FAQ about Nursing Honors Curriculum and Thesis Option

FAQ about Nursing Honors Curriculum Option

What is the Nursing Honors Curriculum option?

This is one of two University Honors College’s approved pathways to earn your BSN-H. Typically, freshman students admitted directly into the Honors College will participate in a structured program of study that entails completing honors-designated coursework, a capstone project, and approved out-of-classroom curriculum. Sophomore students with minimum GPA of 3.5 can still apply to this pathway given that they have a strong recommendation letter from an instructor or academic advisor and write two competitive essays.

What are the requirements for the Honors Curriculum option?

Students in the Honors curriculum option must complete 18 credits of University Honors College designated courses, 6 credits of research practicum, and an out-of-classroom curriculum (OCC). For the 18 credits of honors designated courses, students will enroll in the honors section of courses already required for the traditional BSN program (no extra courses). For the 6 credits of research practicum, students will complete a capstone project and have the opportunity to take a graduate-level course and / or a study abroad program. These 6 credits are required in addition to fulfilling the traditional program credits. The total number of credits needed to meet the requirements of the Honors curriculum option is ≥130 as outlined in the attached curriculum plan. The OCC entails 10 goal areas: Leadership Development, Career Preparation, Communication Skills, Global/Cultural Awareness, Pitt Pride, Service to Others, Sense of Self, Wellness, Appreciation of the Arts, Initiative and Drive. The OCC is monitored by University Honors College. Learn more about the OCC.

What is Honors Capstone?

The Honors Capstone is specifically designed for those pursuing a Nursing Honors designation. The traditional BSN curriculum covers the basic nursing research core essentials of American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Nursing Honors students participate in additional, hands-on training in research design, conduct, and dissemination. Nursing Honors Capstone I (NUR 1091) provides a mentored research experience to make students well-positioned to complete their project. Nursing Honors Capstone II (NUR 1092) provides an opportunity for the construction and implementation of a research practicum plan in alignment with the mentor’s and student’s research interests. The main deliverable of the Honors Capstone is the completion and dissemination of an evidence-based quality improvement (QI) project. Students are expected to complete their Capstone project in their junior and senior years.

How to select a mentor for my Honors Capstone?

Students in the Honors program take Honors Freshman Seminar (NUR 0005) in their first semester at the School of Nursing. In this seminar, students are oriented to the active research projects underway at the school, as well as the various research hubs in the School of Nursing. With the guidance of the seminar instructor and the various guest speakers, students are matched with potential mentors who can guide them through their journey in the program.

Do I need IRB approval for my Honors Capstone?

Most evidence-based quality improvement (QI) projects are exempt by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). However, the mentor can help the student determine if an IRB application is needed on case-by-case basis. If uncertain, students and mentors can consult with IRB staff at askirb@pitt.edu.

Is there an oral defense for my Honors Capstone?

No, you are not required to do an oral defense of your Capstone project. However, it is expected that you will display and share your work through local and regional research or practice-based conferences or events. Students can display their work at various UPMC training clinical sites (e.g., nursing transitions). Local dissemination opportunities include Sigma Theta Tau (STT) Eta Chapter Scholars Night, SON Annual Scholarly Presentation Symposium, and other University of Pittsburgh research symposiums.

What is the timeline for my Honors Capstone completion?

Nursing Research (NUR 0067) and Introduction to Statistics (NUR 0088) are pre-requisites for the Honors Capstone. Thus, it is expected that students can enroll in Nursing Honors Capstone I (NUR 1091) in junior year and Nursing Honors Capstone II (NUR 1092) in senior year.

Am I expected to write an ETD for my Honors Capstone?

No, an ETD (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation) is not required for the Honors Capstone. However, students are encouraged to develop a manuscript or brief communication on their evidence-based QI project for potential publication in a peer-reviewed journal under the discretion of their mentor.

What happens if I am enrolled in the Honors Curriculum option but do not complete the program requirements? Does this affect my ability to graduate?

No, this will not affect your ability to graduate. Once you finish the requirements of the traditional BSN program, you will earn your BSN diploma. Completing the Honors curriculum, however, will allow you to earn a dual degree from the School of Nursing and the University Honors College designated as BSN-H diploma.

FAQ about the Honors Thesis Option

What is the Nursing Honors Thesis option?

This is one of two University Honors College’s approved pathways to earn your BSN-H. It is usually referred to as BPhil and is considered the highest undergraduate distinction. Only offered at a few universities worldwide, the prestigious BPhil enhances your BSN degree with an independent research thesis.

How does an Honors Thesis differ from the Honors Curriculum option?

From a scientific standpoint, the curriculum option trains students to become smart consumers of research by polishing their ability to translate existing evidence into practice to drive change at the bedside. The thesis option trains students to become junior scientists who can generate new knowledge to solve challenges or address unmet clinical needs at the bedside. While students are generally admitted into the curriculum option in their first year of study, BSN students can apply to enroll in the thesis option at any time during their study. The Honors Thesis option does not involve any required coursework, but students are encouraged to enroll in Honors Capstone I and Honors Capstone II for more structured mentored-research experience. It is worth noting that admission into the Honors Thesis option (BPhil) requires a separate application to University Honors College, even if the student is already admitted to the Honors curriculum option.

How long does it take to complete an Honors Thesis?

Completing the research project itself takes at least one year (i.e., ethical approval, data collection and analysis, ETD write up and oral defense). However, planning the thesis also takes up to one year as well (i.e., selecting a mentor, identifying a research idea, literature review, etc.). Thus, it is highly recommended that students start planning for their thesis and apply to University Honors College no later than their junior year.

I am interested in completing an Honors Thesis. Where do I start?

If you are not already in touch with a research mentor, the first step is to identify one and get involved in their active research project. The best way to do so is to apply for the Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program (URMP). You can indicate on the intake form that you are interested in working with that specific mentor.
Next, reach out to the Director of the Nursing Honors Program (Dr. Jill Demirci jvr5@pitt.edu) to discuss your interests in completing the BPhil option. The Director will introduce you to potential research mentor(s). Once you find a suitable mentor who agrees to serve as your thesis advisor, work with them to identify a feasible research project that you can complete as your own thesis. Many students identify an original research idea that aligns with the mentor’s active study or perform a secondary analysis of the mentor’s existing data.
Once you have a mature and well-articulated idea, work with the Director of the Nursing Honors Program to submit the BPhil application. Admission decisions are usually made within two weeks. You and your mentor will receive a formal letter welcoming you in the Honors program.

Are there any sample BPhil applications that I can follow (Honors thesis option)?

The BPhil application is composed of three parts:
(1) Biographical Information Form
(2) Plan of Studies Form, and
(3) Thesis Prospectus Form.
Here is a sample BPhil application for Parts 2 and 3.

Once I am admitted to the University Honors College, what are the degree requirements?

University Honors College divides the progress of a thesis into the three stages: development of the project; conducting the research and writing of the thesis; and final presentation and examination of the completed thesis (i.e., oral defense). While the progress on the thesis is self-paced, all three stages must be completed by 12 PM on the last weekday of classes of the term in which you will graduate. Specifically, this means that you must have successfully defended your thesis before your committee, incorporated and received approval for any revisions required by your committee from your defense, and uploaded the final, edited copy of the thesis in proper Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) format to the D-Scholarship@Pitt website by this deadline. Refer to the following Guide for Thesis Advisors for more details on the process.

Do I need an IRB approval for my thesis?

University Honors College requests a copy of the IRB to be on file for every thesis. If you are using existing data from your mentor’s study, then an IRB copy of the parent study would suffice. If you are performing an original investigation with independent data collection, then you need to consult with your mentor and the University IRB (askirb@pitt.edu) to comply with all required human protection regulations. 

Are there any funding opportunities for my Honors Thesis?

When pursuing intensive research for the BPhil degree, you can apply for funding to support your thesis work. University Honors College has a mechanism for requesting funds. The School of Nursing also has a competitive research award for BPhil students—the Reva Rubin Memorial Undergraduate Research Fund. The amount of this award is $500 and is given annually to 1 or 2 deserving candidates. A call for proposals is usually emailed in the Spring semester. In addition, if you are selected to present your research in a national conference, the School of Nursing will reimburse you for travel and accommodation up to $1,500. You can learn more about conference travel awards by emailing the Student Affairs and Alumni Relations.

What do I need to know before planning for the final writing and examination of the thesis?

Once you collect and analyze your data, and before finalizing the thesis document, the student and advisor should begin to choose an examining committee. The committee will be composed of four faculty members: the thesis advisor (committee chair), two University of Pittsburgh examiners, and an additional examiner from another institution within the United States (the external examiner must also be a US citizen). For the University of Pittsburgh examiners, it is recommended that the student and mentor select one nursing faculty with complimentary expertise on the topic and a statistician from our School’s Center for Research and Evaluation.
Once you identify your examination committee, select a date and time suitable for your defense and inform the Honors College by completing the BPhil Defense Info Form. You also need to inform the Director of the Nursing Honors Program (Dr. Jill Demirci, jvr5@pitt.edu) who helps you reserve a room and announce the final defense.

Who is the external examiner and how do I select one for my thesis?

Work with your thesis advisor to identify and invite an external examiner who is an expert on the topic of your thesis. If there are no active travel restrictions (e.g., due to a pandemic), then external examiners need to be present on campus for the thesis defense; otherwise special permissions will be given to allow participation in the defense via electronic means, such as Zoom. As a result, external examiners also constitute a visiting faculty program for you and your department. The University Honors College provides for the travel expenses and lodging of the outside examiner as well as the honorarium. The outside examiner, as a distinguished visitor to the University, should be available to present a lecture to the appropriate department. Thesis advisors have previously invited collaborators from regional institutions (e.g., UPMC, CMU, Duquesne University, etc.) or collaborators from national institutions (e.g., UNC, Duke, UCSF, etc.) to serve as external examiners.

How and when to write the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD)?

Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) are theses or dissertations prepared as text-based PDF files. The University has resources for writing and formatting the ETD, including templates to get started and staff support to help students adhere to formatting requirements. It is recommended to organize the ETD as a manuscript for journal submission. The length is typically ~30 double-spaced pages with 20-30 references. Students need to draft the ETD and email to committee members approximately two weeks prior to the final defense for review. Here are few examples of previously completed Honors theses in the School of Nursing:

What occurs during the oral defense of my thesis?

The format of the oral presentation and examination is similar to that of a master’s or doctoral defense. The student publicly presents an oral overview of his or her work to the examining committee and guests in attendance. Following the presentation, the public may ask questions, while the committee examines the candidate privately. The chair of the committee is responsible for dismissing the public and for convening and ending the examination. Additionally, the chair passes the student's ETD Approval Form for committee members’ signatures. Here is a template to help you get started with your thesis presentation, as well as two examples of thesis defense presentations from former BPhil students:

When is the final ETD due?

After the oral defense, students must incorporate committee feedback into the ETD and prepare the final documents as per the University formatting guidelines. Once finalized, you must submit the following to University Honors College no later than 12 PM on the last weekday of classes of the term in which you will graduate:

  • ETD Approval Form completed in its entirety, with all required signatures on pages 1 and 2 (see ETD website); if required, please submit all copyright permissions with the form. Remember to include one copy of your Title Page and TWO copies of your Abstract (BOTH copies of the Abstract initialed by your thesis advisor in the upper right corner); this is outlined on Page Four of the ETD Approval Form.
  • Uploaded ETD file to the D-Scholarship@Pitt website, formatted correctly with all appropriate bookmarks and hyperlinks (IMPORTANT: When uploading, choose "University Honors College" in the "Schools and Programs" section, not the major within your primary academic center).

Do not pay the processing fee required of graduate theses and dissertations (the University Honors College pays the processing fee on your behalf). For more details, check the Honors College website.

Is there a final checklist to make sure I completed all requirements for my BSN-H?

Yes, the University Honors College posts an updated BPhil checklist every term. You can find the most recent checklist on their website.

What happens if I am enrolled in the Honors Thesis option but do not complete the program requirements? Does this affect my ability to graduate?

No, this will not affect your ability to graduate. Once you finish the requirements of the traditional BSN program, you will earn your BSN diploma. Completing the Honors thesis, however, will allow you to earn a dual degree from the School of Nursing and the University Honors College designated as BSN-H diploma.

Do I need to submit my thesis for publication?

No, you are not required to submit a manuscript for publication. However, you are highly encouraged to do so. The motive behind the thesis is to generate new knowledge to improve health. One of the best ways to share this knowledge is to disseminate your work in a peer-reviewed journal.

Are there any opportunities to present my thesis in national forums?

Yes, students are encouraged to submit their work to the National Council for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). The school circulates a call for this conference in the fall and can help students in the submission process. We usually have ~20 nursing students presenting at NCUR every year and the School of Nursing covers registration, travel, and accommodation costs. Students have also presented their work at other national forums and educational conferences such as the Eastern Nursing Research Society, the American Heart Association, etc.