Surviving Senior Year: Thinking About the Thesis

I ran out of post it notes.

Now to you this may not seem like a moment worth mentioning, but to me this is a monumental deal. You see, back when I was a freshman, fresh faced and eager, I did things like shopping for school supplies. I bought pens, and paper, highlighters and binders, and, most importantly, I bought post it notes. (I’m an organization freak. For my kind, it’s the little things like multi-colored sticky paper that make life worth living, okay?) But these weren’t just any notes. These were the super stack, a 12 pad pack of multicolored 4X4 sticky notes. I was sure they would last me all four years of college.

That was before I started working on my senior thesis.

Thesis projects require note taking. They require page marking. They require a lot of post its. I printed journal article after journal article, photocopied book after book, stuck notes in chapter after chapter. This summer I finished the blue pad. In the past month alone I went through the purple, and this past week I finished the hot pink pad. My post it notes are no more. Seven months before the end of my college career. (I’m a little heartbroken. Don’t judge.)

That alone would be enough to make me reconsider my commitment to this whole “senior thesis” thing, but I assure you I have plenty more reasons. I started this thing back in May. I picked a topic, and wrote out a proposal. Over the summer I started doing some light research, reread the novels I was working with, and marked the important passages.  It didn’t seem all that bad, but this past summer I didn’t have four other courses to worry about. Now I do. Needless to say, things have gotten a bit more complicated.

Working on a thesis warrants an independent study, which means that every few weeks I have to meet with my advisor to discuss my progress. I have to make outlines and write annotated bibliographies (the English major’s worst nightmare) and cut time out of my already overbooked schedule to keep up with my thesis work. My prospectus is due next Monday. My advisor wanted it a week early to look over. So as I sat there last weekend, sacrificing Fall Break time to write about Jane Austen, I started to wonder why exactly I was doing this. Yes, completion will get me departmental honors (and a pretty cord at graduation) and it will be a personal accomplishment that I will be proud of, but, really, will it do me any good after I graduate?

Are senior projects really worth it?

Departments require senior research projects, senior thesis papers, senior seminars, and projects of all kind for graduation. But are these projects, these courses, actually doing students any good? Yes, my scholarly writing will improve as I work on this, but what good will that do me when I’m looking for a job? It’s not like my resume needs citations or annotations or intense research. I’m dedicating an entire year to this project, and seniors at every college, in every major, are doing the same. And for what exactly?

Granted, there should be something to mark the fact that students have reached the height of their studies (I know, I know, that’s what Margarita Mondays are for), but is this the right approach? Would professors be better off sending their students out into the work place? Would it be wiser to require internships for the completion of a major? That option would at least allow students to observe the jobs they are likely to take on after graduation. It would be especially helpful for students without a definite career path, for students with majors that don’t immediately lead to viable career options (like this guy). Showing students their post college options before they reach that point may even help to clear up some of that post-grad craziness.

It’s certainly something to consider.

I love writing, but no one is going to pay me to write 30 page papers critiquing and over-analyzing my favorite novels for a job…are they?

…. Although, if you’re a hiring manager and you’re interested, drop me a comment. I charge per word.

Click here to follow Jenn’s other ups and downs of senior year.

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