Science majors have a daunting choice to make toward the end of their careers at Eckerd. Though most seniors choose comprehensive exams or a capstone course and gain many valuable skills, some opt to independently design, test and write up their own project to present at the end of the year, one they then write an in-depth paper on.
For senior Kristina Smith, a biology major, a thesis is more than just a document.
“It’s definitely rewarding,” Smith said. “You learn a lot of different life skills and techniques in the lab... You get to build that connection with your professor that you don’t necessarily get to do in other classes with a lot of other students.”
A lot of work goes into a thesis. Students gather their own data based on a project they design themselves, process and enter the data, obtain results and coherently explain those results in both a written document and an oral presentation.
“It is a great path to take if you are really motivated and have self discipline... but it is definitely not for everyone,” Smith said.
For Professor of Marine Science and Geosciences Gregg Brooks, every thesis is unique, and it’s not just about the final document either.
“They’re all different,” Brooks said. “Some people need a lot of guidance, some students don’t. To me what I look for in a thesis is the process, and going through the process is important for the student.”
Senior marine science major Brooke Davis did her thesis based off of many months of work with the Dolphin Project.
“I chose to do a thesis because, as an undergraduate, it’s really rare that you have the opportunity to conduct your own research. And it’s monumental in the field of marine science to have as much experience as possible,” Davis said.
According to Brooks, a senior thesis gives students an intense research experience that allows them to stand out in the future.
“It is not only critical for graduate school, but when you go out in the real world you need to know how to design a project and see a project through,” Brooks said.
Eckerd has a unique opportunity since there are only undergraduates on campus.
“We do not have masters students or PhD students, [so] our professors can focus on us and help us do professional research with them,” Davis said.
One aspect of the process that can create a lot of anxiety for the students is the fact that after their public dissertation, the door is closed and they must discuss their project with committee members before grading. Luckily, there is really not much to fear, according to Brooks.
“Rather than grilling this person, you are discussing the concepts. It’s not like a test, oral exam or anything like that,” Brooks said.
Eckerd and the thesis mentors prepare students before that point as well.
“The classes I took and the experiences in lab, and the opportunities to work with my professors in the lab before my thesis helped a lot. It made it a lot easier to transition since I had the previous lab experience,” Smith said.
Overall, senior theses can be a very rewarding experience, but the experience is not for everyone.
“The most enjoyable part for me was doing the research and getting my results to pop out at the end, because I am doing this research because I am incredibly passionate about marine mammals. When I got our results and understood what our population [of dolphins] is doing that was so exciting for me. I liked that part the most,” Davis said.