Watson Institute at Brown University
International Relations

How to Apply


  1. Sixth semester IR concentrator (fifth semester for mid-year graduates).
  2. Majority quality grades (As or an S with a Course Performance Report indicating a grade of A) in IR courses taken on the Brown campus (excluding language courses and study abroad), of which there must be at least six.
  3. Completed POLS0400 or 200, two additional core courses, and the research methods course prior to senior year.
  4. Majority quality grades in all coursework done for the B.A. at Brown.
  5. Demonstrated preparation: completion of a challenging sequence of coursework on the topic, appropriate methods and second language skills, and writing preparation (WRIT courses and term papers).
  6. Primary Faculty advisor must be unequivocally selected by application deadline. Application must be signed by the primary thesis advisor. Students are strongly encouraged to obtain the signature of the 2nd reader by this time. Students who do not have a 2nd reader by the middle of September, senior year, are unable to continue in the program.
  7. Completed application submitted by the deadline. Late applications are not accepted.


Qualified students should start thinking about their topic and thesis committee well before the application deadline—early in their junior year. Because the thesis is the student's individual research project and not one assigned by a faculty member for a course, students should spend some time formulating a research topic and research question prior to soliciting a thesis advisor. Interested students are also encouraged to discuss their ideas with the honors seminar instructor, the IR directors, and track advisors.

Preparing to write a thesis also includes good planning in terms of coursework. One should avoid leaving core courses to senior year and should seek seminars across the disciplines to fulfill or supplement IR requirements.

Seminars give you not only research and writing practice but also, in the case that a seminar covers a topic related to your thesis, advancement in your knowledge of the topic as well as faculty feedback. The faculty member teaching the class may be an ideal thesis advisor and, indeed, be more likely to so because he or she knows you and your work.

Other considerations come into play as well. Doing a double concentration, studying abroad for more than one semester, and extra-curricular activities can place limitations on your course schedule and planning. Under no circumstances should you write a thesis as a 5th class. Writing an honors-quality thesis typically requires a time commitment equivalent to 1-2 courses/semester.

See Timeline.

The Application

The honors application consists of the following:

1. IR Honors Application Form including the student’s IR concentration courses and grades, a tentative thesis title, and the names and signatures of the faculty committee. Primary advisors must have a PhD and be in residence on the Brown campus for both semesters of the student's senior year. Students who are abroad during the spring semester may submit their application and a statement of commitment by the primary thesis advisor by email (in lieu of signature) to Anita Nester by the due date. Late applications not accepted. 

2. Prospectus: no more than 8 double-spaced pages. Must include subheadings for the following sections:

a) Tentative Thesis Title
b) Research Question/Thesis:  What question(s) does your thesis address? To be accepted you must have a clearly identified research problem. What is your tentative answer to this question? What do YOU think is going on?
 c) Significance: Why do these questions arise – from what scholarly literature and real world events?  Discuss the study’s possible significance to broader theoretical, conceptual, or practical issues in IR. This entails a brief description of the key scholarly work on your topic.
d) Research Design: How will you answer your question? Describe the methods, empirical cases, and sources—including second language sources—and their availability. An honors thesis must make use of original materials and include research in a second language.
e) Preparation:   In specific   terms, describe   your preparation   for this topic through   coursework, study abroad, internships, writing, and language skills. Students are expected to have completed a challenging sequence of coursework on the topic, acquired research methods appropriate to the project, and substantive research and writing experience (WRIT courses).
f) Bibliography:  A preliminary bibliography of sources that you expect to use for this project.  Include any expected need to travel to obtain sources. Be sure to include different types of sources (primary/secondary/books/scholarly articles), including those in a second (non-English) language.

3. Graded writing sample: a 15-­20 page term paper from an IR-‐related course at Brown that best demonstrates your research, writing, and analytic skills.

4. Brown Transcript (student copy) that includes grades from fall semester of junior year.

5. Submit completed application to  Anita_Nester@brown.edu

Application Deadline and Acceptance

The application deadline applies to students on campus as well as to students who are abroad the second semester of their junior year. Students planning on being away for their entire junior year should start investigating topics and identifying potential faculty advisors as soon as possible. Students planning on being abroad only during the spring semester should get started during the fall semester. Students often use their time abroad to conduct thesis research, especially to locate original materials that cannot be found at Brown. Therefore, students should plan ahead if they expect to study abroad.

Students are notified of acceptance to the Honors Program spring semester. The IR Honors Advisory Committee considers the thesis prospectus and performance in the IR concentration along with the student’s potential for independent work of high scholarly caliber. Acceptance into the Honors Program, however, does not guarantee honors.