Amanda Blanco is a senior in the Sociology Department. Having taken several journalism courses and being an avid news reader, she was inspired by current events to write a thesis pertaining to the effects of today’s political climate on college campuses. Amanda recently finished her thesis and is in the midst of preparing for her defense. This process of reviewing her research in order to share it with a larger audience has led her to reflect on what the senior thesis experience has been like and what she has learned from the process. Luckily, Amanda had time in her busy schedule to share some of her end-of-year reflections:
Now that my thesis has been turned in, I’m starting to prepare for my oral thesis defense to complete my graduation requirements for the Woodrow Wilson School (WWS). It’s certainly going to be a challenge to fit everything from my nearly 100-page thesis into that ten-minute-long presentation, but the WWS Program Office is very helpful in assisting students prepare for the defense. So, with this post, I hope to help demystify the whole thesis defense process for the PCUR audience.
I think many would agree with me when I say that the spring semester is one of the hardest parts of the academic year. Not only are there fewer breaks to help space out assignments, but keeping up with back-to-back papers, problem sets, and assessments can really wear on students. Moreover, April and May can be particularly stressful due to the numerous independent work deadlines they contain. While some upperclassmen have already handed in their Theses and Junior Papers, several others are still working hard to the finish line. By the time the due date comes, many will be tempted to submit their work without a second glance. But the last thing anyone wants is to finally send in their results only to later realize that they forgot to [insert independent work requirement here]. So before you anxiously hit the “submit” button, here’s an independent work checklist you might want to quickly run through:
Everyone knows that writing a Senior Thesis is an exceptionally time intensive process. I expected that conducting the research necessary for a 75+ page paper and actually writing it would take months of work. However, what I did not expect was how time consuming other aspects of my thesis would be. As I was finishing up my thesis, I realized (the hard way) that one of these aspects is formatting. While exact requirements vary by department, most theses must include document elements, such as chapter headings, page numbers, and table of contents. Adding elements like page numbers may not seem particularly challenging, but, when you’re working in a very long document, it can be quite tedious.
In an attempt to save you all some time and stress, I have compiled a short list of tips on formatting long documents in Microsoft Word that I learned mostly through Google searches and trial and error. Many seniors format their theses in programs other than Word, such as LaTeX (Alec has provided some helpful advice on how to use LaTeX in a past post). But if you are like me and are relying on Word, here are a few things to keep in mind:
As we head into April, many Senior Thesis deadlines (including my own!) are fast approaching, so I naturally thought it would be fitting to reflect on my thesis experience. Over the years, many PCUR posts have been written about theses and rightly so given that they are such a significant component of the undergraduate research experience. Many of these posts and much of the discourse surrounding the Senior Thesis emphasize what makes this project exceptional, framing it as the capstone of our college careers, an unprecedented challenge, and quite possibly the longest paper we will ever write.
While I by no means disagree with these characterizations, I want to present a slightly different perspective in this post. Instead of focusing on how theses are exceptional feats, I reflect on the ways in which I have found my thesis to be similar to past academic work that I have done at Princeton.
I’m writing my thesis on state-to-state differences in the provision of maternal health care for pregnant and postpartum women in U.S. state prisons. I wrote one of my Junior Papers (JPs) on this general topic, so my thesis wasn’t entirely uncharted territory. But the content was not the only part of my thesis that felt relatively familiar—I found that my past research experiences at Princeton had appropriately prepared me to collect data, structure my thesis, and address broader research implications as well.
To gather data for my thesis, I primarily relied on state correctional reports, a legal research database, and information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. While I had not used all of these sources before, I had experience using similar datasets and research databases either for my JPs or for other research assignments. For instance, as I mentioned in my most recent post, I had met with a subject librarian to learn how to find and use data and reports from Senegalese governmental agencies for one of my JPs. When I embarked on data collection for my thesis, I relied heavily on the past guidance I had received on these types of searches. Continue reading Stick to What You Know: Relying on Past Experience to Tackle your Senior Thesis
Few students enter Princeton planning to study Geosciences–I certainly didn’t.
Fascinated by the natural world and enticed by the prospect of a field semester in Kenya, I confidently chose “Ecology and Evolutionary Biology” as my intended concentration every semester on Tigerhub’s Academic Planning Form. My backup plan, if the sciences weren’t the right fit, was to study History and get a certificate in American Studies.
So why, when it came time to declare my concentration, did I end up choosing Geosciences? There were three factors that I felt set GEO apart from the other departments I considered:
When I was considering which department to join, it was important to me that the department had a strong community with a space for undergraduate participation.
GEO has a vibrant department community that places a high value on undergraduates. Undergraduate participation is encouraged in weekly department wide events such as lunchtime lectures and snack breaks, as well as celebratory events such as annual department picnics. Even before I declared my concentration, faculty and staff in the department made it clear that there was a place for me in GEO.
The department even has its own undergraduate society, Princeton University Geosciences Society (PUGS), run entirely by students, which plans regular social events and field trips centered around building a close-knit community of engaged undergraduates. PUGS organized a department field trip to Iceland in 2015 and is planning a weeklong trip to the United Kingdom this year.
I’ve gotten to the point with my thesis at which I’m both writing new content and struggling to edit the ever-expanding volume of work I’ve already written. At times, this seems like an insurmountable task. How am I supposed to finish editing my literature review while also doing the data collection and drafting of my main chapters of my thesis?
Independent research at Princeton has given several students the opportunity to conduct exciting new studies, including traveling to other countries in order to get first-hand experience engaging in other cultures. Just a few months ago, I even flew out to Los Angeles to interview television producers for my thesis. While the opportunity to meet new people and learn about their life-stories is undoubtedly a transformative experience, these types of projects wouldn’t be possible without one particular group’s approval: the IRB.
To conduct any research that involves human subjects, Princeton’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) has to review your study in order to ensure the safety of the participants. For instance, if a study involves at-risk individuals (e.g. children or prisoners) the IRB will need to check the parameters of the study in order to make sure no one gets hurt or feels coerced into participating. But with 15 sections worth of information to fill out, the IRB form can be quite intimidating to go through–it even scared me away from including human subjects in my junior paper! But after some encouragement from my adviser, I partnered with a fellow SOC major and worked through the seemingly endless document.
Having completed the process, here are a few tips that I think will make the form easier to navigate:
If you are a Princeton student, chances are you’ve spent some time at one or more of the University’s many libraries. You’ve probably also checked out books and may have relied on a librarian to help you navigate the ever-confusing maze of stacks. These are roles we typically associate with Princeton librarians, but they are by no means exhaustive representations of what these experts have to offer. What many students don’t know is that subject librarians are the hidden gems of Princeton academic resources. Librarians have helped me tackle difficult independent research projects, and you can take advantage of their incredible expertise too.
In a continuation of last year’s seasonal series, this winter, each PCUR will interview a Princeton alumnus from their home department about his/her experience writing a senior thesis. In Looking Back on Undergraduate Research: Alumni Perspectives, the alumni reveal how conducting independent research at Princeton influenced them academically, professionally and personally. Here, Alec shares his interview.
Adrian Tasistro-Hart graduated in 2017 with a degree in Geosciences. A PEI Environmental Scholar, Adrian focused on one independent research project spanning his Junior Papers and Senior Thesis, which he plans on submitting for publication. Adrian is currently working towards a masters degree in Geophysics at ETH in Zürich, continuing his research journey which began at Princeton. Here is what Adrian had to say about his experience with undergraduate research and the impact of his independent research experience: