Honors Program

The Honors Program provides economics majors with the opportunity to delve deeply into an intellectual interest they have developed while at Duke and engage in a meaningful, sustained research project. The honors thesis represents a degree of research and critical thinking sufficiently complex and sophisticated to require at two semesters worth of work. The thesis is planned, researched, drafted, and revised using research tools and techniques employed in economics research. Students present their honors research in a poster format at the Honors Thesis Poster Session, an event put on every spring by the Department of Economics.
 
 
An honors thesis in Economics is not a term paper summarizing existing research on a topic.  Rather, it represents novel economic research undertaken by undergraduates under the guidance of faculty.  
 
Recording of a recent Honors info session coming soon. 
 
An honors student’s primary thesis advisor should ideally be a regular rank faculty member with a primary appointment in the Economics Department.  If a student wishes to work with a primary advisor outside of the Economics Department, they must have a secondary advisor with a primary appointment in the Economics Department.
 
Most of our undergraduates choose to undertake empirical research which is why Econ 204 Econometrics Data Science is a prerequisite for the Econ 495 and 496 Honors Seminars.  Other students choose to undertake theoretical research involving the creation of a theoretical model and/or simulations of existing models within particular applied contexts.
 
 

Students who want to participate in the Honors Program are strongly encouraged to take the core economics courses (ECON 101, 201D, 205D, 204D, and 210D) as early as possible. Mathematics and statistics prerequisites should also be taken as early as possible. Early completion will allow for the greatest flexibility in pursuing serious research in the junior and senior years.

Students are also encouraged to investigate participation in faculty-led research projects within the Duke Economic Analytics Laboratory (DEAL).  Research within these projects can also be the foundation for an honors thesis.

 

Paths to the Honors Thesis

Most of our undergraduates choose to undertake empirical research which is why Econ 204 Econometrics Data Science is a prerequisite for the Econ 495 and 496 Honors Seminar sequence.  Other students choose to undertake theoretical research involving the creation of a theoretical model and/or simulations of existing models within particular applied contexts.

Path 1

The best setting in which to foster the research process is a two-semester workshop, resembling graduate workshops. In a workshop setting, students meet with their professor(s) and each other to observe advanced research (professors from outside the university, Duke Economics graduate students, and Duke economics professors present their own research to the students), and then, in turn, develop and later present their own research on a regular biweekly basis, continually receiving feedback from their peers and from professors and graduate students.

The department offers two distinct two-semester research workshop sequences for students interested in writing an honors thesis: ECON 495S and ECON 496S Honors Seminar. Students do not necessarily have to qualify for Graduation with Distinction in order to enroll in these research workshop sequences, nor will completion of either sequence guarantee Graduation with Distinction. Note: Should a problem arise that prevents a student from completing this sequence, they can switch to Path 2 described below. 

Students who follow Path 1 may begin as early as the spring semester of their junior year. Davies Fellowships are available to sponsor some of these juniors (and their mentors) to enable them to do research full time under the supervision of their advisor during the summer between their junior and senior years.

Path 2

Students who choose this path enroll in a ECON 394 Research Independent Study in either the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year, under the instruction of the mentoring faculty member. In the following semester — or in a subsequent semester — the student enrolls in an ECON 493 Honors Research Independent Study and completes the thesis. For the Independent Study courses (ECON 394 and 493), students must enlist the approval of a specific faculty member (through submission of an approval form to the director of undergraduate studies), indicating that the faculty member is willing to work with the student for an entire academic year in an independent study format to produce an honors thesis.

Students who start on Path 2 may switch to Path 1 by enrolling in ECON 496S Honors Seminar with the signature of their faculty mentor and the approval of the ECON 496S instructor, which is gained by submission of a satisfactory thesis proposal. 

The Department of Economics offers two possible honors distinctions:

Distinction (or High Distinction) in Economics

  • Student has a minimum 3.3 GPA both in economics and overall; has completed five electives, commensurate with an undergraduate A.B./B.A. or B.S. degree, with courses from Path 1 and 2 counted toward electives; and, has completed an honors paper with a minimum grade of B+ and has been approved by the Honors Committee for qualification of graduation with distinction.
  • Student will be awarded High Distinction upon graduation if s/he has satisfied all of the requirements for Distinction and her/his honors thesis is selected by the Honors Committee from among the nominated theses.

Distinction in Research

  • Student has completed an honors thesis and has been approved by the Honors Committee for qualification of graduation with distinction. There is no minimum GPA requirement. 

A fundamental feature of research, as opposed to classroom learning, is that it is independent and self-motivated. At the same time, researchers continually share thoughts and ideas with colleagues. At Duke Economics, as at most research-oriented economics departments, field workshops are one of the more consistent and structured venues through which research ideas are developed, disseminated, dissected, and refined. 

Part of our efforts to create a "meaningful, sustained research experience" for our undergraduates includes participation in a research community of peers and mentors. We introduce this tradition to undergraduates with our Honors Research Workshops (ECON 495S, 496S). The Honors Research Workshops encourage the interchange of research ideas, problems, and strategies among undergraduates and faculty that is similar to the sort of interchange that occurs between graduate students and faculty. Resultant research projects may be written up as honors theses.

For the Honors Research Workshops to be productive, there has to be a certain amount of shared or common knowledge among participants. The Department of Economics offers key field courses intended to deepen students' understanding of specialized topics that may have been only briefly mentioned in economics core courses. Field courses build upon the basic economic principles learned in the core sequence but emphasize studying existing work within a particular field, as well as learning the skills appropriate to particular types of research. Field courses are useful for students to gain deeper knowledge within topics that may have been only briefly mentioned in core courses. Field courses are also necessary preparation for anyone who wishes to undertake future research as a junior or senior. These field courses teach students how to approach a particular topic and properly frame the questions they wish to answer. For example, someone who might be interested in doing research on job discrimination should take a course in Labor and Public Finance.

Each semester the department will move toward providing the full spectrum of key field courses and research workshops. For a full listing of economics courses offered each term, see DukeHub.