Though the final exam period for the fall semester has not even begun, some seniors are already looking ahead to how they’ll cap off their studies next semester.
Some members of the senior class across the College of Arts and Sciences will write or are in the process of writing their senior theses — in-depth projects honing in on a particular academic area.
While peer institutions such as Princeton University and Haverford College require senior theses or projects before students graduate, Penn’s policy is not uniform. Some programs require all majors to write theses, and others offer the thesis as an avenue to graduate with honors.
The College does not keep data on the number of students who complete theses each year.
According to Associate Dean of the College Kent Peterman, however, 21 percent of all majors completed in the past three graduating classes were posted to students’ transcripts with honors.
However, Peterman stressed, this statistic underestimates the number of students who actually write theses because some complete the project without receiving honors, while others do it because of a major requirement.
For the students who do take on the project, writing a senior thesis can offer unique advantages.
Undergraduates interested in pursuing doctoral degrees in particular can benefit from writing senior theses, since the process can affirm their passion for extended research, said Senior Associate Director of Career Services Peter Stokes, who advises pre-graduate school students.
Theses can also be helpful in the graduate school application process by demonstrating writing skills, leading to a detailed recommendation from a faculty adviser or potentially even serving as a writing sample, Stokes added.
Similarly, writing theses might help job applicants within fields particularly focused on research and writing — such as think tanks, education, consulting and international development, Senior Associate Director of Career Services Kelly Cleary said.
In some cases, a senior thesis can become intertwined with an eventual career path — a trend that international relations professor Frank Plantan, who helps to supervise the mandatory senior seminar for thesis research within the major, has noticed.
“I’ve seen theses become briefing papers in places like the Department of Commerce or Department of Justice and it is the single most important deliverable in a graduate school application,” he said in an email.
In addition, the senior thesis is often integral to the curriculum within some majors.
Like international relations, the fine arts program requires a senior project, with a slightly different format. In the first half of senior year, each fine arts major creates a series of projects they exhibit once in the fall and once in the spring.
For College senior and fine arts major Maggie Edkins, the project has been rewarding despite the intensive labor it requires.
“I’m willing to put in the time because I like what I do, but sometimes I feel like I live in my studio,” she said. “I’ll be here for ten hours sometimes before I realize I haven’t eaten.”
At the same time, with all fine arts majors occupying individual studios in Addams Hall, the thesis helps cultivate a sense of community among them.
“You get to know people really well when you’re deliriously tired and eating Chinese food on the floor with them at four in the morning,” Edkins said.
On the other hand, in the History and Sociology of Science Department — which houses the health and societies and science, technology and society majors — only 11 of 98 seniors are writing theses, 5 in HSOC and 6 in STSC.
Though a higher number of students within these two majors typically take on the two-semester project, Associate Director for Undergraduate Studies in the History and Sociology of Science department Ann Greene explained that the department’s size is partly responsible for these numbers.
“It would be nice if we could be like Princeton and have all students write a senior thesis, but with 209 majors combined, it would take a great deal of time and advising and teaching, and more faculty than we currently have relative to the large number of majors we have” in HSOC and STSC, she said.
Yet Greene and students agreed that completing a major can be meaningful with or without a thesis.
“The senior thesis is a great thing to do if it’s the right thing to do for that student, if they have an idea that has grabbed hold of them and won’t let go, but it’s not the sine qua non of being a great student,” she said.Comments powered by Disqus
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