Writing My Senior Thesis: Chapter One

Author: Hailey Oppenlander

Hailey Web Fun

When I was a prospective student, I remember reading this blog series from former intern Kacey Hengesbach about training for the Holy Half. I really enjoyed hearing about her progress towards her long-term goal!

I definitely don’t have the desire nor the athleticism to run a half marathon, but I’m hoping you’ll accompany me on a different journey. It’s one that I expect, like running, to be grueling but also rewarding: my senior thesis. 

Hopefully this series will demystify the experience of writing a thesis, so that one day, you can write one too if it interests you! (And I’m hoping this series will also keep me accountable . . .)

I just submitted my thesis proposal to the Department of American Studies. This is all the information they need before your senior year:

The first step to pursuing a senior thesis is to come up with a general topic idea. Some students find it helpful to think about papers or projects that they really enjoyed in their previous courses. When I took a Native American Literature class, I wrote a research paper about the power of reclaiming Native languages. One means through which Indigenous people have done so is music. That was my favorite part of the paper to research and write! I also really enjoyed analyzing folk and rock n’ roll songs in a Witnessing the Sixties class I took. 

So, I decided that I wanted to explore something relating to music. Since I’ve also taken classes about social movements, I was curious about music’s role in inspiring collective action and change. I don’t have any specific claim or argument in mind yet, but that will come after some research! I created a Google Sheet to keep track of what articles/books I should read to educate myself first. I haven’t put any information in it yet, but formatting the document is a start, right?

The next step is finding a thesis advisor. Your advisor works with you throughout the entire process, offering direction for your research and feedback on drafts. I asked one of my favorite instructors, Professor Peter Cajka, to be my thesis advisor. I’ve taken two of his courses and really enjoyed both of them. He’s familiar with my writing style since I’ve met with him to discuss multiple papers, so I know that we’ll work well together throughout the drafting and editing process.

The Department of American Studies has a class that all its thesis-writers must take: 3 credits in the fall of senior year, and another 3 credits in the spring. From what I’ve heard, it’s a great way of building camaraderie as everyone works through this challenging but enlightening experience. I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with my fellow thesis-writers!


Stay tuned for the next installment - or should I say, next chapter - of this adventure