What’s a Thesis?

Bugs Bunny looking confused and frustrated.

Now that I’ve made some (minimal) progress on my thesis, I feel a bit more qualified to tell you about theses in general. So, as I mentioned in a previous blog, many majors (mine included) require that you write a long-form essay to complete your degree, usually in your field of specialization. Specific requirements vary by department, so I’ll just speak to Ethics, Politics, and Economics (EP&E). My department refers to it as a “senior essay”, but from here on I’ll refer to it as a “thesis” as this is a more common term (plus I think it sounds fancier).

You can write your thesis over one semester (40-50 pages long) or two semesters (80-100 pages long). I chose to write mine during the spring semester because my fall was quite busy. This is the most significant writing project I’ve ever worked on, so I wanted to make sure I had the time and energy to fully commit to it. 

You can also choose to write it in a seminar that you’re already taking, or you can find an independent advisor to work with you throughout the semester (which is what I did). I felt that I’d benefit from having structured independent time to research and write, rather than add an extremely long essay to a seminar. Plus, I took a class in the fall with an incredible professor who has a lot of expertise in abolitionist approaches to criminal justice, and she agreed to advise me. 

This might be a good time to tell you a bit about my thesis. I’ve chosen to write on the Incarceration Reduction Amendment Act (IRAA), a resentencing law that was recently passed in Washington, D.C. I’ll be analyzing and evaluating it through ethical, political, and economic lenses — I think this can tell us a lot about the various benefits of resentencing acts, as well as illustrate some of the fundamental flaws in our criminal legal system.

So, with the logistics out of the way, what does writing a thesis actually look like? Honestly, the biggest battle for me has been sitting down and actually working on it. It’s a big project and planning it can be quite daunting, so I’ve decided to work on it section by section, working on it for a couple of hours every couple of days. I have some friends who are also writing theirs this semester, so sometimes we’ll go to a library and write together for a night. Other times, I’ll just put on some music in my common room and work until I don’t feel like working anymore. Every bit of progress helps, so I’m doing my best to manage my expectations.

A woman staring at a large wave.
Me looking at all the thesis work that I need to do over the next month.

At the end of this process (April 17th at noon to be exact, but who’s counting?), I’ll have completed a project that I’ve found both personally and academically fulfilling. This summer, I was working on IRAA cases at the Public Defender Service for D.C., and this law has had a massive positive impact on the lives of people that I care about. I’m honored to have the opportunity to spend time reading and writing about it, and I hope to give people a solid set of reasons to support IRAA and other laws like it. I can’t think of a better way to cap off my undergraduate career.