Watson Institute at Brown University
International Relations


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The Honors Program in International Relations offers outstanding IR concentrators the opportunity to undertake original research and to write a thesis on a pressing global problem as their capstone project. The Honors Program is for students with a passionate interest in an international issue who wish to take on the challenges of a senior thesis.

Students work under the guidance of two faculty advisors while completing two thesis courses senior year.

See University guidelines for honors in a concentration.

Recommendation for Honors

The IR Honors Program is intellectually demanding and time-consuming; students should be willing to devote a substantial part of their senior year to the thesis. Honors applicants must have taken a thoughtful, challenging, sequence of IR courses and demonstrate sufficient background on the topic (through coursework or study abroad, for example). Students are required to demonstrate advanced capacity in a second language in their thesis, through interviews and use of scholarly journals or other original materials. 

Honors is awarded by the College Curriculum Council based on a recommendation by the IR Advisory Committee. Honors is not awarded by the College retroactively. Students who fail to complete their thesis by the IR Program deadline will not receive honors, even if they complete all requirements at a later time.  If a thesis is turned in late but before the end of the term, credit and a grade for the thesis work may still be granted; however, the student will not receive honors.

Completion of the thesis does not assure the granting of Honors. The IR Advisory Committee makes a recommendation on Honors, which is subject to approval from the College Curriculum Council and Brown Faculty vote.

Requirements for a B.A. with Honors in International Relations are:

  1. Two Thesis Courses: Successful completion of two thesis preparation courses, INTL1910 and INTL1920, for a total of 15 IR courses.
  2. Performance in IR: Majority quality grades in the IR concentration. This means that eight of the 14 requirements must have a grade of A or S with a Course Performance Report indicating a grade of A. Courses with a grade of C do not count toward the honors concentration. Students who receive such a grade and want to continue in the honors program must complete an additional course with a grade better than a C to fulfill the IR requirement.
  3. Performance at Brown: Majority quality grades (As or S with a Course Performance Report indicating a grade of A) in all course work done for the B.A. at Brown.
  4. Thesis: An honors quality thesis submitted by the April deadline and judged to be of very high quality by the student's thesis committee -- the primary thesis advisor and the second reader. Both readers must submit a written evaluation of the thesis. In the event of a lack of consensus, a member of the IR Advisory Committee will also evaluate the thesis.
  5. IR Honors Conference: Participation in the IR Honors Conference in May.
  6. Capstone Catalog: A completed entry in the capstone catalog, including a 200 word max abstract of the project and reflective analysis.


The rewards of writing a thesis are broad and far-reaching. Students not only become experts on their subject, but they also get practice in designing research to understand complex problems. They sharpen skills in critical analysis, argumentation, inductive and deductive reasoning; learn how to contextualize their ideas within scholarly and public debates; become more conscientious writers; and practice collaboration through peer review and feedback — all of which are important to academic and non-academic careers. In addition, they must demonstrate innovative thinking and show they are able to work independently and meet deadlines.

Finally, the thesis experience allows a student to get to know, and work closely with, a faculty advisor. For most honors students, the thesis in international relations is one of their most challenging yet most meaningful experiences at Brown. It allows them to draw together and build upon the knowledge, skills, and interests acquired during their undergraduate career.

"The Honors Seminar has probably been the single most important course for my appreciation for and comprehension of IR. There are few, if any, courses that allow you to bring together the many disparate strands—political science, economics, sociology, anthropology—that comprise IR and synthesize them using IR research methods. I have certainly grown as a writer, as a critical thinker, as a researcher, but more than anything I finally feel that I understand the craft of IR. It is something often lost in the shuffle of other classes and it has been critical to my IR experience at Brown to have a course that grounds the work I have been doing for the past three years and gives it meaning."
~ IR Honors Candidate '19

Thesis Courses: INTL 1910, 1920

Students receive credit for the honors thesis by registering for two thesis courses: INTL1910 and INTL1920. Students doing a thesis complete a total of 15 courses plus the language requirement. 

INTL1910 is a mandatory thesis preparation seminar offered in the fall and is open only to students accepted into the honors program. The purpose of the seminar is to provide structure, guidance, and support for IR honors students in the conceptualization, writing, and presentation of original research. The seminar focuses on common skills of analysis such as problem-posing, logic of argumentation, assessing the larger practical and scholarly significance of one’s research, the use of evidence and case selection, research ethics, and formal academic writing. Time and location for INTL1910 are announced in Banner

INTL1920, offered in the spring allows students to receive credit for completing the research and writing of the thesis under the guidance of their faculty advisors. INTL1920 may also include several meetings with the thesis preparation instructor. INTL1920 concludes with the IR Honors Conference in which honors candidates present their research findings to Brown faculty and students in a public forum. 

Note: INTL1910 and INTL1920 must be taken for a grade and are graded separately. The grade for INTL1910 is based on seminar performance and the chapters submitted in December. The grade for INTL1920 is based on the quality of the final thesis.

Students Abroad

Students who study abroad spring semester junior year may apply for admission to the Honors Program but must meet the application deadline. Students in this position should start thinking about a proposal and contact advisors well in advance.

Mid-year Graduates

Mid-year graduates must apply for the Honors Program their 5th semester, as 1st semester Juniors. They undertake the thesis their 6th and 7th semesters, allowing them to complete the Honors course sequence (INTL 1910 & INTL 1920).

Funding for Thesis Research

Funding is available through the IR Program, the Watson Institute, and Brown University to those students who wish to travel to conduct thesis research. Additional information and application instructions can be found on the Funding Opportunities page.

Completion and Credit

Student are notifed of Honors degree recommendations in early May. All students are required to complete an entry in the IR Capstone Catalog to graduate.