Underclassmen: Make the Most of Thesis Season!

March Madness takes on a whole new meaning for Princeton seniors, who are working hard to stay ahead of upcoming thesis deadlines. With submission dates as early as next week, many seniors spent their spring breaks finishing up data collection, editing their drafts, and attending thesis-geared events (like bootcamps).

The pollen on my doorstep scared me multiple times over break.

I spent my break watching basketball, being terrified of pollen every time I left my house, and sleeping for over 12 hours a day… But, now that I’m back on campus I thought it would be a good idea to ask seniors a few questions about their projects. Until this semester, I knew almost nothing about the thesis process that defines senior life in the months before graduation. Previously, most of my conversations with my senior friends would go something like:

Me: Hey, how’s the thesis coming along?

Senior: (Groan)

Me: You’ll get through it! Only a few more weeks!

And so I thought it might be time for me to ask more meaningful questions (given that my previous interactions only seemed to remind everyone of all the work they had left).

It started with the simple, So what’s your project about? I was originally a little apprehensive of asking this question, given that seniors spend the majority of their time writing long explanations about their projects. But to my surprise, most seniors responded really positively. One of my friends walked me through his entire project from start to finish: how he came up with his idea, how he found his adviser, and what steps he took throughout the year to ensure that he met deadlines. At the end of our conversation, I thanked him for being so thorough and apologized for taking up time that could’ve gone towards thesis-ing. But he waved it off and said, “I actually prefer explaining my project over responding to ‘good luck!’ messages – it really helps prepare for conversations I have with my adviser, and helps me answer questions I’ll potentially have to face during my defense.”

Embarrassingly enough, I didn’t even know Princeton students had thesis defenses, but from that one conversation, I knew infinitely more than I had before.

As I listened to how he got interested in his topic, I got inspired to consider what I’m really passionate about.

As I listened to how he got interested in his topic, I got inspired to consider what I’m really passionate about. I started thinking about general areas of research that interest me and potential department faculty members who are conducting work in those fields. While I may not necessarily act on this information now, it will definitely help as thesis brainstorming time comes around next school year. My friend actually told me that his biggest regret was not thinking about his thesis earlier. When he started thinking about thesis ideas, he realized that he would’ve loved to work under a professor whom he had never met. But if he had started talking to that professor earlier during his four years at Princeton, it may have worked out.

From my experience, I learned that talking to seniors about their projects is a great way to learn about the thesis process, funding, advisers, and everything research-related on campus! I think it’s something that every underclassmen should do before they delve into the process themselves. A great strategy for this purpose? Become a “thesis fairy”: Bring your favorite senior their favorite food, dessert, beverage, and ask them meaningful questions about their thesis! You can be as specific or broad as possible – here’s a list of questions I’ve been asking my senior friends:

  • How’d you come up with your idea?
  • What got you interested in your topic?
  • How’d you choose your adviser?
  • What’s been your favorite part about working on your thesis?
  • What were some of your major findings?

And make sure you thank them for telling you about their project!

One of the unique things about going to Princeton is being able to take complete ownership over a self-created research project. Very few undergrads across the country have the opportunity to learn in-depth about a specific topic in their department, and it’s important to make the most of that opportunity. One of the first steps we can take is learning from seniors this thesis season!

— Kavi Jain, Engineering Correspondent