UNC Chapel Hill Honors Theses: A Big Plus for Careers

However much we dislike college rankings that equate quality with “outcomes” such as the highest salaries or mention in Who’s Who, practical considerations are a major part of almost every student’s plans.

The story below by Dana Blohm of the Daily Tar Heel describes how students writing senior honors theses at UNC Chapel Hill have their eyes on research and on the future.

By Dana Blohm
April 11, 2012

Abby Lewis spent her summer doing research for her honors thesis. But instead of heading to Wilson Library, she went to Paris.

While it might be an unconventional way to research for the extensive project, the senior said she was able to analyze unpublished French memoirs, reaching past what she would have been able to accomplish just at UNC.

“To go abroad by myself was challenging, but it was rewarding to have that experience,” she said.

About 340 seniors chose to write honors theses this year, with the most coming from the psychology department, said Jessie DeHainaut, program assistant for Honors Carolina.

In recent weeks, students have been presenting their final theses and defending them against panels.

Senior economics major Jamie Isetts said students must be passionate about their topics to complete the challenging process.

“The most difficult part was realizing how to balance what you wanted to do and what I was able to do with the resources I had,” Isetts said.

Several seniors said they were forced to change their topics due to unforeseeable circumstances.

“I came into it with a clear idea about what I wanted to write and that set me back in a lot of ways,” Lewis said. “Once I stepped back and saw what I had, there was a different paper there.”

Assistant director of University Career Services Laura Lane said students benefit from writing theses in a number of ways.

Lane said writing an honors thesis helps to develop the number one skills employers are looking for — communication.

“For anyone contemplating going into academia, it’s a must,” said economics professor Mike Aguilar, an honors theses adviser.

Many honors thesis students also commented on reaching a new level of research that they were unable to learn in school.

“I think writing my thesis definitely helped me get into graduate school because I can say that I’ve already done in-depth research,” Lewis said.

Students must choose an adviser in their department. Many had relationships with their advisers before starting their theses. “It really helps to know the student ahead of time,” Aguilar said.

Professor Tim Carter said he gets as much out of advising students as they get from him.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity to engage in cutting edge information with a smart student,” he said. “It’s one of the best parts of our jobs as faculty members.”

Senior Chris Nickell, who has Carter as an adviser, said the end product is worth all the work. “To see an argument take shape, and to now have the capacity to talk about the topic on a new level is really rewarding,” he said.

But Isetts said students’ motivations should be genuine, and not just for the recognition.
“Don’t do this honors thesis unless you do it for yourself,” she said.

“Don’t do it to get the honors or it will be a soul-sucking process. It’s for you, so make it your own.”

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