Embarking on the Senior Thesis: Reflections on Junior Year and Thoughts for Senior Year

June 26, 2023
Amélie Lemay

My junior year has come to a close, meaning that, amazingly, I will begin my last year of college in September (time really does fly!). At Princeton, a defining feature of your final year is the senior thesis, a year-long independent research project in your department. There is an unofficial vocabulary of terms for referring to thesis-related phenomena (thesis-ing, thesis fairy, PTL (post-thesis life)), and underclassmen are generally advised to avoid asking seniors about the thesis at all during the month of April, for fear of unleashing a panicked thesis ramble. Given all this, the thesis can definitely seem pretty daunting, and while I'm certainly nervous, I've also realized how my first three years have really set the stage for the thesis to be much more doable than it seemed when I first started at Princeton. As an incoming first-year, the thesis looked very unapproachable, because I really didn't have the skills then for an independent project. But now, after the experiences in my first, sophomore, and junior years, I feel that I know how to approach original research and believe I can produce meaningful work for my thesis. I know that the road will be bumpy, but I at least feel that I'm in a well-equipped vehicle for the ride.

One of the most important experiences preparing me for the thesis was my writing seminar. All first-years take a writing seminar ("writing sem"), where you learn how to structure a research paper and to situate your original work within the existing literature. On every draft, your professor writes you a detailed feedback letter describing where and how to improve, and you then submit a final, polished piece several weeks later. Your professor also holds individual meetings with you to discuss ideas and approaches to your topic. It's a challenging but incredibly rewarding course, and it allows you to conduct a half-semester long mini-thesis where you practice the process arc you'll use for your senior thesis (Also, the different topics available are endless—the theme of my seminar was "Systems of Play," and my second major paper was about LEGO advertising).

In my sophomore and junior years, I started conducting research in my concentration, environmental engineering (moving forward from LEGOs to organic contaminants and solar energy!), through Independent Study courses with professors in the CEE and ECE departments. I became familiar with the literature and methodologies specific to my field, all while using the same skills and process arc I'd learned in writing seminar. Now, in the summer before my senior year, I'm working for Dr. Bourg to begin the research for my thesis. I'm not entirely sure yet where the project will lead, but I feel prepared and excited for the journey.

two students holding placards reading "almost seniors" in front of ivy-covered building