A Senior Thesis is one option for the Psychology major's "capstone" requirement. As described in the catalogue, students write an empirical paper with an American Psychological Association (APA) format.
Why Do a Thesis?
It's an opportunity to explore a topic of your own choosing in depth, honing skills that you've learned in many previous classes and learning new skills as well. Unlike a term paper for a class, the thesis is a substantive work that you'll have created over an extended period of time.
Who Should Consider Doing a Thesis?
- Anyone who is considering applying to a graduate program that has a research requirement (Ph.D., Psy.D., Ed.D., etc.) should do a thesis. It will give you valuable experience , it will enhance your candidacy for admittance to the schools, and it may even help you decide whether to pursue graduate studies.
- Anyone who is intrigued by a psychological question and wishes to seek an answer through individualized research rather than through the formal structure of a senior-level class should do a thesis. It's not for graduate-school-bound students only!
Where Do Thesis Ideas Come From?
- Ideas can grow out of previous courses, especially the 301-319, 323 series and the department seminars. Many of these courses require a "research proposal" or mini-experiment during the class. Expansion on one of these may be a perfect thesis idea.
- Some students get ideas after working with a faculty member on a research project or by helping an older student conduct her or his thesis research. These opportunities are often publicized by word of mouth, so ask around.
- Sometimes students are interested in a topic but no formal course is offered in it. You can design your own tutorial (PSY 330-349 course numbers) to explore the topic, doing extensive journal reading (both review articles and research reports).
Thesis Process: Overview
- The student decides upon a topic of interest and asks a faculty member to serve as the chair of the thesis committee.
- The student prepares a proposal (with some substantive basis, such as a literature review). With advice from the committee chair, the student schedules a colloquium, where the proposal is reviewed and critiqued by the Committee.
- The purpose of the colloquium is for the student and Committee to arrive at a contract to determine the parameters and expectations for the finished project.
- Should it be necessary, the student would then go through Davidson's Human Subjects (IRB) or Animal Subjects (IACUC) Research Committee for an ethical review and approval of the proposed work.
- The student would then gather data, analyze them, and write up the appropriate report as the Thesis.
- The student submits this write-up to the committee for review. At the discretion of the committee, the student may also be required to orally defend the thesis to the committee.
- Through the committee chair, the committee may ask for final revisions of the thesis.
- Upon completion of the final draft, the thesis will be bound and placed in the Psychology Department’s permanent collection.
- Additionally, students must also create a poster presentation of their thesis.
- The posters are presented at the annual Science Poster Party (typically held on Reading day of spring semester) to allow the students to share their results with fellow psychology majors, faculty who are not members of the committee, and the community at large.
- The committee chair determines the student’s final grade after soliciting advice from other members of the committee. For an Honors candidacy, the committee chair will review the student’s academic record with the committee and other department faculty members, and poll the faculty for a vote.
Caveats and Advice
The Senior Thesis project requires maturity, independence, and autonomy. Students must schedule their own (and with research assistants or subjects, others') time. Students must often seek hospitality and/or resources in professional settings, and will often feel they are the only ones motivated to see the project finished. The needs of Thesis work often require students to extend themselves well beyond what is necessary for classroom work. For example, the sophistication of some topics might require a student to conduct a literature review at another library. As opposed to the timed structure of classroom work, with its constant deadlines and frequent evaluation, students must impose evaluative structure on their own work. Thesis candidates will quickly learn that "things take longer than they take." Tasks cannot always be constrained by a schedule. Subjects may not show up, equipment might malfunction, or the computer may go down. Researchers are obligated to do things right, rather than work under limits imposed by the most realistic time schedules. Our faculty have experienced these frustrations in our training and professional lives, and you should be assured that the resulting empathy, our respect for the enterprise, and our own professional satisfactions in conducting our own research will lead to our sustaining your work. We are gratified by the commitments to research made by students, and we have the highest regard for those who undertake the Senior Thesis. You can depend on our encouragement and support.