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Math research poster for modeling segregation

At Dartmouth, every student must have a "culminating experience" to finish off their major or minor. This can either look like an upper-level class (e.g., a seminar), an independent research project, or a senior honors thesis. 

I am a math major, and I decided to write a thesis for my culminating experience! Though it is slightly more work than the other two choices, I really wanted to engage with one topic over an extended period of time, so the thesis was a perfect choice for me. Departments will have their own restrictions for who is eligible to write a thesis, such as grade point average or an application process; I recommend students interested in doing one to look on the Registrar's website for more information. Internal deadlines such as first drafts, second readers, and presentations also differ by department, and therefore remaining in communication with your thesis advisor and department head is very important.

How does one get started writing a thesis? Since the project is largely self-directed, you will need to decide on a topic that interests you and that will yield enough material for a thesis. Students may have background knowledge through a class, research, or personal readings. I decided on my thesis topic after taking a course and finishing a final project that I wanted to continue engaging with. 

After deciding on a topic, it is the student's responsibility to identify a potential faculty advisor and verify that they meet the requirements to write a thesis. You can find an advisor often through your courses or by looking online at the department website. If you don't happen to meet the requirements, it is always possible to do a one-term independent research project instead. Once you and your advisor have agreed on a direction, then the real work begins! Departments will vary based on how many deliverables you need to turn in, such as thesis proposals, drafts, and final presentations. They will also vary based on when you need to turn everything in. The math department, for example, has deadlines at the end of spring term whereas other departments may have them Week 2 or Week 5.

Depending on your concentration, your thesis writing will look very different from others. Since I am doing a modeling project, the majority of my work involves doing literature reviews, learning new mathematical theory, and coding algorithms and running analyses. If you were to do a biology thesis, the majority of your time will be spent gathering data and doing experiments in the lab. Knowing what type of work you enjoy doing will be important, as many students clock numerous hours for their thesis in the terms leading up to graduation.

At the end of the term, all students will have finished their theses and defended them in front of a panel of adjudicators and audience members. This is often a fun time for seniors, as friends come out to support and they are able to present something they've worked on for a long time.

Though it can be a lot of work, writing a thesis is very rewarding! If you're curious about completing one as your culminating experience, I recommend asking questions about it as you go, and deciding sometime junior year or early senior year. Asking your deans, major advisor, or upperclassmen is also a fantastic way to gauge what the process looks like for your specific major. I have personally quite enjoyed the process and look forward to seeing the end product in May. In the meantime, I will keep you updated!

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