In the interest of publishing negative results (which academia too often neglects!), I submit my own experience with the senior thesis (“The Thesis Challenge: Looking Back at a Capstone Experience,” posted May 10 at PAW Online). My reviewers evaluated my thesis positively, and I have only praise for my supportive advisers. However, from the perspective of my personal and academic growth, the thesis was a dud, and my mental health suffered under the long-term stress.
The research and writing weren’t qualitatively distinct from final projects or papers I had completed previously, and I was less passionate about my thesis than about most of my upper-level classwork. Given the opportunity cost of taking fewer classes, I think my time and my advisers’ time would have been better spent if I had not been required to complete a thesis.
Based on my own experience, I would advocate for more departments to follow the example of the B.S.E. in computer science, in allowing alternate means of satisfying the degree requirements. Perhaps a reasonable substitution could be two to four additional upper-level or graduate-level departmentals. I encourage other alums, faculty, and current students to share their opinions on the value of a mandatory thesis and suggestions for alternative ways to cap off a rigorous undergraduate education.