Advice, Application, and Deadlines

Criteria for Participation

To apply to the ICS distinction/honors program, you must:

  • have an updated and approved curricular plan on file with the ICS Program:
  • have completed ICS 195, Critical Approaches to Global Issues, before applying.
  • be on track to complete, by the end of your junior year, a substantial portion of the ICS major (roughly 11 courses, including language);
  • be in good academic standing

Tips on designing an ICS Thesis Project

Nothing substitutes for passion and connection to your research topic. The Honors program is very rewarding but a significant amount of extra work, and it isn’t a fit for students whose primary motivation is the marker of achievement alone. Find a topic that you have some real knowledge about and care about deeply, but also one where you are still curious and wanting to learn (don’t just use it as a platform to spout knowledge and opinions you already have).

The best guide to exciting, feasible ICS Honors projects is work by previous ICS students! See many examples of their topics on our website, and reach out to the ICS Distinction Program Director for completed projects that you can read.

Once you have your topic, show how it adds to an intellectual conversation beyond your own work. Review the scholarship surrounding your topic to see the kinds of arguments made by scholars working in related areas. Doing this level of research can help shape your argument in relation to and against those of experts. We ask you to start building this argument at the proposal stage by consulting relevant secondary scholarly sources and including them in your proposed bibliography. Aim to incorporate a number of disciplinary approaches in your secondary source materials. If you are struggling to do this, reach out to your research advisor and/or the ICS Distinction Program Director.


Arts-Based and Other Nontraditional Research

You may pursue an honors project in documentary form (film, podcast, or website, for example), using various creative writing elements or community-based collaborations, or in other nontraditional forms. If you would like to pursue this option, schedule a meeting with the ICS Distinction Program Coordinator to discuss your plans before submitting your application. Past examples of such projects include:

  • a documentary about the preparation of Israeli youth for army service;
  • a comparative look at Palestinian identities through the perspectives of refugees in the Middle East with accompanying photographs;
  • A digital Storymap of Latinx community spaces in Durham.


Original Research is Crucial

No matter the final form, approach, or focus, the honors project should be grounded in original research. We strongly recommend that you think of the thesis project as an opportunity to explore something that confounds or puzzles you, something that you find fascinating and that you don’t already understand.


Application Elements and Requirements

A Distinction Program application includes (3) Elements

1. Project Proposal

3-5 pages

The project proposal should demonstrate that you have already begun to research your project; you have some notion of what question you are trying to answer, whose ideas you wish to respond to in your research and what audience(s) you hope to reach, as well as what might be some of the challenges to carrying it out.

It is particularly important to have taken at least one non-introductory university course that provides foundational knowledge related to your research and to have taken at least one university course that required an independent research paper (on any topic). If you are concerned that you may not have had these experiences, please contact the 2024-25 Distinction Program Director, Professor Deonte Harris ( to discuss.

Your Honors proposal should include the following three items: 

  1. A statement of the research problem or question(s) you’d like to address. Why does your topic matter, and to whom?  We recommend starting with a descriptive rather than prescriptive question: not “Should reparations be paid to indigenous communities in Brazil?” but, “What kinds of reparations demands have indigenous communities in Brazil made, and how are they uniquely informed by Brazilian history?”

  2. A discussion of the original or primary source(s), such as interviews, oral histories, government or NGO documents, first-person journals and narratives, that you intend to analyze and how you plan to acquire them. (Note: the research problem and sources often change and evolve as the project develops, but it's helpful to begin thinking in these terms.); 

  3. A discussion of how you became interested in your topic and how your past courses, research, study abroad, paid or volunteer work, etc., makes you the right person to write about your thesis topic in a rigorous and ethical manner. This is also a great place to consider the skills and knowledge you still need.

2. Basic Bibliography

1-2 pages

The bibliography should include two kinds of materials: primary sources you will analyze or interpret as part of your thesis; and relevant secondary scholarly sources you have consulted as you have begun thinking about your project. The initial bibliography should reflect a cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary engagement with your sources. It is helpful to discuss your proposal and initial bibliography with your prospective research supervisor with these expectations in mind before you submit it.  

If your planned research includes interviews or observation of human interactions (even if virtual), you must receive clearance from the Institutional Research Board before undertaking your research. You may also obtain information about this requirement at the Office of Research Support website. ICS will provide more information about these requirements to students accepted into the Distinction Program.

3. Recommendation From Your Prospective Research Supervisor

The recommendation should be obtained from a Duke faculty member who is willing to serve as your research supervisor. Your supervisor should ideally be someone who has worked with you in a classroom setting and who is interested in your proposed project and qualified to guide you through it. You should ask your recommender to send an email to the Distinction Program Coordinator, with an evaluation of your project and an explicit statement of willingness to supervise your work on it.



All three parts of the application (Proposal, Bibliography, and Recommendation) should be emailed directly to the 2024-25 Distinction Program Director, Professor Deonte Harris (  Research supervisors can email the director directly to express their support of your thesis proposal (they do not need to write a formal letter).

We encourage you to get your application in by Tuesday, March 26, 2024 to receive full consideration for the program. If you cannot meet this deadline, but intend to submit a proposal, please contact Prof. Rosenblatt as soon as possible.

The Scott Lee Stephenson Memorial Fund allows the ICS Program to offer research travel grants related to honors/distinction projects. These generally do not exceed $500, and we recommend supplementing them with other sources. If you are planning summer research and need funding, submit the research funding application (below) with your proposal.