Senior Thesising 101: Choosing Your Adviser

Image of night sky above a Princeton building with comet streaking overhead
Whether it’s to look at a comet in the middle of the night or to hang out with friends, you should always find time to step away from your thesis and take everything in during your last few months on campus. Photo Credit: Ryan Champeau

Everyone has heard of the spooky ~senior thesis~ since the second that they stepped on campus for their official Princeton tour. It may feel far away at the time, but trust me, coming from a second semester senior, it comes around quicker than you expect. I am currently in the writing process, but it has been a long journey even getting to this point. Surprisingly, though, I have loved writing my thesis. It does not feel like work because it is a topic that I am truly passionate about. My goal for my final PCUR posts is to walk you through my thesis journey to hopefully make you feel better about yours. This post will start with one of the first steps of the thesis process: finding an adviser.

     In 2019, Social Sciences Correspondent Andrea Reino listed some advice on how to find the right adviser (see here). Her advice is comprehensive, so I really suggest checking it out and then coming back here for a few more details and a new perspective. In addition to Reino’s points, here are a few more quick tips for success:

  1. Think Back to Previous Courses

     Close your eyes and think back to the best class that you have taken at Princeton. Why was that your #1 class? What did you learn about? Who was the Professor? Even if this class was not in your department, you can still use it to brainstorm for your thesis. Two of my favorite classes at Princeton were SPI340: Psychology of Decision Making and Judgment and PSY338: From Animal Learning to Changing People’s Minds. Though I admit that SPI340 is within my major, thinking back to these classes made me realize that I really wanted to write a thesis that changed minds for the better, and that made use of both cognitive science or psychology and policy. I remembered that Professor Eldar Shafir, who taught SPI340 and is a legend in the behavioral policy field, does impactful research on poverty and often combines psychology, economics, and politics in his research. I scheduled a meeting with Professor Shafir at the end of my junior year and the rest was history.

  1. Meet with your Department Adviser

     Your departmental adviser is an invaluable resource that you should definitely make use of. My adviser, Elizabeth Choe, served as an amazing mentor for me. She walked me through the process of finding an adviser and made recommendations based on what I was interested in. Furthermore, she told me about thesis adviser evaluations. Much like courses, senior thesis advisers are evaluated and these evaluations, though private and handwritten for SPIA, are available to students. I was able to browse through potential advisers and better understand if I believed we would work well together.

  1. Devise a Game Plan

    I was lucky in the adviser matching process in that I knew that the first adviser I met with was the one that I really wanted to work with. However, one thing that I found really helpful in making my decision was devising a plan with my adviser at our second meeting. I asked him what kind of communicator he was, what deadlines he would have for me, and what his timeline would be throughout the semester. I also asked how frequently he would be able to meet and I even read the theses that his previous advisees wrote to better understand what I was getting into.

      In sum, when looking for a thesis adviser, you should find someone who conducts research on topics that you are passionate about, that you believe can help you reach your goals, and that you believe will work well with. But, in all seriousness, all advisers at Princeton are amazing, and whoever you end up with will help you produce an original and inspiring senior thesis!

 Ryan Champeau, Social Sciences Correspondent