I creep down the long passageway, a dimly lit hallway in Boyer Hall of Science. There is an overwhelming feeling of foreboding, as if someone—or something—is stalking close behind. Instead of facing the monster, I duck into the nearby classroom. The door creaks shut, dispelling what little light filtered into the room. Fumbling against the wall, I finally find the switch. Pushing it up with my finger, I feel that I’m safe at last. But as I turn, I come face to face with the unholy creature: my senior thesis paper.
I woke up in a cold sweat, startled awake by the incredibly visceral and realistic nightmare. But, my heart sank as I realized I am, in fact, a senior. Thesis is here.
What is Senior Thesis? Collectively termed Senior Capstone, this yearlong project is a requirement to graduate from Arcadia. Depending on the major, students may have to write a thesis paper, create an art exhibit or performance piece, or complete an internship with practical experience. Generally, these projects are the biggest task an undergraduate student will have.
Now, if you would have asked me what I thought of Senior Thesis a year or two ago, I might have cited this very silly story. And, I highly doubt I’m the only one. However, there is little that can be done to avoid this beast, up to and including stakes, garlic, and silver bullets.
Fortunately, over the past few months, I’ve learned something very important: Senior Thesis is not the big bad thing I made it out to be. In many instances, it’s even been, dare I say it, fun.
Throughout my first few years at Arcadia, I explored all of my options, changing my major once and my career goals many times. Forensic science was based too much in the lab. Conservation biology wasn’t people-oriented enough. Global security and emergency management was too specific. As I pondered each of these possibilities, it became apparent that I knew exactly what I didn’t want to do, but that wasn’t really the answer I was seeking.
Initially, my capstone research focused on the use of non-native bugs to help eliminate invasive plants, a topic that ended up changing between my junior and senior years. And, due to my waffling, I arrived to the thesis party fashionably late. At this time, I’m working as a research assistant for Dr. Wes Rose, studying cell signaling in the immune response of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). His research focuses on a specific molecule, called interferon gamma (IFN-g), and its possible involvement in differences in immune response in the aforementioned cell types. As part of my research, I do Western Blots (protein analysis) to see how IFN-g affects protein levels in the cell. Even through a change in major, a change in thesis topic and more, I’ll more than likely have enough data to write a thesis.
Beyond being able to graduate, I also am learning a great deal about topics I’m passionate about. After working in the lab for a few months now, I’ve been able to get amazing practical experience and discover that a little lab work is something I really enjoy. I even have the opportunity to go to a Cell Biology Conference in December with Dr. Rose and the other students our lab!
While it may not have been the smoothest of journeys, I have come to see my thesis as more than an obstacle in my path to graduation. It’s a challenge to use all of the skills I’ve acquired at Arcadia, a chance to understand what my passions are, and an opportunity to push myself academically.
Even more importantly, it is not something meant to inspire fear. No one is expecting an undergraduate to make a groundbreaking discovery in their field—Senior Capstone is simply another chance to learn and build your skills. All in all, Senior Thesis is not meant to be revolutionary or change the world, but act as a stepping stone on the long road to it.