A thesis is a presentation and interpretation of research results. Students write a thesis after they have planned and executed a substantial, independent research project. A thesis also allows you to demonstrate your working knowledge of the content and methods of your discipline. A good thesis will make an original contribution, however small, to your field of study.[back]
Students in creative disciplines are required to submit a thesis just like students in traditional academic disciplines. Whereas a traditional thesis may consist of a written research report or an extended critical essay, creative theses may take the form of a performance, a body of creative work, or a manuscript. Students wishing to pursue a creative thesis should consult with an advisor and Dr. Lanier or Dr. Tomso before submitting the thesis proposal.[back]
Completing a thesis is a highly effective way for you to demonstrate what you have learned in your undergraduate program of study. It also allows you to showcase your areas of special interest and to demonstrate the creative or technical skills you have developed. A completed thesis illustrates to potential employers or graduate school admissions committees that you are capable of carrying a project from the concept stage through to completion. Producing and defending a solid thesis requires self-motivation, focus, and the ability to manage your time and other responsibilities. It is precisely this challenge that gives a completed thesis its value.[back]
The first steps in beginning the thesis process are finding a faculty advisor, identifying a topic, writing a thesis proposal, and submitting it to the Honors office along with a "Thesis Proposal Cover Sheet." After your proposal has been accepted, you must register for thesis credit hours.[back]
Probably the biggest reason people fail to complete (or even start) a thesis project is that they wait too long to begin. As a freshman, sophomore or even junior, you might convince yourself that 'I'll do it when I'm a senior.' Then, when you are a senior, the thought of undertaking a project that large is overwhelming. You're busy applying for grad schools or jobs, taking your most difficult classes, and looking forward to kicking back a little in your last semester - hardly the time to think about finding a thesis advisor, developing a project, carrying it out and getting it written.
What's the solution? Don't wait that long. If you start investigating possible projects as a freshman, develop some basic skills and experience as a sophomore, then you'll be ready to hit it hard as a junior and wrap it up midway through your senior year. This is perfect, since you'll already have a completed thesis to show to grad school admission committees/employers by the time you start applying for positions (usually around the beginning of the spring semester of your senior year).
The thesis is not meant to take two or three years of constant, sustained effort; you could easily complete an acceptable thesis in one or two semesters of hard work. But, if you spread that time commitment out over a longer period, it means you'll be better able to budget your time, and the task won't be so onerous as it would be if you were trying to do it all while facing a short deadline.
Starting early means that you will produce a stronger thesis with less time pressure - all in all, a good combination.[back]
It is the responsibility of the thesis advisor to provide you with insight, guidance, and support throughout your thesis project; in many cases, he or she may supply you with the topic of the thesis itself. Very few people develop their thesis topic on their own and, in fact, we assume that you will not.Unless you're strongly committed to a single topic, it's better to integrate your project with that of a faculty member in your major department; in this way, you can build on a foundation already established by this individual, as well as support the scholarly focus of that individual, the department and the university.
Before you can choose a topic for your thesis, you need to be aware of what's going on in your major department. You should investigate the opportunities that may be
available: learn who each of the faculty are, talk to them about their scholarly interests, and ask them about what type of projects they might be able to help you develop.
Typically, faculty are always anxious to talk about their research or creative activity, especially if there's a chance they can recruit a high-quality student to work with them. Don't be shy, and remember: you're not supposed to know anything about what they do - that's why you're asking them.
When you meet the faculty, you should be looking for several things. First, do their interests complement yours? It's unlikely you'll find someone doing exactly what you want to do. What you should hope to find is someone who can guide you to a project that is interesting, relevant, and meaningful in some way. At this stage in your career, the quality of your project is more important than the question.
Second, do they think a creative outlet might exist for the type of project you would undertake with them? Broad dissemination of your work (through publication in a research journal, magazine or newspaper, performance or juried exhibition, radio or television broadcast, etc.) indicates to grad school committees/employers that it is of high quality and gives you one more (very large) advantage in the competition for that scholarship or job.
Finally, is the person someone with whom you can get along over an extended period of time? This is not insignificant - if you can't stand your thesis advisor, it makes it much harder to motivate yourself to work on the project.[back]
If you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the prospect of completing a thesis, here's some helpful advice that should make things a bit easier for you.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
You don't have to make major strides every week, nor do you have to punch a clock to get your thesis done. But you should set and accomplish some reasonable goals each week. If you can do this reliably, you will get your thesis done, and it'll probably be a better product than if you worked feverishly for two months right before graduation.
The trick to producing a solid thesis with a minimum of stress is to be methodical in your approach.Think of the thesis as a series of small, independent tasks that need to be strung together. If you can imagine breaking the job into pieces like that, you can concentrate on completing the next logical task at each stage. This makes it all seem less overwhelming, and helps build momentum (as you gradually start to check off items on your task list).
Undertaking the thesis is about creativity, insight, and intellectual challenge, but completing it is about endurance and perseverance. Whatever strategies you can use to maintain your focus will increase the chances that you will finish your project, have it be of high quality, and get it done on time.
This might mean setting aside a certain amount of time each week to devote to your thesis work (regardless of how productive you expect it to be), meeting one small goal every day, or committing to presenting your progress to others at certain points (and in a somewhat formal manner) along the way.
The essential thing is that you regularly make time to work on the thesis, even if there are a lot of other things going on. If you start using that excuse to justify putting aside your thesis, you'll never finish - there are always other things going on.
Part of your routine should be to meet regularly with your thesis advisor and with the Honors Director to discuss your progress. The purpose of these meetings is not to shame you into working contentiously (though they may well have that effect), but rather to help you stay on a productive track.
If you end up floundering for an extended period of time, that will obviously affect your schedule for completion, and likely add stress as well; your director may be able to anticipate and head off problems associated with red tape, your methodology, analytical software, etc. that may otherwise lead to an unproductive period.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL
It's easy to get lost in your thesis, and drift away from your original or intended course. As you start researching your topic, collecting data, or even writing, you can easily end up pursuing things tangential to your primary purpose. Some of these tangents are useful and even necessary (since you'll never be able to anticipate exactly what direction you'll need to take in your thesis project); the problem comes when you start chasing tangents of tangents.
Left unchecked, you'll look back on your accomplishments six months down the road and wonder how you ended up where you did, and realize that you have little or nothing relevant to your thesis topic to show for your efforts. It's essential that you always look at what you're doing (or about to do) in the context of the overall project. In this way, you'll be able to see early on that you're getting off subject, or to prioritize different tasks with respect to how much they contribute to completing your thesis.
A good thesis proposal is the most important tool to staying on track. If you've carefully thought out your project and outlined the necessary steps in a concrete way, you'll be able to use that document as a context for evaluating what you're doing at any one time.
Your thesis advisor should also be able to keep you focused if you meet with him or her on a regular basis. Whatever mechanism you use, you need to continually step back from what you're doing and ask 'What does this contribute to my project' and 'Is this the most essential thing I need to be pursuing in my thesis work right now?'
Some bits of work are inherently more valuable than others, but they also all have their place and time to be pursued. So, even if what you're doing seems trivial, it may still be the thing you most need to be doing at the time. On the other hand, something with very exciting long-term potential may be very enticing, but if it prevents you from making progress on your thesis, it may not be time well spent until the thesis is done.
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE TIME
Completing the thesis will take longer than you expect it will. Things invariably come up that interrupt your methodical plans. You have those pesky classes to study for, the sources you need from the library are away at the bindery, the instrument you need to analyze your samples breaks down, you get the chance to party in Ft. Lauderdale during Spring Breakâ€¦ All of these things can and do happen, and each one pushes that completion date back just a little bit.
Beyond that, you'll be surprised at how long it takes to analyze, synthesize, and organize your information, and especially to get the thesis into final form. In fact, collecting the information and/or data is in many ways the easy part. Making sense of it and presenting it in a way that others can appreciate its significance is much more difficult. Work with your thesis advisor and determine how long it should reasonably take to compile the information/data/pieces you'll need to complete the thesis. Be sure to build in some time for problems that will arise.
Also, remember that, when it comes to writing your thesis, you'll be going through multiple drafts. You're not expected to produce a well-polished thesis the first time through; however, you are expected to get to that point, regardless of how many drafts it takes.Â Establish reasonable draft deadlines with your advisor, so there is ample to for you to revise and rewrite your work as many times as needed.
GET FEEDBACK THROUGHOUT
While the thesis is your work, no scholarship is done completely in a vacuum. You'll need and benefit from guidance, suggestions, and editorial criticism throughout the duration of the project. Scientists have collaborators, writers have editors, artists have muses, and great thinkers have sounding boards. These people all contribute to the production of quality work, no matter what the format.
The same is true of your thesis - don't feel you must, should, or even want to work in isolation of those who can offer any or all of these services to you; if you do, your thesis will suffer, and it will be harder for you to even complete the project. Your thesis advisor will provide the majority of this input. You should expect to meet with him or her on a weekly basis, even if it's to report no progress (though hopefully that won't happen too often).
It's also important to keep several other people up to date on your progress. Most important, Dr. Lanier and/or Dr. Tomso need to know where you stand and what your plans are. Because they have seen many theses (successful and not), they can give you valuable insight into designing an appropriate and manageable project, budgeting your time, and preparing a quality product. When you get to the writing stage, he will also give you the editorial and stylistic help you need. You need to meet with Dr. Lanier or Dr. Tomso when you initiate your thesis project (prior to submitting your thesis proposal), and arrange to discuss your progress with one of them on a very regular basis.
The Honors Program also needs to know where you stand. We're interested in seeing that you produce the best possible thesis, for both selfish and more altruistic reasons. Remember that the Honors Program has funds available to support thesis research; if we're familiar with what you're doing, we might be able to suggest creative ways you could take advantage of those funds to enhance your thesis and the experience itself (funds for supplies or travel to develop the thesis, or travel to present your thesis at a meeting, conference or show).
For administrative reasons, we also need to have an accurate estimate of who's working on theses, how far along each person is, how many and whose theses will be completed in a given year. Keeping the Honors Program in the dark about your plans makes it more likely that you, your thesis advisor, and your department will be missed when we, for example, develop lists of Honors graduates for recognition in the Commencement program, respond to others inquiring about involvement of various departments in thesis projects, etc. While not very exciting, these are essential kinds of information that we need you to provide to us.
DON'T COUNT ON YOUR LAST SEMESTER
You've gone through nearly four years of college - working hard, worrying about grades so that you'll get into grad school, following the (nearly) straight and narrow path. Midway through your senior year, your grades will have been sent to all those grad schools/professional schools/prospective employers, and you'll just be waiting on their decisions.
You'll want to kick back a little in your last semester. Take a few classes, enjoy those last few months as a free and easy college student, and remind yourself why college (despite the work) is so much fun. You should be able to do this. Don't mess it up by putting off finishing your thesis until then.You won't like it, you won't do as a good a job, and the experience will seem like more of a burden than an opportunity.
HAVE THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
The thesis process is at times exhilarating and infused with creative energy; at other times, it's extremely frustrating and tedious. During the discouraging times, you need to maintain the right perspective in order to keep moving forward.
Nobody said working on your thesis would always be fun, only that it was a valuable experience. You need to remember why you thought it would be so valuable to you when you started the project. The chance to experience the nuts and bolts of your field...Getting a leg up on those other applicants to grad or professional school... Producing something that was truly yours...These reasons are just as true in the middle of your thesis endeavor as they were at the beginning. And when you've worked through the short-term difficulties, completed the project and receive your Honors medallion, their significance will be much greater and more tangible than you could have imagined before. That's when the feeling of satisfaction sets in.[back]