You’ve spent your entire academic career writing. All different kinds of writing. And learning, all different kinds of topics. For a select number of students, all of that writing experience and years of accumulated knowledge experience culminates in a thesis project.
The thesis has been stereotyped as intense. It’s known as long (at least 25 pages – what?!) and takes hard work and backbreaking research and writing. I am here to tell you that that all of this is true. This paper is perhaps one of the most important pieces of academic writing that you will have to do in your time as a student (at least up until having to write a graduate or PhD dissertation). And as daunting and overwhelming as the experience of writing a senior thesis may seem, it is entirely manageable and significant.
Although the majority of DePaul students have the choice between writing a senior thesis paper or doing a capstone class and paper (which is traditionally much shorter), many students still pursue this thesis project.
Write what you want
Thesis topics can come in as wide a variety of topics as there are writers–that is, an endless number, with each topic as unique as the writer. Some writers choose topics that they are knowledgeable and passionate about. For example, Emily Creek wrote her senior thesis on the roles of dance in relation to its creation and viewing, considering the different sentiments of site specific dance to traditional stage-set dance. As an anthropology major and a member of the DePaul Dance Company, Creek combined her love of both into this demonstrative academic experience that has the potential to carry her further:
“I chose my topic because I’m getting my MA in dance anthropology and wanted to get started exploring it,” said Creek. “Chicago is a great dance city, so there are opportunities. I chose site-specific because when I was in Iceland I attended a site-specific piece that caused me to have a million questions and hypotheses.”
For most of us, it doesn’t take a massive moment of insight to find the topic you want to write about. Think about what you are passionate about, what you are curious about and want to pursue, and follow that. It doesn’t have to be on a topic in your major or of which you have a level of expertise; it just has to be something you are interested in exploring further.
You may struggle
Following what I assume is your expectation about a thesis, writing it is hard. Sometimes the biggest struggle will be in accepting adjustments to your original ideas and in your own understanding of the topic.
Courtney Schum is a costume design major with minors in Sociology and History of Art and Architecture. Writing her thesis as a sociocultural analysis of the elements needed for the Brutalist style of architecture to flourish in postwar London, Schum thought she’d know her direction and topic easily. But writing a thesis proved to still be a learning experience:
“Being an art history minor, the visual side of things comes naturally to me,” said Schum. “Prior to starting my research, I had underestimated how closely related Brutalism was to a very complicated period of British politics. It’s been a challenge to strike a balance between the elements I have expertise in and those that are totally new but still necessary to tell the story.”
But the best way to overcome these struggles is to keep moving forward. Being adaptive to changes in the content and direction of your paper is important to creating a fully accurate and representational piece of writing.
It may be comforting to know that you don’t have to face these struggles alone. Your roommates may buy you cupcakes, your dad may call you with stories about his own academic years, but your resources at DePaul may be the most helpful for you as you move through the hard process of writing a thesis.
You’re not alone
When you write a thesis, you will be given two staff professionals to assist you through the process. One is your advisor/first reader and the other is your second reader. Throughout the process, you will send your readers copies of the draft, discuss your progress, ask any questions, and receive feedback on how to keep moving forward. They will hold you to a deadline so you don’t fall behind, but they work with you fully to make your thesis as best as it can be. More than almost any other resource, writers find these readers and advisors extremely helpful:
“My advisor has proved my greatest asset in the process,” said Schum. “His knowledge of public housing and city planning –which has proven to be an important aspect of my paper to consider–is seemingly endless. We meet on a weekly basis to discuss the portion of the paper I had submitted a few days prior, and he will give me feedback on which elements are unclear or don’t contribute to the overall story.”
More than just feedback, advisors have the insight to potentially shift the entire direction of the paper for the better:
“The professors were incredibly helpful,” said Creek. “It was actually their suggestion that I do my own dance. I used my own position as a dancer and choreographer to develop my own piece, set in the DePaul Greenhouse. I found dancers and invited people and we had ourselves a short little show.”
Rather than just a paper based on research and interviews, Creek’s project was able to incorporate a corresponding visual aspect as a comprehensive representation of all that she had learned. This is in part because of her own hard work and expertise, but also because of the assistance of advisors.
There’s a presentation, too?!
Most thesis projects and papers will culminate in an end of the year conference-type presentation in order for all student thesis writers to share their hard work and results. But don’t be too intimidated; it’s like nearly every other presentation you’ve ever given.
“I essentially thought of my poster as a summary of the paper,” said Schum. “I sectioned off portions of the poster for each major chapter of my paper. As for condensing it, because my paper has an inherent visual element, I tried to focus all of my talking points around an image and omitted anything that required intense verbal description. In fact, the images were the first thing I positioned on my poster and I essentially filled in the text around it.”
You don’t even have to cover the entirety of your research and paper:
“For the conference, I focused on the embodied part,” said Creek. “I did not really touch on the findings of each role nor the spectrum of site-specific that I created. The method and the story of my dance were most interesting to share in the conference setting.”
What were you most interested about in writing your paper? That’s what you’ll be most capable to relate to others! Did you find some great images that describe your results or explain visually your situation? Use those and talk around it! You’ve done all of these things before.
Just try it
Still uncertain if writing a thesis is for you? Well, take some advice from those who have done it before you.
“DO IT,” said Creek. “If you like writing, need to write in the future, or if you have a cool idea, do it. Don’t be afraid to pursue weird art things or sports things, or if you love biking or something. It’s a great interdisciplinary way to explore your passions. Plus, you can choose professors in different departments for a breadth of ideas and wisdom!”
Writing a thesis may be something you are not ready to think about yet, but it can be an extremely rewarding and insightful academic experience, one that can benefit you as you move into your future.