Although it still feels like summer, my fellow seniors and I know that thesis-season is officially in full swing. Some of us may still be finding a topic while others have started gathering sources, but no matter where you are in the process, it’s never too late to start exploring strategies to assist you with your independent work. The senior thesis is a year-long, taxing, and rewarding project, but it doesn’t need to be painstakingly stressful. After completing a junior paper last year and talking with several seniors about their own independent research, I’ve gathered several tips on how to make independent research more enjoyable. Here are a few essential items to what I like to call the thesis-prep kit:
Along with doing your own research comes reading up on a lot of preexisting literature. In order to avoid getting lost in mounds of paper, one way to stay on top of your sources is to create a handy reference guide. This can be as simple as a handwritten chart or as fancy as an excel spreadsheet! The main idea is to have a system that keeps track of the authors you’ve read, and their key concepts and findings. It may even be helpful to include a list of full citations to avoid the last-minute dash for a bibliography!
If your work habits are anything like mine, sometimes sitting in silence makes you more antsy then focused. One solution is to have a set of go-to tunes to get you ready to work. For example, listening to film scores and piano compositions always helps me sit down and be productive for a few hours. Coming up with a playlist will not only help get you through those harder work sessions, but will also help set the mood when it’s time to get things done.
I’ve found that talking about research can be just as important as actually doing it, and having a short list of contacts can be helpful when you find yourself stuck. While your adviser is probably your primary source, there are other people you can reach out to for ideas, such as graduate students studying similar topics or professors whose disciplines overlap with yours. Even talking with your peers can help you work through your ideas. Preparing this list ahead of time can make you feel more secure and can act as a quick reference for future guidance.
Any work session is incomplete without a small stash of something to nibble on. Having a few of your favorite treats on hand can keep you energized and focused while doing research. Plus, they’re great for rewarding yourself when you’ve made progress–I highly recommend dark chocolate!
Your Happy Place
Mental health is crucial to completing a thesis and one of the best ways to maintain sanity is to find a sacred space where you can escape work. Whether it’s Frist South Lawn, the mall, or your couch, keeping a small space in mind for thesis-free activities will give you a place to recuperate and to take some time for yourself. Going to the gym works best for me, as it helps me clear my head and run off all the stress.
These are just some of the many ideas of what you can put in your thesis prep kit, but you can customize it however you see fit. If you find yourself getting overly anxious throughout the year, know that your College Dean, Peer Health Advisers, and McCosh are great sources of support. Librarians, McGraw, and the Writing Center are also helpful for research-specific questions. In the end, succeeding on your thesis comes down to knowing what works best for you and taking steps now to help the year go well!
—Taylor Griffith, Social Science Correspondent