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Students, faculty weigh in on value of senior theses as number and interest grows

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:11

seniortheses

Alex Schmieder / Tufts Daily Archives

Students engaged in research during their undergraduate careers often choose to write a senior thesis.


The Tufts student body is hardly lacking in commitment to academics. This passion can be put to good use by students in their senior year, when they can choose to delve extensively into a subject and complete a senior thesis.

Within the Class of 2012, 158 seniors wrote a thesis — the most that have ever done so at Tufts. This increase in number of seniors electing to write a thesis reflects the growing interest on campus as students are learning more about and taking advantage of the research opportunities that are available to them.

“When I first started it was more like 120, but it always breaks 100. Last year was the biggest of all time,” Associate Director of the Academic Resource Center Kristina Aikens said. “Students are obviously becoming increasingly interested.”

According to Aikens, students majoring in psychology and international relations in the Class of 2012 were the most likely to have written a thesis, with English, American studies, biomedical engineering (BME) and biology majors following closely behind.

Program Specialist for Scholar Development Anne Moore explained that writing a thesis is intellectually beneficial for both the individual and to Tufts.

“If you do a senior honors thesis, it teaches you to take yourself seriously as an intellectual, and I think that’s the kind of thing that leads you to go on to further graduate study ... that’s the kind of thing that universities want,” Moore said.

Students can begin to consider the option of engaging in research and writing a relevant thesis as they settle on a major as an underclassman, but the decision should ultimately be made in their junior year.

“Ideally, [students] should certainly be thinking in their junior year. Some students start thinking earlier than that, but I think that might even be too early,” Aikens said. “By spring of your junior year, [though], you should have some sense of whether or not you want to write one, and a general idea of the topic.”

Chair of the Department of Psychology Lisa Shin also expressed that many students end up writing a thesis after having been involved in research already during their undergraduate career.

“Normally a student has actually been involved in that area before they even start with the thesis, and normally in that area is where they start having conversations with their mentors about how to proceed with the thesis,” Shin said. “There’s [a process] in the background to work toward a thesis topic.”

Junior Josh Levy, a math and chemistry double major, is thinking about writing a senior thesis next year as a continuation of the research he has been working on for the past two years.

“I’ve been working with my professor on this math research project. It’s focused on tomography which is a blend of analysis and applied mathematics,” Levy said. “I’m really interested in the material, and as we’ve done research and developed stuff this is kind of a culmination of that project.”

While there are many reasons to do a senior thesis, many students choose to do so based on the requirements for their major. Senior Joey Herman decided to write a thesis because of encouragement from within her American studies major.

“In American studies, you have to do either a full−year thesis or a semester−long project, and so looking at those two options, I realized that I really wanted to spend a year doing something that was really important to me and really get that experience,” Herman said. “This is an opportunity that isn’t always available to you, so I wanted to take advantage of that.”

Senior Sam Kupferberg finds the challenge of researching a thesis rewarding.

“I was always thinking that I would do it. I’ve never really done a project like this, and I wanted to see if I could, especially if I could find a topic I was interested in,” he said. “So I decided it would be a little bit of a challenge, [but] it was also something that I wanted to do.”

Both Kupferberg and Herman each took sufficient time to determine exactly what they wanted to focus on and drew from many resources before making the final decision.

“It was a long, spread−out process. I [became] really interested in the U.S. drug policy, and its foreign policy especially. I was thinking that it had to be within the United States because of American studies,” Herman said. “But then I talked to my advisor who really encouraged me to do what interested me in the first place, so they helped me find a way to study how U.S. foreign policy in Latin America is also implicated in America itself.”

Kupferberg found that his topic evolved from courses he took at both Tufts and abroad, as well as from conversations with professors.

“It evolved from some classes I took and some discussions I had with [Associate Professor of Political Science] Ioannis Evrigenis, my advisor, as well as some classes I took abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland,” Kupferberg said. “I became interested in the historical development of science as a way to study politics.”

Kupferberg also participated in Summer Scholars, a Tufts program that helps students get started on research during the summer with the aid of grants.

“It’s a great program,” he said. “You work with a professor while you’re doing research. You do it in close consultation with a professor so you really learn their methods or the way they think you should approach these issues and you can constantly be in discussion with them.”

This allowed Kupferberg to get started on his research early in the summer, which helped with the heavy workload of a senior thesis.

Herman, who didn’t have the summer to get started, touched on the sacrifices she had to make in order to make time for her thesis.

“I’ve definitely had to cut down on my extracurriculars and have been taking it easier this semester,” she said. “I’m taking one less class than I would normally take. It is definitely a good amount of time, [and] it’s so self motivated that you really have to be on top of it.”

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