Before senior year, the senior thesis can feel worlds away. For me, thinking about my senior thesis has always felt like imagining potential careers—impractical fantasies rather than realistic plans. Wouldn’t it be cool to…? What if I…?
But just a few weeks ago, I received an email from my department, reminding me that thesis funding application deadlines were approaching. If I wanted to receive summer funding for thesis research, I needed to have an adviser, a research question, and a summer research itinerary solidified by the end of spring break.
I felt somewhat blindsided by this deadline. I’m still a junior. I just started my second Junior Paper. I had given almost no thought to selecting my thesis adviser, let alone constructing a research plan for my still non-existent thesis project.
But for years, I’ve heard stories about the University’s generosity in supporting thesis projects. I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity.
Fortunately, I was able to select an adviser and write a project proposal before the funding deadline. Even so, I wished someone had warned me sooner about the timeline for thesis projects.
As I’ve learned, it is never too early to start thinking about thesis ideas. Because thesis ideas can gestate for a long time, it can be helpful to maintain a few lists of ideas, models, and resources. You can add to them when you get inspired and consult them when the time finally comes to select a topic.
I went to Paris! Not just for fun—although it’s a dope city—but to get some thesis research done to narrow down a topic. In the first part of this series, I mentioned how I submitted an application for funding to research advertisements in museum archives and libraries in Paris. My goal was to narrow down the initial research question I had at the very beginning of my research process: how Public Service Announcements (PSAs) subvert the capitalist practices within traditional commercial advertising. My goal was to see the advertisements that inspired the French theorists I’ll be drawing from in my thesis. But, alas, there was one problem—when faced with an entire archive of advertisements, where do I even begin??
I spent most of my time at the Bibliothèque Forney, a library specializing in design and the decorative arts. I emailed ahead of time to speak with one of the librarians, who wanted to get a sense of my argument and which advertisements he could direct me into researching according to my response. After explaining my general thesis topic and the research I had done in my previous two JPs (pro-tip: explaining a thesis topic in a foreign language is a good marker for how well you understand it—or rather how much you don’t), he responded bluntly: “You really need to narrow this down.” My face fell. That’s exactly what I was trying to do, the very reason I was in that library. I didn’t have a corpus of ads, which is what I was in search for in Paris. I had kind of hoped to look at a vast layout of ads and just be naturally drawn to an era, a medium, a theme, or product, but I quickly realized it was far too unrealistic to be able to survey three hundred years of French advertisements and just hope that a few of them would speak to me so I could write eighty pages about them. The librarian asked me how much time I had to write my thesis, suggesting one to two years, and I chuckled, slightly panicked, and said “six months.”
Learning about independent work in different disciplines can widen your understanding of research and provide insight into the diversity of work being done by the undergraduate research community. This may be especially important if you are a first-year or sophomore student deciding on what concentration to declare. As a GEO major, I am very familiar with the type of research that goes into scientific independent work, but less familiar with research in other disciplines.
To learn more about other types of student research on campus, I interviewed Rae Perez ‘19 about her independent work in the architecture department. Rae is researching the closing of 50 public schools in black neighborhoods in Chicago. Her thesis will analyze these buildings in the context of the city’s racial and political landscape. If you are curious about what research for an architecture thesis might look like, here is what Rae shared about her independent work:
What is your thesis about?
It is an architecture thesis challenging the borders of architecture by dipping into social sciences, urbanism, racial and political dynamics of a city. [I am] trying to understand how individual buildings reflect political ideologies. Chicago shut down 50 public schools in predominantly black neighborhoods and is doing nothing to help a struggling demographic they have historically injured. I want to look at how these buildings have embodied different meanings over time.
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:
Chloe Angyal graduated from Princeton in 2009 with a degree in Sociology. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she’s now a journalist in New York City, working as the Deputy Opinion Editor at HuffPost where she writes about politics, popular culture, and gender. But before Chloe became who she is today, she had to write a senior thesis. Lucky for us, she had some time in her busy schedule to talk about her experience with independent research:
Data collection isn’t always the most exciting stage of a research project, but the payoff can make everything worth it. I’m currently deep into the data analysis portion of my thesis, running up against my draft deadline on March 1, and the dreaded Woodrow Wilson School deadline of April 3. I’m writing about asylum approval rates in the European Union and the United States for unaccompanied child migrants, or unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in the legal parlance. If the same law is applied across all regions, in theory, there should not be substantial variation in asylum grant rates — but the research literature and my preliminary findings demonstrate otherwise. Pulling together the data to calculate these preliminary findings, though, was much more difficult than I had anticipated — and I had to make a tough call about my data collection as I wrote up these findings. Continue reading Deluged in Data: Overcoming Obstacles in Data Collection
As students, we hear a lot about preparing for interviews, especially when it comes to answering questions about ourselves. But what about conducting our own interviews? For my thesis, I will be traveling soon to interview film producers about their work, and I have been wondering what I should do in order to prepare. More specifically, how do I get the most out of an interview that will be used for research? After looking up pointers and consulting with my adviser, I’ve compiled some helpful tips on how to be an interviewer:
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, Taylor shares her interview.
Teri Tillman graduated in 2016 with a degree in Sociology and a certificate in American Studies. Now in her second year at Cornell Law School, she’s the academic chair for Cornell’s Black Law Students Association, the co-president for Cornell’s Sports & Entertainment Law Society, as well as a student associate in Cornell’s Labor Law Clinic. During her time at Princeton, her thesis helped her develop the confidence to conquer any large assignment, and this determination has carried over into her graduate work. Here’s what she had to say about her experience with independent work:
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Kristin Hauge about her independent work in the Music Department to highlight creative independent work in the arts. This week, I got in touch with Edric Huang, a senior in the Anthropology Department with certificates in Urban Studies and Creative Writing. Unlike most students on campus, he will be writing two theses this year. One is the classic research-based thesis that seniors in the sciences and humanities are familiar with, but the second will be a collection of poems for his Creative Writing Certificate. If you are unfamiliar with the kind of work that goes into creative theses, here’s what Edric had to share about his personal experience: Continue reading Writing a Creative Thesis: An Interview with Edric Huang ’18
In our spring series, Senior Theses: A Celebration, we take a moment in the interlude between thesis deadlines and graduation to appreciate the diverse, personal, and impactful work of seniors’ capstone research projects.
For her senior thesis in History, Nadia Diamond wrote about the Magdalen laundries in the Republic of Ireland.
Established at Catholic convents in the 18th century, Magdalen laundries were “rehabilitative” asylums, where sex workers and “fallen women” were put to work cleaning clothes. With the establishment of the Republic in 1922, the laundries lost their rehabilitative nature, and transformed into a form of slave-like punishment for “sinful” women, most of whom were not sex workers, but instead unmarried mothers, sexual assault survivors, or sexually active single women who had been ostracized by their communities. The women worked long hours under supervision of the nuns to wash people’s laundry, without financial compensation, and without freedom to exit the institution. The last of these laundries finally closed in 1996. In her thesis, Nadia focuses on three different laundries — in Dublin, Limerick, and Galway. She explores themes of community disengagement and considers the power that art can play in grappling with this horrific history.
What did you want to learn from this project?
The question that sparked my research was: Why did it take so long for the laywomen who had once been incarcerated to start having their voices heard, and for there to actually be some heat put on the state, the church, and larger society for letting this happen for so long? To do that I decided to look at newspaper archives and trace public discussion in search for any reference of the laundries throughout the 20th century in order to provide historical background for the general societal silence in the 21st century. The laundries were mentioned a lot, but it was all pro-Church, with no voice given to the women inside.
What led you to this topic?
In the summer after my freshman year, I took a global seminar called Performing Irishness, taught by professors Jill Dolan and Stacy Wolf. We were looking at Irish theater as a form of commentary and a method for processing and developing Irish identity. One of the productions we learned about was called Laundry. It was performed in 2011 in the dilapidated laundry in Dublin. The director, who I interviewed this summer, said there were still pieces of furniture, high chairs and things in the building, because it was the last of the laundries to close in 1996. She said it was “as if they just got up and left.” And the artists used these found objects in addition to oral histories to develop performance pieces. Learning about this, I was blown away.
Then Junior Spring an Irish journalist, Fintan O’Toole, taught a seminar called The Arts, Literature, and Cinema of Coercive Confinement in Modern Island, in which we talked about the laundries and other institutions, like mental asylums and industrial schools where kids were sent. We discussed how arts and literature could wrestle with the experiences of an individual and of the greater community.
Did you complete any previous projects about this topic?
I wrote my spring semester JP on a documentary called States of Fear, about the industrial schools where children were forced into labor, which featured survivor testimony and gave me good background. For my thesis I realized I wanted to focus back on the women. Because this documentary came out about the industrial schools and the government put out a 2500 page report specifically about state involvement in the industrial school system that were run by the Catholic religious orders, they collected testimonials, and started a system of reparations for people who had suffered abuse. But that didn’t happen with the Magdalen laundries. There was a report that came out that didn’t address any survivor testimonies, that said that none of the religious orders made any profit, which archivists and historians and activists who have investigated records say is not true.