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.