Where Do I Start?: How to Prepare for Your Senior Thesis

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All majors here at Yale require the completion of a senior requirement in order to graduate. For some seniors, that may mean completing a project or taking a written or oral exam. For others, like myself, that means writing a semester or year-long thesis about a topic relating to your major of study. According to the Handbook for Directors of Undergraduate Studies in Yale College, “the senior requirement measures whether the student can demonstrate some form of mastering or substantial competence in some significant aspect of the subject of the major.” In other words, this requirement exists to show the knowledge and expertise you have developed through your time here at Yale. So, where do you begin?

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One of the first things to complete on your “Senior Thesis To-Do List” is finding an advisor. Having an advisor who you are not only comfortable with but who also has experience in the topic you’re interested in is incredibly important. You’ll be spending a lot of time with your advisor and ideally, you want someone who will both push you in exploring your interests and be able to guide you on how best to approach a long thesis paper.

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Once you have found an advisor, you should start narrowing down your thesis idea. Do not worry if you don’t have a specific thesis topic right off the bat. I surely didn’t and I’m glad I was able to have the opportunity to talk about topics at length with my advisor before we made a final decision. Begin BIG and then slowly start finding ways to make your thesis specific. My advisor and I had several meetings where we discussed the big topics I was interested in - gender, health, political science - and the various routes my paper could go in depending on the specific question I came up with. You want to find a topic that you are generally interested or passionate about, so take your time and explore.

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After deciding on the specific thesis topic that you’ll be tackling in your paper, it’s time to begin your research and prep for the writing process. Writing a senior essay is a very daunting task. For my major - political science - the senior paper needs to be 25 pages minimum. This paper has the potential of being the longest paper you’ll write during your entire Yale undergraduate career and so, preparation is necessary.

A great resource offered by Yale to undergrads writing their thesis (or any other type of paper)  are library consultations, which you can schedule through the Yale Library Homepage. I recently had a consultation with a librarian in the social studies library and it was such a great experience. We spent about an hour and half talking about my thesis, sections I was possibly thinking about including in my essay and then explored the various databases I could use to find sources.

Tackling the senior thesis is all about patience and time management. It is going to be a long process, whether you’re writing it in one semester or taking the whole academic year. If you don’t pace yourself, it can soon feel overwhelming. So, ease yourself into the research process and take advantage of the resources your advisor and Yale can offer you.