To Thesis or Not to Thesis?

Category Student Voices

Author

Portrait of Claire
Claire Hoffman Class of '21
Authored on March 05, 2021

Article

For many students at Harvard, whether or not to write a thesis is a question that comes up at least once during our four years.

For some concentrations, thesising is mandatory – you know when you declare that you will write a senior thesis, and this often factors into the decision-making process when it comes to declaring that field. For other concentrations, thesising is pretty rare – sometimes slightly discouraged by the department, depending on how well the subject lends itself to independent undergraduate research. 

In my concentration, Neuroscience on the Neurobiology track, thesising is absolutely optional. If you want to do research and writing a thesis is something that interests you, you can totally go for it, if you like research but just don’t want to write a super long paper detailing it, that’s cool too, and if you decide that neither is for you, there’s no pressure. 

plot graph

Some Thesis Work From My Thesis That Wasn't Meant To Be

This is from back when I thought I was writing a thesis! Yay data! Claire Hoffman

 

While this is super nice from the perspective that it allows students to create the undergraduate experiences that work best for them, it can be really confusing if you’re someone like me who can struggle a little with the weight of such a (seemingly) huge decision. So for anyone pondering this question, or thinking they might be in the future, here’s Claire’s patented list of advice:

1.    If you really want to thesis, thesis.

If it’s going to be something you’re passionate about, do it! When it comes to spending that much time doing something, if you’re excited about it and feel like it’s something you really want to do, it will be a rewarding experience. Don’t feel discouraged, yes it will be tough, but you can absolutely do this!

2.    If you really don’t want to write one, don’t let anyone tell you you should. 
This is more the camp I fell into myself. I had somehow ended up writing a junior thesis proposal, and suddenly found myself on track to thesis, something I hadn’t fully intended to do. I almost stuck with it, but it mostly would have been because I felt guilty leaving my lab after leading them on- and guilt will not write a thesis for you. I decided to drop at the beginning of senior year, and pandemic or no, it was definitely one of the best decisions I made.

3.    This is one of those times where what your friends are doing doesn’t matter.
I’m also someone who can (sometimes) be susceptible to peer pressure. Originally, I was worried because so many of my friends were planning to write theses that I would feel left out if I did not also do it. This turned out to be unfounded because one, a bunch of my friends also dropped their theses (senior year in a global pandemic is hard ok?), and two, I realized that even if they were all writing them and loved it, their joy would not mean that I could not be happy NOT writing one. It just wasn’t how I wanted to spend my (limited) time as a senior! On the other hand, if none of your friends are planning to thesis but you really want to, don’t let that stop you. Speaking from experience, they’ll happily hang out with you while you work, and ply you with snacks and fun times during your breaks.

Overall, deciding to write a thesis can be an intensely personal choice. At the end of the day, you just have to do what’s right for you! And as we come up on thesis submission deadlines, good luck to all my amazing senior friends out there who are turning in theses right now.
 

Claire Hoffman Class of '21

Hi! I'm Claire and I'm a senior in Leverett House from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I study Neuroscience with an English Secondary, and I'm also pre-med!

Student Profile
Portrait of Claire