There are many circumstances in which you should put others’ preferences ahead of your own.
I’m going to go on record and say your senior thesis is not one of them.
As you know, your thesis is a major independent work project with your name on it. You pick the question and you conceptualize the answer. You are the star of the show. So, your thesis – or any research project with you at the helm – requires trust in your own intuition. The process is really all about you: what you know, who you know, and what you like.
Since understanding these aspects of yourself is important for your research (and your sanity), it’s worth thinking about each in detail:
What you know: undergraduate courses
Your thesis topic may have come from anywhere, but your thesis content will reflect your journey as a Princeton student. Every class you’ve taken here has taught you something about the world – enlarging, challenging, or confirming your views. Your thesis is an opportunity to put all these somethings to work. Once you have a topic and hypothesis, it’s a good idea to review your old courses and see how the information you’ve learned in the past relates to the present. Pull up a few old syllabi and ask, “How would scholars in ______ field think about my topic?” Imagining your research at the intersection of past courses can help you find innovative research connections. For my thesis – an analysis of how identity-based groups respond to insulting rhetoric in political campaigns – a glance at my past social psychology courses inspired me to shift from ‘political participation’ theories to ‘confronting prejudice’ theories, as they apply in the political arena. With the information you know from your own courses, you can find connections that are just as novel.
Who you know: advisers, professors, and friends
An important “who” in the thesis process is your thesis adviser – which is why you should choose your adviser carefully (if your department lets you choose) and schedule regular advisee-to-adviser communication (whether you choose your adviser or not). If you feel that the advising relationship can be improved – perhaps through more frequent communication, or more concrete feedback – don’t be afraid to let your adviser know. After all, you know what you need to do your best work. Your adviser is there to help make that happen. You can also find help from other people you know – department representatives, who can clarify requirements or even switch your adviser if necessary; subject librarians, who can help you deep-dive into relevant research; past professors, who can offer advice about your topic or writing; and good friends, who may raise questions that you hadn’t considered before.
What you like: habits and preferences
When it comes to actually getting work done, stay true to the way you usually operate. If you like writing at night, write at night – rather than forcing yourself to write earlier and feeling miserable the entire time. If don’t like writing on weekends, don’t – but make sure you put in enough work during the week to earn that time off. You are the expert on the time of day, playlist, and snacks that make you most focused and involved in your work. You shouldn’t fight these tendencies throughout the thesis process. In fact, you should embrace them. Haven’t they gotten you this far?
There’s no doubt that you’ll grow intellectually and personally as you complete your senior thesis. Still, you enter the thesis process with a pretty clear idea of who you are – and that’s not going to radically change. Nor should it. Being the best version of you and focusing on what you know will enable you to produce your best work.
— Melissa Parnagian, Social Sciences Correspondent