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My Thesis Topic or What I Did Before My Summer Vacation!
Now that the Honors College's first graduating class has achieved alumni status, we thought we would turn our attention to what was certainly the most compelling feature of the senior experience, one all shared in common, and one all following in their footsteps will share in the future. And that is the writing of the Senior Thesis.
One component of the Honors College program that sets it apart is the requirement that every student writes a thesis or completes a project in their major area during their senior year. From first hand testimony of those who went through it this year, the process can be daunting, fraught with mystery and confusion, leaving even the best of students sometimes puzzled and uncertain as how to proceed. So, taking it upon ourselves to calm some nerves and relieve some anxiety, and maybe even offer a few kernels of advice, we sent out a call for a few intrepid third year students who have completed the first stage of the process to answer the question: 'How did I find a topic for my thesis?' Greta Mettessich and Danielle Geno answered the call, and we are happy to share with you what they tell us.
As you read, you will see that each has successfully negotiated the difficult first stage and put in place for next year the foundation upon which to build their completed project. In the fall e-Newsletter, we plan to add a regular thesis-writing feature which will continue for the year. Not only do we expect to add more student voices to the two who speak here about this important experience, but we aim to reach across the aisle as it were to bring in the voices of faculty mentors and advisors for their perspectives and their guidance. And we even hope to have our thesis writing blog up and running in the fall, written by one of your Honors College classmates who will chronicle her thesis writing experience for all to share and respond.
I remember listening to Bob Taylor's welcoming speech when I came for my orientation at the UVM Honors College. We had been elected to be part of this elite group, and as a result we had all sorts of special privileges. As a member of a roughly 200 person class, we would each get more individualized attention than the average fish in the freshman sea. Our living quarters, once completed, would be the new, spacious, and beautiful University Heights dorms - quite a step up from the usual dingy dormitories with small rooms and a persistent funk. We, the members of the Honors College, would choose our classes first, even before those seniors who had toiled for three years to earn their stature. But, along with the many perks that came with the title, we were expected to complete specific requirements in order to graduate with Honors. The biggest of these, of course, is the senior year thesis.
When I heard thesis as a freshman, I felt a distinct sensation of nervous anticipation. The word was ominous; I could see it in the distance, a whirlwind of torture as dark and deadly as a tornado steadily approaching on the horizon. They want me to write how many pages? And how was I ever going to find something that I felt so passionately about that I could spend a year of my life writing it? Maybe I'll do a creative writing project, I thought to myself. But on what? Overwhelmed by insecurities, I pushed the inevitable to the very back of my mind where it stayed neatly tucked away until, while abroad in Spain in the first semester of my junior year, I realized that I needed to sign up for the Thesis Proposal Seminar. I couldn't put it off any longer; it was time to face the monster, or drop out of the Honors College.
At this point in time, I had already decided to be an Asian Studies major with a concentration in Chinese. After taking an intro course to Asian Religion, I had become exceedingly interested Chinese culture and language, and I began studying with a passion that had been sorely lacking from my previously "Undecided" college career. I had found what interested me most, which was the first step. As far as the next step, though, I was clueless. I felt utterly and completely lost. In my freshman and sophomore years, I had been under the protective wing of the Honors College. I had both lived and taken classes in U-Heights, and had a good idea of what was expected of me. Now, all of a sudden, I felt like I was being cast out from my comfortable shelter of guided learning.
Overwhelmed but not willing to let myself back out, I began to brainstorm. I was very interested in the connection between Chinese grammar and idioms to Chinese psychology and thought. For example, a Chinese sentence might go something like this: "I, in the USA, in Vermont, at the University of Vermont, am a student." The grammar itself puts the smallest unit last and the biggest first, displaying an emphasis on the larger group rather than the individual. This pattern is displayed in several other aspects of Chinese culture, socialism for one. The idea for the project was engaging, but it was too broad. After getting together with my academic advisor, we decided that my idea would require a much more extensive knowledge of the Chinese language than I had gained in my two years of study. It was material for a dissertation, not an undergraduate thesis.
This is when I realized that everything I had thought before about the thesis project was completely wrong. My thesis was supposed to be challenging and stimulating, but at the same time the board would take into account what was feasible for an undergraduate. It would be an exploration of the subject that enthralled me, Asian Studies, and I would have free reign with what direction I chose to take it in, as long as the board deemed it attainable and appropriate. This thesis would be my very own brainchild, to come up with and complete all by myself.
In the second semester of my junior year, I enrolled in a World Lit class, Classical Chinese Literature in Translation. I was captivated by the ancient poetry; the poems encapsulate a culture, time, and place that are so far away and different, but at the same time they transmit themes that transcend the ages and still affect us today. An idea for a project began to form in my mind, although at first it was but an amorphous amoeba of a thought that seemed to be in a constant state of flux. However elusive the details, though, I had determined my purpose: I wanted to show the universality of Chinese ancient poetry, while still displaying the qualities that are unique to the culture and time.
Designing my proposal gradually, I slowly shaped what had once been formless. I chose eight classical Chinese poems, each displaying a different theme and aspect of culture. My project would be to write a short story based on each of the poems, not necessarily adhering to the storyline of the poem (if it had one), but rather paying more attention to the transmission of the theme and intended message of the poet. I would have creative freedom and still be able to complete my objective. It was lucky for me that finding an advisor was relatively easy. Though I'm sure he was busy with many other projects, my academic advisor and Chinese professor John Yin agreed to be my thesis mentor.
Right now, I am currently studying Chinese language and culture at Yunnan Normal University in Kunming. I am keeping a journal of my travels and taking lots of pictures, since personal experience is especially crucial to writing a convincing narrative. I know that what I have ahead of me will not be easy, but I am looking forward to the challenge.
Danielle M. Geno
Thesis: 6 letters, 1 word, so many feelings of anticipation, anxiety, fear and frustration. The thoughts that popped into my head when that word was brought up were not ones of excitement and joy, to say the least. Fortunately, I have learned that joy and excitement are the words that every student should go into the thesis process with and hope to find while completing the project. When I would tell my friends about writing an honors thesis, I got quite a few grimaces, some sympathetic faces, and, from one person, even a slap on the back. What shocked me the most, however, were the handful of people who told me that they wished they had done a thesis. Cocking my head to the right, I pondered why they would ever want to work extra hard on a specific subject matter. Afterward, when I thought about it, I concluded that writing a thesis is a chance for any student to take a topic on a matter that interests them and dive into it in a way that has never been discussed before. We have all had to read research reports, and found some incredibly monotonous. Well, for me, I now have a chance to write something that I feel matters and which could also have an impact on our world in some way.
When first starting the thesis process, I had no idea what to think or what to look for, or even where to begin. The process seems so overwhelming in the beginning: how do you pick a topic that you will research and write about for the next semester or year? I had to think about what really interested me, and try and go from there. I thought about the classes I was taking, the jobs I had, the activities I participated in, and searched each for a possible topic. My major is communication sciences, which is the equivalent of an undergraduate degree leading to a graduate degree in speech language pathology or audiology. This past semester I took CMSI 299: Autism Spectrums Disorders: Assessment and Intervention, and was also a PCA (Personal Care Assistant) for a wonderful family who has a child with autism. I was intrigued by the course material, loved the family I worked with, and eventually want to become a speech language pathologist. Given these experiences, everything came together somehow, in the title of my thesis: "Early intervention: How training can help a speech language pathologist become more efficient at knowing the signs and symptoms of autism and administering therapy for each child." Essentially, my best advice for devising a thesis topic is to take something that really interests you and look at as many elements of it as possible. It is okay to be overwhelmed at first by the enormity of the thesis spectrum and to be intimidated by what you have to do. As you can see from my thesis topic, I was able to take all the elements and distill them into a manageable topic, where I will look at the role my training plays in making me more efficient at diagnosing autism and implementing proper therapy. As it did for me, focusing first on what interests you and then factoring in your experiences, your thesis topic should come together. It worked for me and I am confident it will work for you.
Writing a thesis of course is not for everyone. Still, as Honors College students we are required to do one. It will call for a lot of extra time during both day and night, which for many of us are already filled up with meetings, jobs, classes, and other responsibilities. And given how much we already have on our plate, and still wanting to do well, we also want to enjoy these four years. Still, once you make the initial commitment and find the desire to do so, my advice is to tackle the process of a thesis with all your energy. As a student and as a person, I am already finding the lessons I have learned so far to be invaluable. I am adjusting to the fact that it is going to take outside effort, and with the help of my mentor and a lot of dedication, I intend to keep going and not quit when I face moments of difficulty during the process. I know at some points, I am going to want to question why I started, because I expect it to be complicated, as will some of our fellow classmates who are engaging in the thesis writing process. To all of you that will begin writing a thesis soon and as well as those of you up and coming, I wish you good luck. At the very least, you will discover a topic you are interested in. At the most you will gain the satisfaction of being able to see the great work you are capable of accomplishing once you set your mind to it. I have achieved the first, and am looking forward to the second.
Last modified June 17 2008 02:40 PM