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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

It all comes to this by Melis A. '08

The Senior Thesis (cue dramatic music)

The expectations for second semester seniors are high. By then, you have taken at least thirty classes and spent over 300 hours in class or doing homework. What do you have to show for it? What monumental task will prove that all of your tooling has made you a better thinker? For most MIT departments, this task is called the “Senior Thesis.”

The requirements for the Senior Thesis are surprisingly flexible. It can be as short as fifteen pages or longer than fifty. The research can be performed in your Junior or Senior year. The topic must be relevant to your major, but can be pretty much anything that you and your thesis advisor (who is usually a faculty member or research staff person) agree upon. But in any case, it must be completed by the end of your senior year and it will be permanently archived by the MIT Libraries.

I did a little bit of web surfing to compose a (brief, and possibly incomplete) list of some majors that require a thesis: Mechanical Engineering, Material Science and Engineering, Architecture (optional), Chemistry (optional, but strongly encouraged for graduate school preparation), Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (requirement can be fulfilled by an “Advanced Project”), Physics (if you are 8B), Urban Planning, Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science, Economics, Literature, and Nuclear Engineering. For other majors, like biology, there are rigorous lab class requirements like the 30-unit “Project Lab” taken during Junior year that is substituted for a thesis (# of units = projected # of hours of class, lab, and homework a week). Regardless of your major, you’re going to endure some sort of challenging culminating activity.

Have no fear; you will not be released into the wild, unpredictable territory of “Theses research” without a guide. Most people take a 3-unit thesis prep class in the fall or IAP of their senior year. The classes usually focus “on the communication problems encountered in researching and writing a thesis. The class is designed to be 1/3 thesis writers anonymous, 1/3 writing and speaking skills, and 1/3 thesis organization skills. The writing and speaking assignments culminate in a thesis proposal and an oral presentation.” (2.ThA website) Some people choose to begin their research in the fall, IAP, or even the beginning of second term. Regardless, you should have a thesis advisor picked out by the middle of the fall term of your Senior year.

I began working in the Lab for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies in the fall of my senior year, and I’m spending most of my IAP here in the lab. Designing nanoparticles for cancer imaging is the name of my game.

My friend Shaye is a senior in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (Course 12). He started his senior thesis research this past summer on the Big Island of Hawaii and is continuing it from his lab at MIT. He is studying asteroids in the main belt of the Solar System and looking for trends in their mineralogy that could lead to a better understanding of Near-Earth asteroid source regions, meteorite source regions, and the overall cosmochemistry of the Solar System. We like to think that he is keeping the Earth safe from destruction from outer space. Shaye’s main thesis advisor is a research scientist from the Institute for Astronomy at the Univeristy of Hawaii, but he also has a faculty advisor in his department that acts as the MIT representative for the thesis work. Everyone needs an MIT thesis advisor, but they can also have a primary research advisor from anywhere in the world!

That’s all for now, feel free to ask questions, though I wouldn’t stress out over this too much… yet.

16 responses to “It all comes to this”

  1. lavya says:

    have there been any groundbreaking thesis papers yet? exciting! best wishes fr yours. what nanoparticles are you designing?

  2. Aditi says:

    so i guess this is where the UROPing really pays off (?)

    all the best for your thesis! It sounds amazing. I have absolutelyu no idea how it works but I’d love to find out. Blog more about the thesis. Pretty please!


  3. Akshay says:

    Hey Melis
    Congrats on winning Rhodes Scholarship!!!
    I just read it on the UROP website. Your interview was great and after reading it I understood how many contacts you develop while working on your UROP projects and meet different people from around the world with common interests.
    I also would like to start research from freshman year of college regardless I’m admitted to MIT(I hope I get). Would you like to give some tips?

    I hope this doesn’t make you feel this is out of your blog subject. I thought your Senior Thesis is based on research so it’s the best place to start.

  4. Isshak says:

    Hi Melis !

    “Designing nanoparticles for cancer imaging”, wow, you are like contributing to the evolution of medecine !
    I hope you’ll be able to tell us more about it ! I’m curious…

  5. Masud says:

    @ Melis

    Everytime I see this picture of you against the skyscraper background, I always ask myself if you have any sort of East indian origin.So if you don’t mind me asking, do you? BTW thanks for the short but informative blog on Senior theses!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Do you know if management and/or economics majors get to write senior theses?

  7. Piper says:

    Cool, 10B = no requirement! But I’m considering 7 as well, so project lab is going to be uber difficult… Oh well =P

  8. Fred says:


    I do believe you miss listing some departments that require a thesis, like Physics, Ecomonics. You may want to check it out again.

  9. @Fred says:

    Physics does not require a thesis. Physics B does smile

  10. Melis says:

    Thanks for your comments. Yes, the thesis is a requirement for economics ( Management does not have a thesis requirement.

  11. Jayne says:

    omg yay. Finally a mention about someone from course 12 smile I’ve been trawling these blogs for ages, but it seemed like the MIT web was devoid of Earth Science majors. heh.

  12. sounds exciting/intense/hard/i really want to do this in 4 years.


  13. Hawkins says:

    Melis, your research sounds really exciting! I can’t wait… =)

  14. Leo says:

    Dear Melis,

    I am sophomore interested in Course 2A, can I email you about a few questions I have? It would be great because I am in the middle of an identity crisis.


  15. Melis says:

    Sure Leo, shoot me an email.