June 15, 2012: Reflection

I’ve been writing a lot of cover letters lately, and in every one I end up talking about my thesis. I describe my honors project as “the capstone of my collegiate academic experience”or “the culmination of my research, writing, and analytical skills.” Regardless of the number of times I write about it, I still struggle to summarize what exactly my thesis, and the process of creating it, means to me. I do know that completing it gave me an incredible feeling of achievement, accomplishment, and in all honesty, relief. Writing an honors thesis was one of the most difficult but most rewarding experiences I had at Dickinson.

During the school year I often found myself procrastinating from working on my thesis by doing other schoolwork–that’s how consuming an honors project can be. I probably spent more time working on my thesis than for all of my other classes combined. Even before starting my honors endeavor I had to realistically make sure I could handle the workload. In addition to being up to the amount of work, I had to make sure I could stay reasonably motivated and organized without the strict structure of a class. It was helpful knowing I had to being ready for my nearly weekly meetings with my thesis advisor, Professor Pinsker, but I also learned how to give myself realistic goals for the day, weekend, or week so it didn’t feel like I had to conquer my entire thesis every time I sat down to do work. Because I was the only history major writing an honors thesis this year, I also found it helpful to talk to other seniors working on honors projects to share strategies or just to commiserate with one another.

Some things I learned over the course of the year:

  • Start research early, it’s really never a bad idea. Some of the non-traditional items (periodicals, microfilm) I ordered via inter-library loan took awhile to arrive, or multiple attempts to get the correct item– I ended up reading microfilm during finals in the fall. Also, keep your research organized so when you’re writing the final draft of your thesis the week before it’s due, you can go back and find the information you found back in October without wasting a lot of time.
  • Speaking of research, email libraries, archives, and scholars for related information. The worst that can happen is they don’t email you back, or you can end up corresponding with a helpful librarian at the University of Wyoming who emails you PDF’s of primary sources you never would have seen otherwise.
  • Start writing even before you have all of your ideas formulated. There’s always more research to do, so at some point you just have to grit your teeth and start typing. Even if you’ve had all of these great ideas bouncing around in your head, writing them out can really help you formulate them, or realize that they don’t make any sense. Either is helpful.
  • Don’t be afraid to completely change what you think is your thesis statement. You’ll probably revise it at least 10 times. My proposal only vaguely resembles my final product. For a while I didn’t even know what my argument was any more. That’s fine, as long as you eventually acknowledge the fact that you’re not just showing off your research skills, but also your ability to analyze the information you’ve found.
  • Make friends with the librarians. I spent an a large amount of time in the library, so it only made sense to befriend the people who could actually help me with my research. Did you know that seniors doing independent studies can check out books for the entire semester after filing out this form at circulation? It’s really helpful.
  • Remember it’s your honors project. While it’s generally a good idea to listen to what  your thesis advisor and reader have to say, you have the final say. But keep in mind, the entire department votes if you get honors.

It’s hard, but it’s worth it.