Almost all students who have written theses are glad that they did. Why so? There are as many reasons as there are students but some patterns have emerged over the years. Almost all thesis writers gain a sense of intellectual mastery, both of a particular subject area and of a set of methodological tools. More important, almost all students gain increased comfort with the research process, which often involves moving ahead in the dark, trusting that the pieces will eventually fall into place and make sense. Most important, students quite typically learn as much about themselves and their capabilities as they do about economics, about their strengths as well as their weaknesses, about how to make maximal use of the former while compensating adequately for the latter. Thesis students learn how to work independently, how to organize a sizeable project, and how to bring it to successful completion.
The starting point for a successful Senior Thesis is choosing an interesting and answerable research question. Your adviser's help in formulating a good question is essential, so you should try to identify potential advisers early on and obtain their permission, as early as Program Planning Period at the end of your Junior year. (See below on "You and Your Thesis Advisor".)
The relative importance of different aspects of the Senior Thesis varies with the question examined. In general, however, the process involves the following steps:
- Acquaint yourself with the relevant theoretical and applied literature (see Research Resources);
- Criticize and synthesize a representative sample of that literature;
- Collect and analyze relevant data that help to answer your question;
- Develop theoretical or econometric models that help to answer your question;
- Prepare and deliver an oral presentation of your work;
- Present the results of your research in a clear, well-organized paper that includes a bibliography and accurate citation of sources (see Senior Thesis Style).
The Nitty Gritty
To write a thesis you sign up for ECON BC3061 and then ECON B3062, Senior Thesis, two full courses carrying 8 points of credit altogether. Most students do BC3061 in the fall and BC3062 in the spring, but it is also possible to proceed off sequence.
ECON BC3061 requires an oral presentation of your work and a first semester paper. The paper is typically the first chapter of your thesis, but it may also be a detailed description of your research plan, or some other written work acceptable to your adviser. Deadline for submission of the paper is the last day of classes.
ECON BC3062 requires an oral presentation of your work and submission of the final thesis (two copies), including citations and bibliography, conforming to approved Senior Thesis Style. Deadline for submission of the thesis is two weeks before the last day of classes.
Failure to meet these deadlines in a timely manner has consequences similar to those in other courses. Keep in mind however that, since the thesis comes at the end of your education here, failure to complete it on time will prevent timely graduation. We don't want that to happen any more than you do, so we urge you to plan your time accordingly.
Your essay adviser is also responsible for submitting your course grade.
Grades of A and A+, which carry the honor of Distinction, must be confirmed by a second faculty reader selected by your adviser. The grade of Incomplete must also be so confirmed.
You and Your Thesis Adviser
Typically, the adviser is not an expert in the specific area of your research. It's better to think of the adviser as an expert in the research process. Think of your adviser as the academic equivalent of an athletic coach. He or she cannot run the race for you but can help you run the race just as fast as you are able, which is most likely faster than you think yourself capable.
Your adviser will meet with you throughout the year on a weekly basis at times arranged for your mutual convenience. If you find yourself stuck, making no progress, don't hide but rather let your adviser know. Here are some concrete things your adviser can help you with:
- selecting a well-defined question for your research project;
- formulating a conceptual framework;
- explaining technical problems you encounter in your reading;
- suggesting bibliographical sources and strategies;
- commenting on your drafts as part of the process of revision.
Regular meeting with your adviser is not optional. It is a required integral part of the course. Only through regular conferences with your adviser will you know if your Senior Thesis is meeting department expectations. Your adviser is your most useful resource in finishing a Senior Thesis.