Reframing “Independent” Work

Every senior dreams of the day their thesis is finally binded! Photo credit: Princeton University Office of Communications
Every senior dreams of the day their thesis is finally bound!

This is how I respond to a non-senior who asks about my senior thesis:

“I love my topic and my adviser is amazing; I can’t wait to start my research!”

& THIS is how I respond when a fellow senior asks about my thesis:


Despite the great deal of resources departments provide to help seniors with their independent work, feeling overwhelmed appears to be inevitable at the start of senior year. This seems to hold true no matter how many times you emailed your adviser over the summer or how much time you spent writing (and rewriting) your IRB proposal. If you’re anything like me, your natural reaction to stress is to seek seclusion; you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Senior year, I’m going into isolation in order to finish this thesis- it’s the only way it can be done!”  

The name “independent work” promotes this same idea, that your thesis must be your own work and therefore requires you to independently figure everything out. However, it’s possible that by reframing the way we think about independent work, we can actually succeed in completing our senior theses and save ourselves a lot of stress along the way.

The one thing that is currently helping me through these trying first few weeks of senior year is discussing my independent work with my roommates. At first I doubted whether discussing my research with them would benefit me in any way since we’re in completely different departments and I planned to power through my thesis in solitude. However, I found that having fellow seniors listen to my ideas and provide feedback from various perspectives was extremely helpful when starting my research, and feels a lot less formal than talking directly to my thesis adviser.

From conversations with my roommates, I’ve figured out how to fill out my IRB proposal (did you know some advisers provide their students with sample proposals to follow?), how to get funding (be sure you check out the Student Activities Funding Engine!), and have even used my friends as guinea pigs in order to test the difficulty of my study. While they may not have all the answers, fellow seniors can definitely get you thinking about your research and prompt conversations that you should tackle with your adviser later on.

Restructuring how I think about the word “independent” has helped me feel a lot more confident going into what I know will be a challenging school year. I no longer feel like I need to figure everything out on my own; instead, I now ask for the input of others and draw from their experiences. With a newfound sense of confidence in my ability to complete my thesis, I’m finally looking forward to independent work at Princeton.

-Jalisha Braxton, Natural Sciences Correspondent