Senior Thesis: The Last Hurdle Before Graduation

By Sophia Rosenthal '17
Staff Writer

Ask any Scripps student what they think senior year will be like, and you’ll encounter an expression of knowing dread. Sophomores and juniors look warily toward the future in knowing anticipation of what is to come. Even first years have heard enough to know it as something to fear. But seniors must live it: thesis. The very word conjures up dark images of desks piled high with books, long trails of tearful emails to advisers and thesis readers, and boxes of wine as red as the blood-shot eyes of their consumers. Indeed, at Scripps College, thesis is constructed as the pinnacle of both academic stress and academic accomplishment.

Robyn Sherman, whose Molecular Biology thesis is titled “The Regulation of Histone H3 Proteolysis by Acetylation in Tetrahymena thermophilia” acknowledged that the research aspect can be intense. “The hardest part of thesis is accomplishing all of the research and then being able to write it all down in a clear, concise way that makes sense to readers who have little to no background in the field of study” Sherman said. Christina Whalen, whose thesis is titled “Is the reception better on a different channel?: Interpersonal communication satisfaction of introverts and extraverts during face-to-face versus instant messenger conversations,” agrees that the initial research is the challenging part. “The hardest part of thesis was getting the source material read” Whalen said. “It’s easy to find titles that look relevant and it’s easy to write commentary on things that you’re reading--it’s the actual note-taking [...] that ends up being the first major hurdle.”

But despite the high volume of reading and research required, the rewards of the experience are significant, and not something that is often discussed. “I am going on to graduate school for a Ph.D. Being able to complete a research project [...] has helped me immensely during the interview process and has allowed me numerous opportunities to present my research at conferences” Sherman said. “I am continuously using the knowledge that I have gained [...] It is very rewarding to know that you are competent in the subject: nobody has more knowledge on the subject than you do!” Thesis is the culmination of a Scripps education, and not simply because it is the last major project before graduation. “The process of writing it can [...] help you tie together everything you have learned over the four years, and really utilize the skills you’ve been gaining” Whalen said. After all, “The knowledge that you gain is invaluable” Sherman said.

So what about those of us who still have thesis to look forward to? What approach should we take? “The one piece of advice that I wish I had taken to heart was, ‘Don’t let yourself get intimidated!’ Everyone chalks thesis up as this horribly stressful process, but honestly half or more of that stress starts with the thought...that it’s going to be something horrendously nerve-wracking,” Whalen said. “If there were a more positive outlook on the thesis process, I think that it would have been [...] much less strenuous and emotionally taxing than it was. [...] Break it into chunks. Make an outline, and take it one step at a time--How many of us have written 10-page papers in the last 36 hours before the due date? Or even the last 24? You can write 30 pages over the course of a semester or two no problem.” As intimidating as senior thesis is built up to be, it seems comparable to applying to college or getting your first tattoo--it can feel overwhelming and painful at times, but you get it done anyway, and it is absolutely worth it.