The Ups and Downs of Writing a Thesis

By Emily Price

College can sometimes seem like a never-ending stream of papers, projects, and homework. The work never ends — something is almost always due. And for seniors, that pile of work can get a little bit larger if they choose to pursue a senior thesis. With the academic year in full swing, the Echo investigated the ups and downs of writing a senior thesis with current seniors, those that have graduated, and professors.

According to current senior and thesis writer Jane Franks ’19, “I decided to write both of my theses, one for my English major and the other for my Spanish major, because I had ideas for both of them that I was passionate about and wanted to develop further. I’m taking fewer classes than I normally do which is kind of weird, but other than that it hasn’t really impacted my life at Colby. Getting to work closely with two of my professors has been awesome, and their instruction is invaluable.”

Franks continued, “I’m mainly excited to see how they end up because I’m still researching for both of them and things keep changing. I think the hardest thing is dividing the projects into chapters or sections. There is so much I want to include and so many dialogues I want to develop between different texts that sorting them is proving to be difficult.” Franks added that managing her time has been unexpectedly easy; the fact that she is interested in what she is studying makes it less of a struggle.

Kaiya Adam ’19, an Economics and Global Studies double major, also gave input as a student conducting research in a different academic discipline. Adam describes her experience working on her Economics thesis: “Since both of my majors have been somewhat research-based, I thought that it was a natural culmination to my academic experience at Colby. I was excited by the opportunity to explore a topic I was interested in from start to finish. I was also encouraged to pursue a thesis by a number of my professors. Working on my thesis has meant that I have more unstructured time and it has made me a more independent learner. I am hoping to gain valuable research, data analysis and writing skills.”

Caroline Wilson ’18 offered her opinion on what it’s like from someone who made it to the real world post-thesis as a recent graduate: “Anyone who knew me knew I was working on a thesis — known as ‘the flies’ by most of my friends. The process began in March of my junior year, when I consulted a professor I had been working for at Colby about the possibility of applying for the honors biology program. Starting the process junior year through a tentative project proposal with research objectives was exciting.” Wilson stated that beginning the process that early as a Junior allowed her sufficient preparation and thought before beginning a tough but very exciting senior year full of thesis research.

Wilson added, “My honors thesis with the Department of Biology had a major impact on my senior year, because I not only learned how to balance long-term project work with regular coursework, but it also taught me how to be a better scientist and how to present my work to larger audiences. My positive experience working on a thesis at Colby does not mean it was by any means easy. It was tons of Saturdays in the lab, many late nights alone in Olin, and several thousand fruit flies dedicated to science, but overall, it was a research opportunity I am thrilled I went through and hopefully you’ll be able to find our work in a scientific journal soon!”

Offering a professor’s perspective as an overseer of theses, Associate Professor of Spanish Dean Allbritton. Allbritton explains his point of view, “I always tell students that writing a thesis is unlike anything they’ve done before. I encourage them to think about what are they interested in the subject and what they want to explore. If a student is creative, independent, and has good ideas, they will write a good thesis.”

Allbritton also shed light on when a student might want to forgo writing a thesis: “If the student is not a strong writer, I would deter them from writing a thesis. If writing is something you struggle with already, you’re not going to like it. Also if you struggle with deadlines.” According to Allbritton, writing a thesis requires the ability to work independently. Historically, it seems that Colby students have a pretty good sense of whether or not they will be able to follow through on thesis projects.

Allbritton explains, “There aren’t a lot of students that start them, and then stop. Most students can tell by the time the proposal rolls around whether they will continue writing. Only a few students have ever stopped entirely past the proposal stage, but it is completely understandable because it can be overwhelming.”

From a professor’s perspective, what is the benefit of having students write a thesis? It is a legitimate question as to why professors commit so much of their time to helping students complete this grueling task. Allbritton explains from his point of view, “There is no professional benefit for helping a student with his or her thesis, unless they are writing about something in line with your research; however, that is very rare. I think professors offer up their time because that is the type of professor Colby seeks to hire. We pride ourselves in close student/professor relationships, and a thesis elevates this level of interaction.”