Five Reasons to Love the Senior Thesis

March 18, 2014
Carmina Aguilar Mancenon

A moment of thought in Wadi Rum, Jordan

PTL. Wherever I looked, that acronym seemed to be scribbled, from chalk on the sidewalk to Facebook status updates. According to, "Post-Thesis Life" (or PTL for short) is “the beautiful time when a college senior is finally finished with their senior thesis and can enjoy senior spring like a normal human being.” The Princeton Senior Thesis is a yearlong academic project, usually around 100 pages, required of all Princeton students (though engineers are given the option to pursue a semester-long independent project instead). When I was a junior surrounded by older friends anticipating their senior thesis, I could not help but feel intimidated by what was to come.

As a current senior with a solid month to go before my thesis is due, I never thought I would find myself writing an article with such an optimistic title, especially during Pre-Thesis Life. Yet here it goes, five reasons I actually enjoy the process of writing the senior thesis (fellow commiserating seniors, please don't kill me!):

1) I can pursue my passion

The topic of the senior thesis rests entirely with the student. We are given the time and resources to pursue a subject to our heart’s delight. Even within a department, the range of topics is unimaginably extensive. For instance, in my department, Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE), previous titles include:

  • “Harry Potter’s Life in the Fast Lane: Using ORFE Magic to Forecast Speeds on State Route 167 (Hermione Granger’s Thesis for a Muggle Studies Degree)”
  • “Optimal Length-of-Stay Policies for Heart Failure Patients in a New Health Care Environment”
  • “An NBA Coach’s Decision: An Application of Bandit Theory in the Game of Basketball”

For me, brainstorming a thesis topic was a personally introspective experience that left me questioning my passion and origins. Having grown up in both first- and third-world countries, I developed an interest in bridging opportunity gaps, particularly economically. Thus, I wanted to pursue a topic on the intersection of ventures and policy in the context of international finance, development and sustainability. I decided on my research topic after having admired since freshman year a social enterprise called Endeavor Global. Working with them, I was able to pinpoint a topic that would align with my interests and would be most relevant to current challenges in the field.

To this end, my thesis title is “Leveraging Government Policy to Increase Capital Base for Technology Startups in Turkey and Jordan.” The aim of my research is to understand the area of funding crunch within the tech startup sphere in Turkey and Jordan. I hope to extrapolate the effect of these trends on capital available for tech startups, as well as suggest government policies to support the startups.The methodology applies both quantitative analysis based on publicly available data and qualitative data based on interviews conducted, in collaboration with Endeavor Global, with both investors and entrepreneurs in Turkey and Jordan.

2) I get to travel

Views from the Citadel in Amman, Jordan

When I'm not working on my thesis in Firestone Library, Frist Campus Center or my room, I can be found conducting thesis research in Turkey and Jordan. My research has taken me abroad for about a month, interviewing and conducting observations with entrepreneurs, investors and the country offices of Endeavor Global—along with some cultural immersion. All my travel expenses have been fully funded by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) Senior Thesis Fellowship Program, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Environmental Studies Certificate Program.

Each interview I conduct abroad is, for me, more than just an attempt to tweak the perfect equation and time series analyses. The interviews tell stories of people who live in constantly developing communities with economic, political and social complications.These stories have given me a better understanding of each piece of data. They help explain the associations with the people I have met, the places I’ve been to and the environments I’ve experienced. This sense of purpose stemming from my travels to Jordan and Turkey continue to turn my thesis into a more coherent blueprint for future ideals.

My month of traveling has taken me to interviews at some of the fanciest high-rise buildings, to backpacking on the weekends in Arabian deserts in Jordan and to isolated travertine terraces in Turkey. I have made memories and experienced adventures. Throughout, I have remained inspired.

View of both Europe and Asia from the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey

Moreover, you can be sure that no matter where you are doing research in the world, you'll find a Princeton community to welcome you.

Having dinner with past and present Princetonians in Amman!

3) I develop close contact with faculty

Students are paired with professors to guide them and provide expertise throughout the research process. My thesis adviser and new friend is Prof. Jianqing Fan, chair of the ORFE department. He's an invaluable resource and one of the world’s leading statisticians (he is the subject of an extensive Wikipedia page). Once he promptly replied to a frantic email I sent at three in the morning. Another time he attended on short notice my dance performance in the Naacho Indian Dance Troupe, despite his superhuman schedule.

4) I make an impact

Endeavor Global expressed a need for the outcome of my research from the get-go, and to my excitement, the entrepreneurs and investors I have been speaking with have been following up for updates as well.


5) I get to feel loved

Richard Lu '16, my thesis fairy, carrying tea, cookies and candy- all for me!

Intense thesis work lends itself to a particular kind of kinship, both within the senior class and between classes. At Cap and Gown, my eating club, seniors are assigned "thesis fairies"—sophomores who recently joined the club—to keep seniors energized and happy. One day, I came back to my room from the gym at 12:30 a.m. to find Richard Lu, a sophomore at my eating club sitting in front of my door doing some reading. When he saw me approaching, he jumped up to hand me packets of my favorite flavors of tea, a mixed bag of candy and some cookies, all with a big smile. We spent the following two hours sitting in my common area chatting about my thesis, the ethics of healthcare, and some funny moments at Princeton that I had missed over the time that I was in Jordan.

It was just what I needed to get a good night’s sleep before starting a new day of thesis writing filled with numbers, inspiration and hopefully candy. April 14, I’m coming for you!