Why write a thesis?
All students should reflect on the distinctiveness of their academic portfolios. A thesis, given the time and intellectual investment it requires, is easily one of the most distinctive pieces of an academic portfolio.
A thesis can be fun! Seriously. By fun, a thesis is the kind of fun that results from producing original research. The intellectual journey can be amazing if you give your thesis the intellectual space to amaze you.
A thesis makes for an excellent, individual capstone experience. Many programs have great team-based capstone experiences. Your thesis will surpass this effort, and will have only your name on it.
A good thesis is your ticket to a good graduate school. First, it gives you a story to tell in your personal statement (a typical part of most graduate school applications), specifically a story about your intellectual interests. Second, it demonstrates that you can independently tackle complex questions and produce original knowledge. Third, it makes for juicy material in recommendation letters, enabling your advisor to reflect on your potential as a young scholar.
What are some recommended preliminary actions?
Research varies widely by individual and discipline. Some faculty will expect you to get involved in an ongoing project and join their current research teams. Others will allow you more freedom in choosing a topic and methodology. In the case of the former, you need to get out and start talking to these people. If the latter, review leading academic journals within your discipline to see what others are researching and what methodologies are in vogue.
Visit the UHP to see a completed thesis in your discipline. Getting a picture of what the final product could look like is helpful. Advisors who have mentored thesis writers in the past will also have copies of their students’ theses.
Talk with your advisor about tackling big questions, or about how your work will help answer a big question. There are practical ways to tackle big questions, and you want to be a part of that.
How do I find an adviser?
This one can be tricky, because many fifth-semester students don't know a significant number of faculty from their own departments yet. Here are some things you can try.
First, approach faculty you like and ask if they have suggestions. This can even work across departments: electrical engineers know mechanical engineers, chemists know biologists, etc.
Second, ask your department chairperson. The chairperson tends to know those individuals with active research agendas and what their general research areas are.
Third, check the web for faculty research interests.
What is the role of the Chair?
The chair from your department (which may or may not be the same department as your "Adviser of Contact") decides if thesis research credits meet other curricular requirements within the degree program.
Do I need IRB and IACUC approval?
If you plan to do human subjects research you need approval from UD's Internal Review Board. Note that human subjects research can include focus groups, surveys, interviews, observations, and examination of private (e.g. medical) records. You must consult the IRB should you be considering any type of human subjects research. The best place to start is with the IRB web resource.
If you plan to do research involving vertebrate animals, you must have IACUC approval prior to beginning the study. Check with your advisor to make sure your work is covered under his/her protocol.
Should I use a questionnaire?
Certain disciplines allow for the use of questionnaires as part of the research methodology. Speak with your advisor, though, as many of these disciplines also produce excellent scholarship independent of the use of questionnaires.
Should you be planning to use a questionnaire, UD currently offer PSY 410 Questionnaire Design every spring semester. Here is the course description:
While questionnaires are commonly used, they are often not well designed. Learn how to design quality questionnaires. Then develop, test and evaluate a questionnaire in a domain of interest to you. Several students have developed professional questionnaires for use in their theses while others have developed work related surveys for the School of Law and UD Admissions.
What should be done in the semester prior to formally starting the thesis?
Typically, this would be your fifth semester, fall of your junior year. Your primary goal is finding an advisor and agreeing on a shared research interest. Also, there are some programmatic things to get done:
- Attend the Junior Honors Workshops hosted by the Associate Director of Research of the UHP, in September and February.
- Be sure you have submitted an up-to-date Initial Information Document.
- Register for the appropriate 3-credit-hour section of research. Do not worry if these credits put you over 18 credit hours―you will not be billed for them.
- Submit the Thesis Intent Document. This must be submitted by December 10 (or at least 17 months prior to graduation and at least 12 months before the planned completion of the thesis activity).
If you are going to start the thesis process next semester and it is not your 5th semester in the fall of your junior year, please contact the UHP.
What needs to get done in the semester the thesis process begins?
Typically, this would be your sixth semester, spring of your junior year. Your primary goal is moving forward on your thesis research. Also, there are some programmatic things to get done.
- Make sure you register for another three credit hours of thesis research for your seventh semester on campus.
- Attend the Research Tools and Resources workshop.
- You will need to submit the Research Proposal and Fellowship Request. This is due on April 1 for all thesis writers. The Proposal tends to be the first time the thesis writer explains the research project, its value, and the methodology for addressing the research. This is also the mechanism by which funds are sought in support of the thesis research.
What if I am interested in a cross-disciplinary topic?
As far as the UHP is concerned, this is fine. The challenge to the student is to find an advisor or advisors that can provide oversight to such a project. In the case of two advisors, one should be selected as the Advisor of Contact, and it is from the Advisor of Contact’s department that the credit hours should be taken.
What if I want to do my thesis in a discipline other than my own?
As far as the UHP is concerned, this is fine. This needs to be approached with a great deal of caution though. More than passion and intelligence are necessary to get a thesis done. Frequently, thesis writers need to draw on the experiences and background they have from within their discipline. This lack of experience for someone trying to perform thesis research outside of his or her own program can equate to the need for a significant amount of “catch up” work being necessary before a true contribution to scholarship can be made. A good heuristic is this: If you are well into a minor in the discipline of interest or have a strong existing relationship with your potential advisor prior to thesis discussions, this tends to work; if you need to set up an advisor and topic with no background beyond, perhaps, an introductory course, this type of thesis is ill-advised.
I am going to join a research team. Will my research be independent enough to constitute a thesis?
Yes. In many disciplines, the expectation is that you will join a research project that is already in progress. This is frequently true in the sciences and engineering. Your advisor will likely present pieces of on-going projects as potential topics for you to address. Your piece of the research provides the material for your thesis. Moreover, the first couple of chapters of your thesis typically benefit from the project already having a publication history.
What if I want to do my thesis in the visual or performing arts?
Scholarship from the disciplines included in the visual and performing arts has the potential to take on a variety of formats. Should you be studying in one of these disciplines, please work closely with the your thesis advisor and the Associate Director of Research of the UHP to define the nature of your thesis project.
What advice is there once I agree to do a thesis?
Once rolling, thesis work should happen continuously. Work on the thesis during the summer and during a study abroad. There is nothing like uninterrupted study!
Use gimmicks to keep you on track. For example, post a year-long, wall-size calendar in your home, preferably on a wall that you see every day. Mark off deadlines in pen including the proposal submission date, gathering data, analyzing data, writing literature review, etc.
Have an honest conversation with your advisor about what sort of worker you are. Are you self-paced and need little supervision? Or, do you need firm deadlines and an advisor who holds you accountable?
There will be days when you love your thesis research. When those arrive, stay in the groove and work, work, work. There will be days when you hate your thesis research. On those days, getting a single paragraph written is laudable.
There will be days when you love your thesis advisor. There will be days when you picture your advisor in effigy.
Your hard drive will crash. Your original data source will become corrupted. Back up everything.
Don’t diminish your thesis by getting over-committed during your senior year. If graduate or professional school is in the works, the thesis should be your focus. Being a treasurer or secretary of an organization is (usually) inconsequential. So, learn to say “no” to potential distractions.
The best thesis is a finished thesis.
How much is this going to cost?
If all goes well, nothing.
- Up to $1500 is available through a well-written Research Proposal and Fellowship Request. Should your Proposal be exceptional and meet the requirements of the Palermo Founders Fund, several thousands of dollars of support may be available.
- Up to $1500 is available through the Hull International Fellows Fund. In fact, thesis research typically strengthens these proposals.
- Ask your advisor and Chair about (applying for) support.
- If registering for thesis hours takes you over the 18-credit-hour limit in a semester, you will not be charged. Please note, however, that you will still need to have the extra hours formally approved by the dean before you can register for them.
- Meet all of the deadlines and the printing of your thesis is covered by the UHP.
- The Stander Symposium organizers will make it clear how to get your poster printed.
What if this research gets accepted into a conference?
If the conference at which you will be presenting your thesis research happens prior to graduation, the UHP is happy to help your department cover your costs. We have made many awards for up to $500 in support of this activity.
I did a really significant paper in one of my classes¿can I use this as a thesis?
No. Depending on what you and your advisor decide on as constituting your thesis research, this paper can make excellent resource material.
What is the professional development associated with the thesis?
The UHP expects thesis writers to engage in all modes of disseminating scholarship. Scholarship tends to be presented, depending on the discipline, via some combination of the following: oral presentation, poster presentation, written work.
In March the UHP hosts the Honors Students Symposium. All thesis writers graduating that calendar year deliver a 12-minute oral presentation. This is followed by a few minutes for question and answer.
In April the University hosts the Bro. Joseph W. Stander Symposium. All thesis writers graduating that calendar year assemble a poster and are available to answer questions and facilitate discussion with session attendees.
The thesis itself is the written work, and represents the culmination of the entire thesis research effort.