Honors program

Information on the Economics Honors Thesis Program

The honors program in economics provides an opportunity for motivated and qualified senior majors to conduct sustained, independent research on a topic of interest to them. To receive honors in economics, you need to do a piece of original and independent research using economic tools and to write an honors thesis reporting the research. The key here is “original and independent,” but those words do not necessarily imply “theoretical” or “mathematical” or “econometric.” Most theses do involve econometric analysis of data. Theoretical economic modeling, simulations matching mathematical economic models to data, and experimental economics are also popular approaches. But many successful honors graduates have worked on case studies, historical analyses, economic philosophy, or topics in the history of economic thought.

We encourage all majors who have at least a 3.5 GPA in economics courses to consider honors. (We have occasionally approved an application from a major who has an economics GPA a bit below 3.5 if the application is particularly well thought out, if the student has shown he or she can work well in independent research, and if she or he has the strong support of a faculty member.)

There are three possible routes to honors in economics: the “senior full-year thesis,” the “senior fall one-semester thesis,” and the “senior spring one-semester thesis.” Students interested in a full-year thesis or a fall one-semester thesis, should begin preparing as juniors for the application deadline in the spring of junior year. Students interested in a spring one-semester thesis, need to take no action until the fall of senior year; the Honors Coordinator will send additional information then.

The Carl Van Duyne Prize in Economics

Carl Van Duyne, Associate Professor of Economics at Williams, died in 1983 at the age of 36. Carl worked especially well with honors students and others doing independent work, so it is fitting that a prize in his memory encourages independent research by students. The prize is awarded to students who have “exhibited not only excellence in economics but also the inquisitive mind and motivation of a true scholar” during the first three years of study and who propose a full-year honors thesis that shows unusual promise. The prize includes an optional summer stipend to work full-time on the thesis the summer before the senior year, stipends in the first and second semesters of the senior year conditional on satisfactory progress on the thesis, and a stipend in the first year of graduate school if the recipient completes an honors thesis and then goes on to do graduate work in economics.

The optional summer stipend provides funding at the same rate as summer research assistant funding in the summer before the senior year if the recipient works on their thesis during that summer. In general, to receive the summer stipend the work must be done in Williamstown, in close contact with the thesis adviser. The recipient is also eligible for the subsidized housing the College makes available to research assistants and other student employees during the summer. The prize also includes a stipend of approximately $500 in the fall of the senior year, and another $500 the following spring. Each of these stipends is conditional on continued satisfactory progress on the thesis during that term. Finally, the prize includes another stipend of about $900 in the first year of graduate study if the recipient completes an honors thesis and then goes on to do graduate work in economics.

All applicants for the year-long honors thesis route are automatically considered for the Van Duyne Prize. Applicants who plan to work on their thesis in the summer and would like to apply for the summer stipend should include in their application for the yearlong route a statement indicating that they are applying for the  summer support and that if they receive it they will work on their honors thesis in Williamstown during the summer.

Van Duyne Funds for Student Research in Economics

In addition to the Van Duyne Prize, students whose research requires funding, such as for data collection or purchase, may apply for research support from Van Duyne funds. Such applications should be made to the Director of Research and must include a detailed budget and justification for the funding needed to complete the research. If support is awarded from the Van Duyne Fund, such support should be acknowledged in the final research product.

For Further Information

Contact the Economics Department Research Director with any questions about the honors program, for descriptions of successful honors theses in the past, and recommendations for department members as potential advisors on a particular topic.  For the 2024-2025 academic year, the Research Director is Prof. Owen Ozier.