Writing a Senior Thesis

All concentrators who want to graduate with honors must write a senior thesis. Here’s a summary of common questions, along with answers from previous students and faculty. For more detailed information about writing a senior thesis, see the official Department guidelines here. For more student and faculty discussion, see Rosalie’s document here.

Who is writing a thesis for?
“Anyone who wants a taste of graduate school or a professional career in math.” Other students interested in working on interesting math problems are welcome to write a thesis as well.

Why do a senior thesis?
“To learn more about an interesting topic or to see whether you might want to go to grad school.”

Must a thesis contain original research?
“No! The thesis is an original exposition of material, not original research. Many theses that win highest honors are purely expository.”

How and when do you find an advisor and topic?
“Ask faculty members at the end of your junior year. You might pick topics based on exposure during REUs or during coursework. Don’t be afraid to say no to a topic you’re not interested in. Some students pick a topic tangentially related to math, with an advisor not in the math department, and also have a shadow advisor in the math department.”

Can you write an applied thesis (a thesis applying math to something)?
“Sure! Just make sure you have a shadow advisor in the math department.”

How do meetings go?
“You will need to schedule somewhat regular meetings with your advisor; the frequency can vary depending on your schedule. Your advisor will ask you about what you’ve done and help you understand what you’re reading on a personal basis.”

What do you do when you get stuck?
“Take a break, talk to other people, do something else, read further, or ask your advisor.”

How is the examination process?
“It is oral and lasts less than two hours. You might be asked to discuss the main result, which could include proving it, providing an example, or discussing its intuitive meaning. You may be asked about connections to other fields as well.”

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