As fall semester comes to a close, many Juniors have to confront this question – should I do a thesis? For students in STEM, deciding to do a thesis can seem like a long and confusing process. Every mentor has their own idea about how useful or necessary a thesis is and almost no one agrees. However, most can agree on one thing. Do not do a thesis because you think that a thesis is what you are “supposed to do” or because you want to add it to your resume.
Here are great reasons to write a thesis.
1) A thesis allows you the unique opportunity to deeply delve into a project during your undergraduate career and experience the scientific process within a small microcosm. From creating a project idea to carrying out the research to writing out a paper, writing a thesis is a small glimpse into the academic process.
2) If you are considering doing a PhD or MD/PhD, a thesis is a great way to see if research is for you and it’s a good subject to talk about during interviews.
3) It is a wonderful way to create a strong relationship with a faculty mentor who can offer professional advice, write letters of recommendation and provide insight into the world of STEM.
4) Writing a thesis helps you develop invaluable skills that can aid you in whatever career path you choose – whether it is just perseverance and diligence or it is a specific scientific technique.
So the decision to write a thesis means you have to ask yourself some question: will the satisfaction that I get from writing my thesis alone be worth the time, stress, and worry? Will writing a thesis help inform me about what career or academic path I want to pursue after college? If the answer is no, then there may be better ways to spend your junior and senior year. If the answer is yes, then continue reading!
So what do you do now?
1) Find a lab
If you haven’t already found a lab, now is the time to do so. Winter break is a great time to meet with professors and PIs. Your academic advisor can also be in invaluable resource when it comes to finding PIs to contact. Be upfront with the labs you are interested in and tell them you want to do research in their lab for your thesis – often that will inform their decision and ensure that you have a better experience. It is important to find a lab with a topic you are interested in but the most important factor is finding a good mentor. A good mentor can dramatically improve your thesis experience. You should be in a lab by the spring semester of your Junior year.
2) Junior Thesis proposal
Most are due around the end of Junior year, so get started thinking now about what topic you want to explore. Your PI or mentor within your lab can be incredibly useful in this process. How much autonomy you have in your project is very much dependent on the lab that you join, so consider how much autonomy you want when going through the lab selection process.
3) Enroll in a research course
Most concentrations have the option to count research as a class for two semesters. If you need a fifth class or want more time to pursue research during the fall of your senior year, consider asking your concentration advisor about this option. It can help free up additional time for research and allow you to dive more in depth into your topic.
4) Research and Write!
Now you have started on your path to research! More on the thesis writing process will come in later articles, but right now the hardest step is making that decision to write the thesis.
Good luck with your decision!