Conducting Thesis Research While Studying Abroad

Pre-Program Prerequisites

Before you go, it is vital that you prepare your academic standing and background at UCSC.  In order to graduate on time and carry out the project you have in mind, this may involve:

  • Identifying the courses abroad that will most likely qualify for major and/or GE credit
  •  Completing lower division courses (ANTH 1, 2, 3)
  •  Completing methods and/or theory courses (ANTH 150, 151, 152) to develop your toolkit
  •  Completing sufficient language training to study and/or converse in the local language(s)
  •  Enrolling in courses (within or outside the Anthropology Department) on the history, politics, literature, etc. of the country or region in which you will be doing research
  •  Finding out which anthropology courses will likely be offered upon your return. Is there a senior seminar or upper division class that would support the ideas or themes you plan to explore?

Since not all courses are offered each quarter or year, do your utmost to find out when key courses will be offered and make sure you can connect the dots before program departure.

See the Plan of Study template for examples of what this might look like.

Explore UCSC resources and opportunities

UCSC’s guide to Undergraduate Research includes a database of research opportunities by department, funding and award opportunities, and examples of previous student research projects.

Finding the Right Program

Research programs with UCSC Study Abroad

Visit UCSC Study Abroad to learn more about program options, how to apply, academic planning, identity abroad, and finances and scholarships.  You can also find links to events and workshops that will help you find a program that meets your academic, professional or personal goals, find and apply for scholarships, and many other resources. The Get Started page will start you on the steps navigate the study abroad or away process. 

UC Santa Cruz students have many options for study abroad or away. UC Santa Cruz Programs include:

Other UC and Non-UC study abroad options include:

For UCEAP, the following links and resources will help you identify programs that are a good fit as an anthropology major or minor.

Research Abroad:A list of UCEAP programs that feature independent research or working as part of a research team. While some are designed for biology or engineering majors, many offer potential opportunities for students interested in the intersections of anthropology and environmental studies, public health, development, or education.

Anthropological Research

A list of recommended UCEAP programs, vetted by student alumni and UCEAP advisors as programs with robust anthropology offerings and/or the chance to do guided or ethnographic research

Previously Enrolled UCEAP Courses

While course listings and content may change from year to year, you can search the UCEAP database of courses previously taken by UC students by country, program, university, department, and keyword. These listings also specify whether the course is a UC Study Center course, an immersion course, English language course, or course designed for foreign students—a key factor in determining the language skills you may need to enroll.

Anthropology Courses Taken by UCEAP Students

An excel database of courses at UC Study Centers and local universities that have been recognized for Anthropology Major credit, searchable by country, university, year, campus, and type of credit received. Please note that past approval for credit DOES NOT guarantee that you will receive credit, but it does make it much more likely.

Sample Anthropology Courses on UCEAP Programs

Here are a few examples of potential programs and accompanying courses to give you an idea of what is possible. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Think of it as a jumping off point.  Remember that not every course is taught regularly, and so it is best to check the UCEAP website to confirm what might be available to you when you plan to study abroad.

Please note that past approval for credit DOES NOT guarantee that you will receive credit. 

Talk to a recently returned student

Perhaps the best way to know if a certain course, program, or place will be suitable for the project you have in mind. Get in touch with a peer who has recently returned from the program you are considering. Email the UCSC Study Abroad office to request contact information:

Scheduling and Timelines

Most programs require students to apply up to 9 months in advance, so it is vital to plan ahead. Four-year students will need to begin looking for a faculty advisor, enrolling in preparatory coursework, and finding suitable programs by their sophomore year. Transfer students should aim to begin working towards these goals upon their arrival at UCSC.

UCSC programs admit students on a first come first serve basis, so the earlier you apply, the better chance you have of enrolling in your top choice program. Be sure to consult the calendar of application deadlines and list of limited capacity programs.

If you are applying for financial aid, fellowships, or grants, know that deadlines are often a year to 6 months in advance of the beginning of the funding, and begin your applications as soon as possible.


Visit the Affording Study Abroad page on the UCSC Study Abroad website to learn more about cost of participation and program budgets, financial aid estimates, scholarships options and how to apply, and upcoming workshop.

If you are applying for financial aid, fellowships, or grants, know that deadlines are often a year to 6 months in advance of the beginning of the funding, and begin your applications as soon as possible.

There are a variety of small grants available from UCSC and other organizations to fund undergraduate research, which may or may not be applicable to research conducted on study abroad. Visit the webpage for your division to determine potential funding opportunities.

Credit Towards Major Requirements

Anthropology majors can satisfy up to a total of two elective requirements towards the major while abroad. While the department cannot guarantee that any given course will count towards the anthropology elective requirement without the course syllabus, you can make a reasonable evaluation on your own before enrolling.

1. Consult the list of courses recognized for credit in the past, searchable by country, university, subject, and type of credit. Keep in mind that course offerings usually change from one year to the next, and that the same course may change significantly from one instructor to the next. In addition, this is a list generated by multiple UC campuses, and each department has a different set of standards. In short, this is not a guarantee, but rather a useful guide.

2. Evaluate the course according to disciplinary standards:

  • Are the main questions anthropological? Or are they more quantitative or philosophical?
  • Are the texts, methods, or assignments built around socio-cultural theory or ethnographic practice?
  • Does the course enrich your knowledge of the social history, political struggles, popular culture, environment-human relations, or values and beliefs of the place where you are studying?
  • Can you imagine the course being offered by the UCSC Anthropology Department? Or would it be a better fit in the Sociology, Literature, or History Departments?

See Coursework Petition

Senior Thesis Key Steps

Students who plan to write an independent Senior Thesis must begin planning well in advance – typically three quarters before they plan to graduate. The Senior Thesis process usually takes about a full academic year and requires that students are highly self-motivated and committed to their thesis topic. Most students spend at least one quarter conducting research and one quarter writing the thesis. The steps for completing a Senior Thesis are described below.

STEP 1: Decide on a topic. This can be developed independently or in conjunction with a faculty member. The Senior Theses in the Ethnographic Library are an excellent resource for students in the process of determining the style, subject, and scope of their research and writing process.

STEP 2: Find a permanent Anthropology faculty member who will sponsor and advise you on your thesis. Your faculty sponsor will supervise your research and writing, evaluate your thesis, and write your final thesis evaluation. Visiting faculty, lecturers and graduate students cannot supervise Senior Thesis projects. The department recommends that you approach a faculty member with whom you have taken a course with in the past and whose research interests are similar to yours. Most faculty will not supervise students whom they have never supervised in a class, nor will faculty ordinarily work with students who have not already demonstrated superior work in their Anthropology coursework at UCSC. If you intend to do ethnographic fieldwork for your Senior Thesis you should first select a thesis adviser, then plan this research in consultation with your adviser. Do not complete the fieldwork first and then attempt to find an adviser.

STEP 3: If the research for your thesis involves work with either human subjects or with animals, then you MUST talk to your thesis adviser regarding the Human Subjects or IACUC applications. Human Subjects and IACUC applications are a very important aspect of doing advanced research. Without submitting and gaining approval on a Human Subjects or IACUC application students cannot present or publish any findings from thesis research.

Applications can be found at the following links:

STEP 4: Submit the “Senior Thesis Proposal Form” to the Undergraduate Adviser. The thesis proposal form must include a short abstract of your prospective thesis topic and the signature of your faculty sponsor. This form must be submitted to the department at least TWO quarters before the final thesis is submitted. Senior Theses that are submitted without an approval on file will NOT be accepted to satisfy the Senior Comprehensive Requirement. Thesis proposal forms are available at the department office.

STEP 5: Conduct your thesis research. You may elect to take an Independent Study course (ANTH 197, 198 or 199) with your thesis adviser so that you can receive units for your research. Keep in mind that only ONE Independent Study course may be counted towards your UpperDivision major requirements and that all students must complete 10 Upper-Division courses in the major.

STEP 6: Write your thesis. For information on format, rules, and style, talk to your thesis adviser and see the American Anthropological Association’s Style Guide at the following link: Anthropology Senior Theses must demonstrate proficiency in the discipline of Anthropology.

STEP 7: Submit your final Senior Thesis to the Anthropology department office using the Online Senior Thesis Submission Form. This form will be used to catalog your thesis in the Undergraduate Thesis Database. Your thesis must be submitted by the date given on your Senior Thesis Proposal Form: the end of the fourth week of the quarter. Failure to meet this deadline may result in a delay in the evaluation of your thesis and the postponement of your graduation until the following quarter. Theses that are not submitted on time may not be accepted and may be held over to the following quarter.


Senior Thesis Submission Deadlines for 2016-2017

Senior Thesis Submission Deadlines for 2016-2017
Fall Winter Spring
Monday, October, 24th 2016 Monday, February 6th, 2017 Monday, May 1st, 2017

Faculty Mentors

Finding a faculty mentor is perhaps the most important part of embarking on a thesis project.

Faculty are not required to sponsor undergraduate theses and may be reluctant to add new projects to their already packed schedules. Therefore, it is entirely the student’s responsibility to cultivate a rapport with a faculty member, most often by demonstrating their preparedness to do research, ability to work independently, and intellectual dedication to a thesis.

Most faculty will only supervise students who have previously taken a class with them and shown themselves to be outstanding scholars.

Research Proposals

Proposals vary in length and style, but all contain the following elements:

1. Clear, concise, and compelling research question. It is vital that your question be answerable given the scope of your potential research. Do not propose to cure cancer or solve world hunger in one summer. What can you realistically investigate? Is your question answerable or just a beginning?

2. Thorough and well-organized review of relevant literature. Show that you have done the background work to compose an informed question and bring a diverse set of approaches to the issue at hand. The Annual Review of Anthropology articles and the bibliographies of ethnographies or articles are excellent places to look for the literature you’ll need to read and/or cite. The review is not just a summary—you are demonstrating that you understand the landscape of current scholarship and have found a missing element that you will contribute.

3. Description of methodology and data analysis. How are you going to collect the data you need to answer your research question? Interviews, internships, home stays, surveys, focus groups, participant observation, and photo essays are all tools in the anthropologist’s belt. Once you have your data, what theoretical and analytical approaches will you use to turn it into a convincing conclusion?

4. Timeline of proposed activities. What steps will organize your research and when will you carry out each element of your proposal? Be realistic about how much time you have and how much time something may take to accomplish.

5. Intellectual and practical importance. Why is your research of interest and value to community members, scholars, activists, politicians, or social workers? What potential impact or applications do you see for your work?

6. Ethical dilemmas and safety precautions. What ethically challenging or precarious situations might you encounter and how will you navigate them? How will you ensure the safety and privacy of your research subjects and your own security?

If you qualify for Educational Opportunity Programs at UCSC, you may want to pursue the Pathways to Research Program. PRP supports a cohort of 50 undergraduates for a two-quarter commitment. Students are paired with a graduate student mentor to help develop their ideas and questions, explore research opportunities, identify important faculty members, and compose a research paper. Upon completion of the program, students receive $300 to support their proposed research.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

 The UCSC Institutional Review Board (IRB) exists to protect the rights and welfare of persons who participate in research programs conducted by UCSC faculty, staff, or students. The IRB has responsibility for review of research involving human subjects conducted at or sponsored by the University of California at Santa Cruz regardless of the source of funding.

Before you begin your research, you must find out if your questions, methods, and interlocutors fall into the categories of human subjects research that require an IRB approved protocol. If so, you will need to enroll in a brief training course and complete an extensive application regarding each element of your intended interactions or observations. For more information, see the IRB page on how to determine if your research is exempt.

Advice from Thesis Writers:

“Hit the ground running! The earlier you start on this process, the better.”

“Read the student handbook—it’s all in there!”

“Summer research is the easiest to accomplish; during the school year there is simply too much else going on.”

“Faculty are more likely to be interested in supervising your thesis if it is part of a project they are already working on. Find out if they need a research assistant to develop a focused question or do the groundwork for a bigger one.”

“If you’re going to ask a faculty member to be your mentor, make sure you have really thought through your research question first. The more complete your proposal is, the better chances you have of them saying yes.”

“The proposal was the hardest part: I needed a lot of help to articulate my research question clearly and describe my methodology and data analysis.”

“IRB takes forever! Get your IRB started as early as possible and be prepared to revise it multiple times. Meeting with the IRB staff or a seasoned faculty member helps a lot.”

“Find a local faculty member to check in with and ask advice while in the field. They have all sorts of insight and experience and totally changed my experience.”

“The research question you start out with will probably change once you get to the field and try to answer it—be prepared to adapt your ideas and approaches to the data you find.”

“My research ended up about being what the community wanted from me, not what I intended to get from them. Arrive with an open mind and LISTEN.”

“You may get diverging or even contradictory feedback from different people, so be prepared to wrestle with a few different ideas at once.”

“If you have the chance, find a thesis writing buddy! It helps to have someone else to work with and share the experience with.”

“Definitely visit the WA Center and the Oakes Writing Center for developing your proposal, getting past writer's block, and just making everything you write better. Don’t take your whole thesis, but maybe just a section at a time.”