Thinking About Doing a Thesis?
Why should you do a thesis?
It looks good on a resume. Government is probably less interested although it may help in an interview. Private companies value thesis work, not for the content, but because it shows that you have the ability to work on a project and see it through. Your thesis can be used as a measure of your ability to work independently. If you are planning on going further in academia then a thesis is almost always required.
Why should you not do a thesis?
Research is not for everyone. It will take far more time than regular classes. There may be setbacks that require a reworking or redoing of parts. This may mean you won’t be able to finish in two years. Many students at large universities doing a thesis take more than two years to finish. You will typically be doing 3 classes each semester the first year and teaching; 2 classes (if thesis) each semester the second year and teaching.
What area of Environmental Science are you interested in? Think about areas of study from your undergraduate coursework.
What areas do you have sufficient background to start on immediately? This may not be necessary. Expertise can be developed as you go along, but starting “from scratch” so to speak means it will probably take you longer.
Most of the time your advisor or other faculty members will have some potential projects in mind. However, if this is not an area you are interested in then it will be much harder to maintain interest and finish.
What kinds of time and/or supplies do you need to do this project? How many trips to the field will it take? Can you do it by yourself? Theses in science often require data to be collected for at least a year, particularly if the data may show seasonal effects.
If you are lucky your advisor may have a project and a source of money available. That doesn’t always happen, especially at smaller institutions. There is a fair amount of money available for graduate research through small grants. A lot of it is $1000 or less, but will usually get you the supplies and materials that are needed. Sometimes you need to be a member of the society that is giving the money. A lot of this money is allocated in the fall and early spring. That means that you have to have an idea formed, some background material, and a research plan in print within the first couple of months arriving at school if you are planning a 2 year program. Alternately if you develop a project in the spring semester, then you will not be able to ask for money until the fall.
Can you do this by yourself? If a field project can you get yourself there?
Are you willing to ask questions and be assertive with your advisor? This sounds strange, but sometimes advisors get busy and don’t always give you as much time or information as you might need. Bug us, keep asking questions.
Timetable (2 year plan)
Fall – year 1
- Decide on project
- Start background research
- Apply for funding
Spring - year 1
- Further develop research plan
- Work out any method problems
- Committee meeting to discuss thesis
- Develop thesis proposal
- Start data acquisition
- Finalize thesis proposal and submit
- Continue data collection and preliminary analysis
Fall – year 2
- Data analysis
- Rewrite intro material and methods
- Committee meeting to discuss progress
Spring – Year 2
- Finish data analysis and writing by January
- First draft of thesis to committee by mid January
- Thesis revision(s)
- Thesis defense – late February
- Completed thesis to Graduate Office in late March
- Corrections for Graduate School if necessary
Things that get in the way of meeting the above timetable
How many revisions are going to be needed? Many times this can be 3-4? How fast can your committee review these and can you make the corrections. What will you do when committee members want different things with the same data/information? How will you reconcile their differences so that all will be happy?
Many students try to finish in summer. This is not a good idea. Many faculty are not here. They are off doing their own research or even on vacation. Trying to get 3 faculty and yourself together on the same day is not easy in summer and inevitably leads to frustration. Faculty want to see a quality finished project something both student and faculty can feel good about.
What happens if, after reading your thesis, the committee decides you need to reanalyze your data? Or what if you have insufficient data to support your conclusions and must conduct additional lab work, fieldwork? This is one reason why you should not collect all your data, analyze and then start thinking about what it means.
Publishing the thesis
You've jumped through all the hoops, got everything done and now you want me to go back and re-write it? Yes! Publishing is an important part of the research. A thesis is not looked on the same as a peer-reviewed paper. If you want to go on in graduate school it is a must. It is also important for your faculty committee members. They have put in a lot of time helping you. A paper on which they are co-author is important for their career.