Senior Thesis. The two words you hear almost as much as “mozz sticks” “80s” and “Where are you studying tonight?” whispered, screamed, groaned and whimpered throughout Bates campus. Senior thesis is explained to first-years as early as they know what academic requirements are. It is remembered by seniors until the day it is bound. But just how practical is this sometimes daunting, sometimes exciting, yet always around capstone undertaking?
I’m not going to lie, there is not a single quality of this graduation requirement that I find unattractive. Writing the longest paper of my academic career on my OWN topic? Sure. Not having to go to class, but instead have 30 minute meetings (not at 8 am) with your favorite professor once a week? Even better. Did I mention that, for most majors, you don’t have to listen to anyone else when it comes to picking a topic?! Finally, a class I get to dictate. As an extremely nerdy and highly independent learner, thesis is my absolute dream. For the extroverted and less nerdy people in the world, I also think it is a great way to finish your Bates education. What better way than through an intensive and personalized project to showcase your academic labor?
While to some of us, thesis in theory might sound like a great alternative to class, it has some practical drawbacks. The first and only drawback I am going to talk about is Bates’ faculty-to-student ratio. This ratio, which is incredibly small and favorable compared to larger universities, is oftentimes too large to make thesis a realistic goal. Because so many departments, such as Economics and Neuroscience, have a huge gap between the number of students to the number of professors, it can become as much of a strain and source of stress for professors as it does for students. Moreover, it can lead to professors spreading themselves too thin and not being able to properly accommodate every student.
As a result, I have seen efforts to minimize professors’ responsibilities for thesis. This is a necessary effort, but in turn, diminishes the concept of a thesis. For example, the English department gave a thesis option this year to write directly out of a 300-level seminar, rather than as individual research. This caters to the student as well, because there is no “extra class” they need to take, and can fulfill two requirements with one class period. While I think that this is a great compromise, it seems to deter from the original concept of thesis as a guided, independent, semester-long research project.
This creates a power dynamic where students pursuing an honors thesis are going to receive exponentially more attention than students writing as a student in a larger classroom setting. Because these two undertakings, while valuable in their own respects, are completely different, I don’t think it is appropriate to call them both “senior theses.” One way to compromise for this would be to make thesis optional, and have a different capstone requirement. Another, more complex and difficult way to make thesis work for everyone would be to increase the number of professors in departments that are overflowing.