Scrapping a thesis: Awful Idea?
May 7, 2012 6:57 PM   Subscribe

I graduate in two weeks and my senior thesis is still unwritten due to a myriad of circumstances. Should I just scrap it and take my BA without the honors distinction?

My thesis advisor adores me, but we've gone round and round and were unable to really pin down something for me to write about. It's my misfortune that I go to a school and majored in a department where none of the professors are really interested in what I'm interested in. I've struggled with depression my whole life and this semester has been one of the worst bouts I've experienced in a long time, so I haven't gotten much done.

My advisor just emailed me and said there wasn't any time to meet for the rest of the semester and that she expects my thesis by next Monday. There were also some barbs about it being unoriginal.

I haven't even started writing it yet since and my university allows withdrawal from the honors program at any point so I'm wondering if it would just be better to scrap it entirely.

I do eventually want to go to graduate school but I was rejected or waitlisted (and still didn't get in) at all of the places I applied this year so I'm feeling more than a little disillusioned with academia in its entirety.

Am I totally screwing myself by dropping the thesis?
posted by shesdeadimalive to Education (35 answers total)
How long is it supposed to be?
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 6:58 PM on May 7, 2012

To get the honors, does it have to be good or does it just have to be done
posted by carmicha at 7:02 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

No. You are not totally screwing yourself.

An honors distinction for a BA is unlikely to make or break a future academic career (which you are not even sure you want at this point).
posted by pantarei70 at 7:03 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

My honors thesis came together in the last two weeks of my undergraduate career after much back and forth for various reasons, and I'm glad to have completed it. I assume that you've done a lot of reading and preparation along the way, and that you have topics you are interested in, and that this "inability to pin something down" is probably surmountable. You've already invested a great deal of time and effort getting to this point - why not spend these next two weeks sprinting to the finish line?
posted by judith at 7:15 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Having been in a similar position during the fall semester, I didn't want to dig myself into a bigger hole of depression. So I explained my situation to the professor and she gave me an entire extra semester to write the paper.

It never hurts to ask for help. Tell your professor that you were struggling with personal matters especially during this particular semester. Ask her if it's possible to have an extension on the paper. The worst that she can do is say no.

Do what's best for you. If writing a thesis will be difficult for you and will not help you right now then explain the situation to her and thank her for her time (or whatever).

Not every school is the same and there will be options for you with or without an honours distinction. Good luck with whatever you choose to do! And, I hope things get better for you!
posted by livinglearning at 7:15 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Does it affect your GPA (at my school it's a credit-based project)? Is it something you can fail? That failure/bad grade might be more important to grad schools than a lack of honors distinction.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:16 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

On the one hand, it sounds like you've put in the research and lit review time that you could just finish it. So what if your advisor thinks it's unoriginal? If it just has to be done and not spectacular, and you can push it out in a week's time without the rest of your studies suffering, I'd say just get it over with.

On the other hand, if it's going to mean neglecting other classes (do you need to study for/write finals this week, or are you done?), or it means you're going to dig yourself deeper into the depression spiral, it's not really worth it. People get into grad school without the honors distinction all the time. You can come back to grad school apps with some experience outside academia later.
posted by asciident at 7:22 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

This Monday? And it's not in your advisor's field of interest? And your advisor still thought it was unoriginal?

Do you have a job for the summer/coming year? Can you get a RAship with a professor who is interested in what you're interested in and finish up your line of research over the coming year?
posted by supercres at 7:23 PM on May 7, 2012

If you can drop the program without failing or getting a bad grade in any classes, I'd drop it. I did, in fact- I went through the motions of the first semester of the one-year honors program after discovering I had absolutely zero interest in writing a thesis, eeked out a decent grade (a B, maybe?), and that was that. You don't put the stuff you didn't do on your resume.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:25 PM on May 7, 2012

Am I totally screwing myself by dropping the thesis?

I'm not a grad student or anyone dealing with grad school, but I would say no, because grad schools accept students of various backgrounds, academic or not, and many students don't have honors distinctions (or even good undergrad grades). If grad school is your target, best to focus on what research is being done in your field first rather than about a thesis...unless the thesis is something you might research further in grad school.
posted by ditto75 at 7:26 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd drop the thesis if you don't think you could finish it by next Monday. Graduating with honors is only important to the editors at the NY Times Wedding Announcement pages.
posted by lotusmish at 7:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Depends on what field you're aiming for grad school in. Doing a good undergrad thesis would allow your profs to write very strong letters for you.

Do you have a topic? Do you have a plan? Have you done the research and you just need to write it up in final form? Is you have these things and could do a reasonable job, I'd say do it.

If you don't have a plan and haven't done the research, I'd say you might be better off withdrawing. But ASK YOUR ADVISOR and if you think your advisor is giving you bad advice, ask another professor that you trust in that department.

Further thought:
How set are you on going to grad school? The challenge of refining a thesis topic, keeping yourself on track through solitary research for the long haul, and generally steering your own ship, is the challenge of grad school. If your depression or your organization/methods of working/etc, your honest personal strengths and weaknesses, make it very hard for you to do a project like this then I urge you to reconsider grad school. (I'm sure you are very smart and I don't mean to be discouraging - but grad school requires a very particular kind of personal discipline, persistence, ability to keep your focus and energy up even when nobody else cares what your project is about.... and if you have trouble with those things, you may have a bad time. Consider whether you can use your many strengths for a job that doesn't require those.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:46 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yes, drop it. I got all hung up on something like this to my detriment. If I had it to do over I would just graduate and be done with it. Nobody will ever care. And I love lotusmish's comment about the NYT Wedding Announcement pages.
posted by HotToddy at 7:49 PM on May 7, 2012

To offer another point of view:

I hadn't started writing my senior thesis until 2 and a half weeks before it was due. I has already done the research and done the lit work, but I hadn't written anything. I turned it in, only 2 hours late, but I also didn't sleep for 80 (yes 80) hours and was slightly hallucinating by the end. I'm not in the grad school market, but it was required for graduation. I think it was a good experience and something I'm proud of- I never dreamed of being able to write a 70+ page paper before then.

But if I had been depressed and it wasn't required? I would have scrapped it. It wouldn't be worth it in that case.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:52 PM on May 7, 2012

Drop. What's the point? It sounds like there's a good chance she might not pass it anyway.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:09 PM on May 7, 2012

Is this the same subject you mentioned in a previous question? If so, you're in a tricky spot re: grad school. It sounds like your undergrad profs are on one side of a scholarly divide concerning what's worthy/interesting etc, and you're wanting to apply to grad programs that would be on the other side of that divide. That is a very difficult spot, even if your undergrad profs love you, because their letters will not carry the necessary weight with the programs you're applying to.

A very good thesis in your area of interest might help with this -- it would form a readymade writing sample you could send to grad schools or, ideally, other potential recommenders who could comment on the quality of your work in the part of the field you're interested in. So, if you're set on grad school, it is worth finishing if you can do a reasonably good job (i.e., if you've already done the research), and if you can finish your other important end-of-semester obligations at the same time.

But obviously, a so-so thesis will not fill this role, so this isn't an argument for finishing if you aren't in a position to do a reasonably good job. It is completely okay to withdraw.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:33 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can say with confidence that it won't affect your academic career, particularly if you get an MA between going for the doc.

In my particular case, I turned my thesis into a special studies, did the final for that, got a A-/B+, got an MA (which handily offered me a chance to network with faculty in the field I was interested in) and then got into a doctoral program. Basically, what the honors thesis does is document you can "handle" the academic research/writing of grad school. You can find other opportunities to do the same thing.

Also, unsolicited advice time: If you're struggling with managing the writing load of the academia (and believe me, I'm there right (write, lol!) now!!), check out How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. I wish I had discovered this book earlier (like, predissertation).
posted by spunweb at 8:52 PM on May 7, 2012

What would happen if you did a shit last minute chop job? If you think that would have a negative effect on your future, then I'd drop the honors thing. Otherwise, just do it, you've done all that other stuff right?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:53 PM on May 7, 2012

My thesis advisor adores me, but we've gone round and round and were unable to really pin down something for me to write about.

When i was in high school, my English teacher handed out a syllabus with the line, "It is ok to start writing your paper the night before. However, do not procrastinate thinking about your paper until the night before." I am pretty sure that I churned out a good 50 pages of my undergrad thesis in the last couple of weeks, but I was building upon a body of work that I had performed while working closely with my advisor. If you don't even know what you're going to be working on, I would punt.

It would definitely be better for graduate school if you had a couple lines on your CV about what your undergraduate thesis was about, but it's too late for that right now. A worthwhile alternative might be a job as an RA for a professor doing work you're interested in and use that work as your stepping stone to graduate school.
posted by deanc at 9:28 PM on May 7, 2012

I've got a nice 50-page honors thesis for English lit. honors that I can show people if they ask.

Nobody has ever asked.

That said, I did get into a solid Phd program using the first chapter as my writing sample.

Outside of academia, nobody give a shit but you.
posted by bardic at 9:44 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

(And if you didn't enjoy and/or want to write this relatively short piece, you really aren't cut out for a PhD program anyways.)
posted by bardic at 9:45 PM on May 7, 2012

I was in the same situation like, two weeks ago. I had a bunch of bad stuff going on last semester and my research was sidetracked and I was quite worried I wouldn't have the time to work out a decent draft. I ended up discussing it with my advisor, and now I'm going to be writing it over the summer. It will cost me like an extra $250 to stay enrolled without being in classes. So you might want to look into that option, if this is something you really want to do.

On the other hand, if you don't feel like your research on this project is going anywhere, it might be best to just drop it. I don't think it matters much (unless it turns out fantastic, in which case you get good letters/can put your topic on your CV). In the long run, if it doesn't feel important to you, it's not that important.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:04 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everything else being equal, probably the honors student. Shows an ability to "go through the motions" and "check the boxes" which are surrogate markers for reliability and the willingness to suck it up. Which are "good" things in a graduate student.

As long as you're otherwise competitive, the difference should be negligible. Interview well, emphasize your devotion to work and thinking about (and investigating) all the angles (that make sense to, and recognize what wouldn't be worthwhile to pursue).

Even if you could finish writing a honours thesis by that deadline, would you be proud of it? Do you respect the reviewers so little as to make them read something that you just crapped out on a deadline?

Not that it matters. Not even masters and Ph.D. theses mean anything.
posted by porpoise at 10:22 PM on May 7, 2012

I'm feeling more than a little disillusioned with academia in its entirety.

Go with that feeling. Unless deep down you know academia is where you're going, move your life forward via things like looking for a job and starting to feel better.
posted by salvia at 1:22 AM on May 8, 2012

If you can buckle down, pull a few all-nighters and crank it out, why wouldn't you? You only have one chance in life to graduate from undergraduate school with honors.
posted by slkinsey at 5:11 AM on May 8, 2012

Drop it. I have a MS and have hired tens of people. NEVER did I ever even hear about their undergrad thesis. It matters only the few days it is due and then goes into the general school oblivion. Unless you win every award etc. you will just be like the rest of us: average.
When considering you for any work or grad degree, people will tend to worry about your personality, work ethic, capability to learn and fit with the team. They will just check a box if you graduated with decent grades, and go on with the interview. I am sure you can illustrate many more accomplishments than banging out a crappy document at the last minute.
Relax, finish your exams and celebrate having finished your undergrad!
posted by Yavsy at 5:36 AM on May 8, 2012

Some good suggestions, but I'd need to know more to recommend a specific course of action:
How does your advisor know it's unoriginal if you haven't written anything? Are you describing it to him/her verbally? How concrete is your thesis, and how much research have you done towards that thesis (and related theses)? Do you have a bunch of ideas and just need to "pin down something"? What else are you doing this week, other finals/papers/projects? Is the end of the semester next week? What do you have lined up for the summer?

Does your uni have a writing center? Someone you could speak with, someone to bounce ideas off of and who will keep you on track? Could you hire a consultant? A grad student in your department, or other department? Even a tutor off a departmental bulletin board? Or someone off mefi, post a mefi job ad?

Would the task seem doable if you spoke with someone every day for an hour in the am, and an hour in the pm - for the next 7 days (I'm including today, Tues, and the Monday you have to turn it in)? Doable without too much sleep deprivation and detriment to other aspects of your life?
posted by at at 5:49 AM on May 8, 2012

I graduated without honors - I took on a different challenge in undergrad, and that precluded the honors path for me. You also have a different challenge - and it's awesome you've made it through your final year of undergrad while struggling with depression.

The honest truth is that no one even knows that your program HAS an honors option except, perhaps, for the graduate department at your university, and maybe a couple of closely related local graduate departments. Everyone in my grad school has heard of my undergrad university, but none of them know which majors have honors options. I suspect if you do choose grad school, you will not (or should not) attend your undergrad university because they don't have people interested in the same things as you.

I would focus on doing whatever you have to to maintain a good relationship with your adviser, who will be giving you recommendations.
posted by fermezporte at 6:24 AM on May 8, 2012

I'd bet that right now writing that thesis sounds like the worst idea ever. But if you get an extension through summer quarter -- and you can probably still walk in the ceremony in a couple weeks -- then it might be a more appealing prospect. If you wanted to do it in the first place, and you have a specific sort of interest, it really might be worth doing this summer.
posted by aniola at 6:47 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to do it in the summer, maybe ask your advisor for someone outside your school who you might be able to talk with about the specifics of your thesis. If your advisor doesn't konw of anyone offhand, there are probably tons of leads in your sources. If the interest-specific professor is far, far away, you could email, phone, or video chat with them.

Even just one conversation with someone whose passion is in the same area of interest as yours might go a long way.
posted by aniola at 6:55 AM on May 8, 2012

I do eventually want to go to graduate school but I was rejected or waitlisted (and still didn't get in) at all of the places I applied this year so I'm feeling more than a little disillusioned with academia in its entirety.

Am I totally screwing myself by dropping the thesis?

Graduating with honors won't make you that much more attractive to grad schools.

Things that will make you more attractive: a good writing sample, good letters of recommendation, some sort of research experience. Doing an honors thesis can be a way of getting those things. But it isn't the only way; and it isn't a foolproof way either. At this point, doing a rushed and halfassed job on your thesis probably won't strengthen your grad app. It'll just get the word 'honors' on your diploma, which isn't really that important.

If I were you, I'd go to my honors advisor or another trusted faculty member and say "Look, I don't care whether I end up with the word 'honors' on my diploma or not. But I do care about getting into grad school. Can you help me figure out the best way to make sure that my application next year is stronger than my application this year?" That might mean finishing the honors thesis — ideally with an extension. Depending on your field it might mean doing some sort of undergrad research assistant thing over the summer. It might mean auditing some classes after you graduate with an eye to building a relationship with the professor so they can write a better informed recommendation. But your advisor will know better than us what opportunities there are locally to do the sorts of things that will improve your application.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:54 AM on May 8, 2012

Meh, drop it. Grades outside of academia are a non issue. My GPA upon finally completing my BA (after 7 years) was 2.1

Didn't keep me out of grad school.

Husbunny has dropped out of a Master's Program (All But dissertation, GRRR!) and a Ph.d. program. So what? He's still brilliant. They'd all take him back in a heartbeat if he really wanted it.

Right now, take care of yourself. How much better would it be, how relieved would you feel if you could just walk away right now?

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:55 AM on May 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you discussed your depression with your advisor?

If you have compelling reasons why it's been difficult for you to complete your work, it would likely be possible to have some allowance made. Either by getting an extension, allowing you to write the thesis in some form, or being allowed an honors degree when the work you've turned in is a little short of that.
posted by philipy at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the answers, everyone. I talked with my thesis advisor, my academic advisor, and my honors advisor and we all came to the same decision: drop the thesis. We'll convert my thesis courses to independent readings and that'll just be that.

I think the problem was that I was never really interested in what my thesis was supposed to be about. My thesis advisor and I compromised on something that we both thought was kind of interesting but neither really cared about, so it was difficult to get excited and actually get something done.

I am taking at least a year out of school after graduation to work, but I think it's more important that when I do go to grad school, it's in something that I really care about--and that'll be what gets me over these indecisive, depression-susceptible slumps.

Thanks again to everyone--your responses were really helpful in making me feel like not a complete failure.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 9:53 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the problem was that I was never really interested in what my thesis was supposed to be about. My thesis advisor and I compromised on something that we both thought was kind of interesting but neither really cared about, so it was difficult to get excited and actually get something done.

Then you learned something that will be very useful if you do go to grad school: don't do that! Work on shit you care about. Life is too short.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:57 PM on May 9, 2012

« Older It's the end of the world as we know it   |   So....can I have a shiny new job? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.