Thesis and Senior Project Guidelines

Although many senior concentrators in VES do a thesis or a senior project, it is not a requirement, nor is it necessary to be recommended for an honors degree from the department. All senior theses or projects are designated with the course number VES 99* and are ordinarily two-semester projects.

* Except for joint concentrators whose primary concentration is not VES. Joint concentrators enroll in only one senior tutorial but may have two advisers.

Academic Requirements

A thesis or senior project is a serious commitment and is the capstone experience in the department.  During this two semester project, the student meets at scheduled intervals with his or her thesis or senior project adviser to formulate, develop, and ultimately refine their thesis work.  Scheduled into the department calendar are series of dates to serve as checks on the progression of thesis work, which are explained below.

  • A thesis in film must represent the third year of work in film production. 
  • A thesis in video must represent the third year of work in film and/or video.
  • Studio thesis applications should be accompanied by a portfolio of work (CD or printed digital images).

All theses in studio and film/video should also be preceded by a related historical or theoretical course.

Applying for a Thesis

All thesis and senior project proposals must be reviewed by the Honors Board before the project can go forward. Students ordinarily apply to do a thesis or senior project in the term before the work begins, although sometimes applications cannot be made (or approved) until the start of the following term. This can be for a variety of reasons including student or adviser leave of absence, or if the proposed adviser is a visiting faculty member not yet in residence.

Sometimes project proposals will shift significantly from the time of initial application or the Honors Board will recommend that the proposal be re-written. In these cases, students should submit a revised proposal at the start of the following term.

Please consult the academic calendar for application and re-application due dates. Students should not enroll in VES 99 before work or revised work is approved by the Honors Board. The Director of Undergraduate Studies is the course head and signs the study card for all VES tutorials, not the project adviser.

Any student who is unsure about applying for a thesis or senior project, or whether or not they have met department requirements to do a thesis, should set up an appointment with their concentration adviser, Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Manager of Academic Services.

Finding a VES 99 Advisor

A student must find their own project adviser, and ordinarily that is a full-time faculty member in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. Graduate students and faculty from other departments ordinarily do not serve as VES 99 advisers. Sometimes a project adviser will be a visiting faculty member who is not in residence until the following academic year. In this case, the student should apply by the designated due date and the project would not receive final approval until the visiting faculty member is able to meet to discuss the proposal.

In general, VES students should conceive their theses in conjunction with VES faculty, and with the idea of working with the department’s own faculty members as principal advisers. In the unusual circumstance that the appropriate VES adviser will be on leave during the thesis year or some part thereof, that VES faculty member should be consulted, in advance of the submission of the application, on which other colleague(s) might serve in his or her stead. Normally, only in cases where the VES faculty adviser strongly urges that a faculty member outside of the department supervise the thesis would the Honors Board agree to this arrangement.


A VES thesis has three readers assigned.  One reader is also the VES 99 adviser; and two other faculty members are assigned by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.  Unlike in many other concentrations, in VES the readers are known to students before the thesis is completed.  In fact, in studio and film/video theses, readers play an important role during the thesis review process.  Senior projects do not have readers. 


The VES 99 tutorial is given a letter grade by the adviser whether it is a thesis or a senior project. This grade appears on the student’s transcript. If the VES 99 tutorial is to be a thesis, in addition to the tutorial grade given by the adviser, the thesis work receives a Latin honors grade by the three readers (summa, magna, cum, and plus/minus versions thereof).* As with traditional letter grades, the Latin honors grades have numerical equivalents and the three reader grades are averaged together to determine a final thesis grade. The thesis grade does not appear on the student’s transcript as a separate course, however, this grade is averaged into the final department grade point average, and it is counted as two half-courses, since it is work done over two terms.

* If the thesis is not considered honors-level work, it is given a non-honors letter grade (B- and below).

In sum, if a student does a senior project they will receive a letter grade for the VES 99 tutorial. This ordinarily counts as two half-courses toward the department GPA. If a student does a thesis, they will receive a letter grade for the VES 99 tutorial (which will count as two half-courses toward the GPA) and they will receive another grade for the thesis, which does not appear on the transcript but will count as an additional two half-courses toward the department GPA.

Grade Report

At the end of each term, fall and spring, the student’s progress in the Senior Tutorial (VES 99) is graded and the adviser writes a brief progress report of the tutorial to date. At the end of the first term, the project adviser gives a grade which is always superseded by the final letter grade, presuming the course is continued into the second semester. Since VES 99 is ordinarily considered a full course, the final grade (which is always a letter grade) will count twice toward the student’s grade point average.*

*Out-of-sequence seniors must file a special “combine” petition with the Allston Burr Resident Dean. This petition requires the signature of the instructor of the course (VES 99 is always the Director of Undergraduate Studies) and must be filed by the seventh Monday of the term in which the student is enrolled in the course for the second time. Later or retroactive petitions to combine cannot be accepted by the Registrar without Administrative Board approval. When the halves of a full year course have been combined, the final grade is a cumulative one. The transcript notation for the first half of the course is changed to SUS (suspended).

Reader Reports

Each of the three thesis readers assigns a grade and writes a report on the thesis work. As explained previously, the three grades are averaged together to form one final thesis grade. Students receive copies of the reader reports after the department’s degree meeting.


All VES concentrators are eligible to be recommended for an honors degree. The VES Honors Board calculates a recommendation for honors based on the factored grades of the thesis and the student’s grades in all concentration courses. This recommendation is presented to the faculty at their meeting in May for review (or January for March degree candidates). A faculty vote is taken and this decision is passed as an honors recommendation to the Registrar of the College. The decision of final honors to be granted on the degree is made by the Registrar based on departmental recommendation and grades overall. Students can consult with their Allston Burr Resident Dean to determine what final honors might be anticipated at Commencement. It is Department policy that there are no reports of decisions regarding the thesis until after the Faculty has considered and voted upon each recommendation for honors. After the faculty has voted honors recommendations, students will be notified of the department’s recommendation to the College and will receive copies of their thesis evaluations.

Discontinuing a Thesis

The process of undertaking thesis work is a serious commitment of time and energy for both the thesis student and adviser. In some cases it might be necessary to discontinue the thesis mid-year. If this situation occurs, the student or adviser must indicate this in writing to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Two scenarios may result from this decision:

  1. The student discontinues both the tutorial and thesis work. In this rare case, the student receives a letter grade for the one term of VES 99. Because VES 99 is ordinarily considered a full course, the student must file a Divide with Credit (DWC) petition with their Resident Dean. The grade from the first term as well as “DWC” will appear on the student’s transcript. VES 99 would then be given one course credit. It is possible to discontinue a senior project by following these procedures as well. Deadline to drop VES 99 entirely and divide with credit: February 6, 2017 (third Monday of term).
  2. The student turns the thesis into a “Senior Project.” The student will continue to work with the project adviser for the rest of the year. There may or may not be a finished body of work at the end of the tutorial. The student would still remain enrolled in VES 99, but would not have work to submit at the thesis deadline and would not participate in any thesis reviews or have the work read/reviewed. The adviser would then grade the VES 99 tutorial at its conclusion at the end of the semester. Deadline to convert to a senior project: February 27, 2017.

Financial Eligibility

All tutorials and theses are eligible for financial support by the department. The Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Manager of Finance evaluate all projects on an individual basis. Each student can request funding to support their project by filling out a Budget Request Form. These forms are due at the beginning of the term in which the thesis or project begins. If you anticipate any unique or extraordinary budget requests, you must make an appointment with the Director of Undergraduate Studies and Manager of Finance well in advance of the start of the project, and before the Budget Request form is submitted.

Senior Project vs. Thesis?

There are a few main differences between a “senior project” and a thesis but since the student enrolls in VES 99 in either case, there is no discernible difference on the transcript. The first difference is that a thesis must conclude with a finished body of work, submitted by the specified due date. A senior project may or may not result in a finished body of work. The due date of a senior project is usually the same as the thesis, but can be as late as the last day of Reading Period. The due date must be worked out in advance between the adviser and the student, particularly if it involves using department equipment or materials also used by regular classes. The second main difference is that there are no readers assigned to critique and grade a senior project. For information about turning a thesis into a senior project, please refer to “discontinuing a thesis” above.