Keeping Up is Hard to Do…

Keep working through the months! (Photo by Yuem Park)
Keep working through the months!

What did I never expect to be challenging about the senior thesis? Its relative lack of deadlines.

As Princeton students, we’re busy. On top of the vast quantities of course work that we have, many of us take on multiple extracurricular activities such as sports or dance, and each week becomes a battle to meet deadlines for problem sets or readings. And through the trials and tribulations of our first few semesters here, we get better each day at balancing our commitments and meeting deadlines until they become normal parts of our lives.

But your senior thesis will throw you a curve-ball. By this point we’ve been so thoroughly conditioned to work around deadlines that, at first, it can be a little confusing as to how to react to the unexpected freedom of independent work. It’s very tempting to throw down your pen triumphantly when you see that your first deadline is at the end of the semester, and forget about your thesis until one week before that date. But of course, it’s not that easy – after all, a senior thesis is expected to exhibit the cumulative work of an entire year (which cannot be achieved one week before the deadline!). 

Trust me, though, when I say that it’s easy to fall very far behind, even if you had the intention of consistently working on your senior thesis. There are always more pressing deadlines than those of your thesis, and so naturally you tend to them first, thinking that you will get around to your thesis afterwards. But – surprise surprise – the deadlines just keep coming, and you never actually get around to working on it. Contributing to the problem is the fact that many of these deadlines are extremely important too, such as applications for graduate school or work placements, and so it becomes justified in your mind that you are putting off your thesis to work on these more pressing and (for the moment) more important tasks.

So how, then, do you stay on track? There are many methods that can help you do this, but I think there are two particularly effective techniques. The first is to plan your own deadlines, AND STICK TO THEM. It’s easy to tell yourself that by next Saturday you will have read all the contextual papers, but it’s infinitely harder to actually be faithful to it (because, after all, it’s not a “real” deadline). If you find that you are having trouble sticking to your own deadlines, make them “real” by telling your roommates or adviser what they are, and make them make you stick to them.

The second is to spend at least 15 minutes every day working on your thesis with a “no matter what” policy. Be ruthless with yourself when implementing this policy. Even if it’s the single most busy day you’ve ever had in your life, get those 15 minutes in, even if it means losing a tiny bit of sleep! You’d be surprised at how much work you can get done in just 15-30 minutes if you really concentrate.

In summary, don’t let a distant deadline lull you into a false sense of security. Stay on track and keep up with it, and you’ll find your thesis to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your time at Princeton.

– Yuem Park, Natural Sciences Correspondent