honors from Duke University.

GSF majors pursue Graduate with Distinction because writing a thesis project offers an opportunity to individually study in great depth a topic that a student began to explore in coursework and to develop a mentoring relationship with the faculty member(s) who supervise and guide the student. As a student pursues their ideas in depth, they place themselves in conversation with scholars who have also pursued the topic. In addition to being prestigious, success in this rigorous process indicates a distinct level of commitment, diligence, and accomplishment to graduate and professional programs as well as to employers. Students often feel an enormous sense of accomplishment in deeply pursuing a question of interest and grappling with the difficulties and possibilities of the writing process. They in addition become familiar with the fields and conversations that constitute gender, sexuality, and feminist studies.

Students seeking to write an honors project in GSF must meet the following threshold requirements:
  • be a declared GSF major who has completed GSF 199: Thinking Gender: An Introduction to Feminist Theory no later than the end of the Junior/Third Year (sixth term);
  • have completed two to three additional GSF core courses (typically taught at the 300 level) by the end of the Junior/Third year (six terms); and
  • have a minimum GPA of 3.3 in all Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies courses that count for the major by the end of the Junior/Third year (six terms).

NOTE: Students who do not meet one of these requirements may make a case for an exception in writing to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, who has discretion to grant such an exception in consultation with relevant faculty.

In addition to the threshold requirements, a junior must discuss their tentative plans with their GSF advisor or the GSF Director of Undergraduate Studies no later than the middle of spring term.

This faculty member will advise them on approaching a potential thesis advisor, typically a core faculty member in Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies, or occasionally an associated member of the GSF faculty. A professor is more likely to agree to such a serious commitment of mentorship if the student has already completed at least one course with them and demonstrated promise for success in an honors project through their intellectual curiosity, openness to feedback, ability to revise and rewrite, ability to identify the stakes of an argument, and ability to balance close reading and analysis with larger questions of relevance in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies.

The Honors Thesis Application

The honors thesis online application is due by April 1st of junior year to the Director of Undergraduate Studies of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies. This deadline may be extended in situations where a student meets with the DUS to make a case. Within the online application, please upload your written research proposal and a bibliography of approximately 1,500 words that fulfill recognized academic citation requirements; multiple universities offer online guidelines for preparing a research proposal and bibliography, including this one:   

In addition, an email is required from the potential thesis advisor affirming their commitment to supervising the project on the basis of its relative merits and the student’s potential for success. This letter should be sent directly to the GSF Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Students Accepted into Part I of the GSF Honors Program 

  • Are expected to enroll in a GSF honors independent study course with the thesis advisor for fall of senior year (GSF 493).
  • Are expected to complete preliminary library or other research work in the summer before the senior year, typically a literature review or field or archival research guided by the instructions of the primary thesis advisor. Note: The faculty supervisor is expected to meet with the mentee at the end of spring to agree in writing on the nature of the summer work.
  • Are expected to submit to the thesis supervisor a written summary of the summer research, including findings and logistical, methodological or intellectual questions that have arisen by early SeptemberNote: The faculty supervisor is expected to meet with the student by mid-September to provide feedback and direction and agree on a written work and meeting plan for the remainder of the fall term. The focus of research is often reoriented or sharpened in this meeting.
  • Are expected to submit one chapter draft of the thesis and one other written assignment by early December of senior year – one of the chapter drafts fulfills the requirement for a research paper in the fall GSF Senior Seminar, whose instructor provides assignment guidelines applicable to all GSF seniors, and the second assignment is written for the Independent Study with the thesis advisor. These may be drafts of two body chapters, the introduction chapter and a body chapter, or a chapter and an additional extended writing assignment completed with the advisor.
  • Are evaluated by mid-December by the thesis advisor to determine whether they will continue in the honors program based on the quality and substance of work submitted by early December and their commitment to continue. The thesis advisor will consult with the instructor of the Senior Seminar and the Director of Undergraduate Studies before finalizing this determination.
  • Will receive a grade from the thesis supervisor for quality of work completed in fulfillment of the requirements in GSF 493 that is finalized in December or the following May, depending on when the research project is completed.  If the research project is completed in May, the thesis supervisor will enter an interim "Z" grade for GSF 493 until it is replaced by a final grade.
  • Are encouraged to work with the thesis advisor to solicit a second faculty reader, preferably from a different discipline, at any point in the process, and expected to consult with them no later than mid-December.

NOTE: Students who do not meet one of the above expectations may make a case for an exception in writing to the Director of the Honors Program, who has discretion to grant such an exception in consultation with relevant faculty.

Students Invited to Continue in Part II of the GSF Honors Program

  • Are expected to enroll in a GSF honors independent study course with the thesis advisor in spring of senior year (GSF 494). Notes: The faculty supervisor is expected to meet with the mentee to agree in writing on expectations for spring; only one of the two independent study courses completed for GSF honors may count toward the ten courses to complete the GSF major.
  • Are expected to complete a thesis by early April based on original research and engagement with relevant scholarly sources. A common model is three body chapters and an introduction and conclusion. The final work should be informed by relevant gender and sexuality theories and scholarship. If the thesis is an extended academic paper, the introduction and body chapters are usually each in the range of 5,000 to 7,000 words in length. The conclusion chapter is typically shorter, about 5 to 10 double-spaced pages. Students pursuing theses that include unconventional research outputs, such as creative or artistic works, performances, and digital exhibits, should consult with their thesis advisor early in the process about how best to present their scholarship as a thesis.
  • Are expected to present their work in a public forum in April.

Library Resources for Honors Students

The Duke Libraries have a website describing resources available to students completing an honors project: GSF students are encouraged to early in the process review archival sources relevant to their interests available at the The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture on West Campus: Students are encouraged to set up a meeting with a staff member to learn what might be available that is relevant to their interests.  

Final Evaluation

  • The final thesis will be evaluated by a three-person committee consisting of the thesis advisor, the second reader, and the DUS. If the DUS is either the thesis advisor or the second reader, the third committee member will be the Department Chair.  (In the case that both the DUS and Chair are involved as advisor or reader, a third member of the GSF core faculty will serve as a committee member).  This committee will evaluate the thesis, agree on a grade, and file a brief written assessment of its merits with the DUS based on the Honors Rubric.
Download GSF Honors Rubric (docx - 33.67 KB)


  • Students who have continued to be successful in GSF courses and completed a thesis that earned a B+ or above will be awarded one level, Distinction.
  • Theses of extraordinary quality will be considered for a GSF Honors Thesis Distinction Prize. This prize may be awarded to more than one thesis or to no thesis in a given year.
  • No later than fall of Junior year -- complete GSF 199: Thinking Gender: An Introduction to Feminist Theory.
  • No later than spring of Junior year – complete two to three additional GSF core courses (typically taught at the 300 level).
  • No later than mid-spring semester of junior year -- discuss tentative plans with the GSF (regular) advisor, or the GSF Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS).
  • No later than the bookbagging period in spring of junior year – meet with potential thesis advisor(s).
  • By April 1 of junior year – Submit the honors thesis application (see Nomination Requirements and Application for instructions and portal).
  • By May 1 of junior year – Assuming the application is approved, meet with the thesis advisor to agree on written summer research workplan.
  • No later than June 1 between junior and senior year – If the research involves “human subjects,” contact the IRB office at Duke to determine if their approval is required or if the research is “exempted.” If it is not, submit an application for IRB approval immediately. Details here: Under the FORMS menu item, use the option for research conducted by undergraduates.
  • Summer before senior year – complete literature review or field/archival research based on the advanced guidance of thesis advisor.
  • By mid-September of senior year – submit work from summer to the thesis advisor and meet with them for discussion, feedback, and to plan the remainder of the term.
  • By early December of senior year – Submit two chapter drafts to the thesis advisor and the Honors Program Director: the paper written in the Senior Seminar and the paper written within the Independent Study sponsored by the thesis advisor.
  • By mid-December of senior year – Work with the thesis advisor to solicit a faculty reader.
  • By mid-January of senior year – Meet with thesis advisor to make a workplan agreement for the remainder of the term.
  • By January 20 of senior year – Submit to the thesis advisor and faculty reader (1) the revised two chapters originally submitted in early December, following instructions for improvement; (2) a third chapter draft (10-15 double-spaced pages); (3) an updated complete, accurate and polished consolidated reference list of all sources used, following a formally recognized academic style; and (4) a two-page document with the working title of the thesis, each chapter title and a 200-300 word abstract of each chapter.
  • By end of January – Student receives written comments from thesis advisor and reader on the submitted material; a substantive meeting with the reader is recommended at this point.
  • March 1 – Draft of entire thesis is due in full to the supervisor and reader.
  • No later than Monday after Spring Recess -- Student receives substantive comments and guidance from the supervisor and reader on the entire thesis.
  • Second Monday in April – Final revised thesis is due to thesis supervisor and reader by attachment for final evaluation.
  • Mid to late April – Public presentation of project(s).
  • No later than third Friday in April – Students are notified of GSF evaluation.
  • No later than May 10 -- Students are required to submit the final approved thesis to the GSF Director of the Honors Program as a PDF attachment saved as "Last Name, First Name GSF Thesis Month Year of Graduation [Blake, Kara GSF Thesis May 2020]". The thesis should include a polished title page (Thesis Title, Full Name of Author, Research Supervisor: Full Name, Reader(s): Full Name(s), "This thesis is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Graduation with Distinction in the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies," Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, Year). The title page is followed by a 300 word labeled "Abstract" and a labeled "Table of Contents." The thesis is expected to meet the highest standards of formal citation and reference quality and completeness.
  • No later than May 20 -- Students are invited to submit the final approved thesis to DukeSpace. To do so, send it as an attachment (in MS Word and PDF) to the GSF DUS. Follow the instructions in the previous bullet point regarding save as, title page, abstract, table of contents, and citation and reference quality.