Doug Cohen: Make a senior thesis mandatory

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Doug Cohen

Senior year is terrifying for a lot reasons.

One is that you have actually spent enough time at school to begin to reflect on your college career.

After four years of coursework, papers and tests, the skills you learned at college finally start to come into focus as you search for jobs and market yourself to potential employers.

But many of us are thrust into the workforce without any final product or academic conclusion to show for all that we’ve learned in college.

Students should be required to write a final thesis or complete a final project during their senior year as a capstone to their academic experiences.

I am sure that the mere suggestion of writing a thesis sends a shiver up everyone’s spines. Let’s be honest. Few people want to write a massive research paper. But for all of the pain it might cause, there would also be a lot of benefits.

History majors are a minority within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, as they are required to write a 25-page paper their senior year on a topic that interests them. Many majors require a written thesis to receive departmental honors. Still, many CCAS students are able to avoid such a project and graduate on their own terms.

General curriculum requirements are a critical means to force students to practice a wide variety of important skills. But oftentimes, those skills are learned too early in our college careers to exercise them in a meaningful manner. A final thesis would be a useful method to further hone skills learned over time by applying them to a student’s chosen field of study.

A thesis would also give students an opportunity to market their skills to employers by tailoring their projects to industries in which they want to work.

As a political science major, I know that many of my peers are interested in applying to institutes or think tanks. Students could write a policy paper on a topic relevant to a company, and use it as a writing sample for their job applications. The same is true for those in other majors such as sociology, English and economics.

Another benefit of requiring a thesis is that it will encourage students to make personal connections with faculty members. When faculty and students both become more engaged with each other, there will undoubtedly be a stronger intellectual climate on campus. And this will lead to more undergraduate research, something that the University has emphasized in recent years. Collaboration between students and faculty in some areas could lead to new opportunities for study in others.

This isn’t a totally novel idea. Many prominent schools, such as Princeton University and Bates College, require almost all of their students to write senior theses before graduation.

Inundated with job applications and saddled with the uncertainty about what to do after graduation, the last thing many students want to worry about their senior year is a thesis.

But there is value in a final, culminating project, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

–The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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