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Things to Keep in Mind to Get a Head Start on Your Thesis

The day that felt would never come: deleting hundreds of tabs of references on my browser to celebrate the end of my senior thesis. A sense of relief and the realization that my uni life is coming to an end rushed in. It’s finally over.

Although I am proud of the efforts I put into my thesis, there also remains a tiny sense of regret. A feeling that I could've done better if I had done some things differently. Of course, the joy of turning in my thesis is so big that these feelings aren't that big of a deal, but it is a little sad to be finishing our thesis—the last big project at ICU—on those notes. So, this article is for all ICU students that are not seniors yet. Here's a list of things you should keep in mind, some that I wish I knew early on, that could make your senior thesis process much easier and stress-free. I hope this article will help you prepare for your thesis and get a head start.  

Choose a topic you enjoy.

Super basic, but choose a topic you will enjoy. You are going to stick to it for the rest of the year. If you choose something you have no interest in, it is hard to maintain your motivation, and it is going to be a stressful ride. Also, as long as you can make it academic, any topic is okay. Follow your heart and research something that excites you. 

Create a notebook for your thoughts and ideas.

This notebook, I call an “idea book,” will be useful for finding a topic for your research. 
Whenever you come up with questions, thoughts, or ideas, write them down. Even ones that seem stupid. This can be on your phone, laptop, planner, or just on a piece of paper. Simply have a habit of writing any interesting ideas. I recommend this because it feels like good ideas tend to come and go at the weirdest times. While watching TV, walking to class, taking a shower, cooking, eating, it’s always super random. By writing your thoughts down, you get to come back to them later on. Honestly, 90% of the things I wrote in my notebook were trash ideas, but looking at the keywords brought inspiration for my thesis topic. 

Start thinking about your topic as early as possible.

Since having the right topic is so crucial, selecting one can take quite a bit of time. It’s better to start thinking about it early, even if your senior year feels far away. Review your idea book and brainstorm a research topic every now and then. Many often start figuring out their topic after becoming a senior, but once your senior year begins, time passes pretty quickly and next thing you know, your adviser is asking you to turn in your research proposal. There is not much time for you to sit back and just think about your topic. 

Studying abroad? Have some topics in mind before leaving Japan. 

It doesn't have to be decided but have at least some idea for your topic before your study abroad begins. Some of you may be thinking of finding a topic through your experience as an exchange student. That is not a bad idea. I know friends that found one during their time abroad. Initially, that was my plan too. Though in my case, a good topic did not come. Luckily I had some decent ideas that I already had in mind, so I didn't have to struggle too long for finalizing my topic. However, if I did not have that, it probably would have taken much longer to decide on a topic and start my research.

Use office hours to talk to different professors.

If you already know the field of your interest, talk to professors that can give you deeper insights. You could maybe brainstorm with them to find a more narrow research question as well.

Start reading books related to your research as early as possible.

Once you start working on your thesis, you might realize you don't have enough time to read books. So try picking up books before your research gets busy in the spring (or fall for September students). Asking for book recommendations from professors would probably be a good idea too.

Finish your literature review early.

Literature review is going to become the basis of your research. Without understanding the past findings or the fundamental theories, you cannot start your research. So try finishing it as early as possible. 

Set small goals.

Your senior thesis is a year-long project. It is not something you can finish overnight. So set small steps to keep on track and get things done little by little. Be it reading three past research papers by the end of the week or finishing a rough draft by the end of the month. I was the kind of person that panics right before each deadline approaches and starts working like crazy, but making little progress every day or every week will make life much easier. 

Choose your advisors wisely.

Different professors have different styles for doing their "zemi" or meetings. Some do it like a class and some just have tutorials. Some professors tend to comment more than others. Talk to your senpais, see which professors have which style, and think of what best suits you to be productive and get your thesis done on time.

If your research requires participants, have different platforms for recruitment.

As a psychology major, I needed to conduct an experiment and recruiting participants was pretty hard. Having a couple of platforms on different social media helps this process a lot. 

p.s. A personal favor, if you ever come across students trying to find participants for their experiment or research, try helping them out. They are putting in a lot of effort to do the experiment itself and without the help of participants, their study does not begin. Please give them a hand!

These are only some basic things to keep in mind, but I hope they can guide you to a less stressful ride on your senior thesis. 

Ellie Eshima

ICU Japan '21

Ellie is currently a senior at International Christian University, majoring in Psychology.
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