May 3, 2012
Despite the griping and groaning that will be heard over the next few days regarding senior theses, these projects are a hallmark of an Hamilton education; one of the experiences that makes Hamilton unique and denotes the quality of a Hamilton education. Undertaking a large research project allows students to explore their concentrations in depth, to integrate the range of information learned in their classes and to use the models and theories collected during their college careers. This experience, however, is not consistent across majors and, as a result, many students are missing out on a valuable opportunity to acquire a capstone to their four years of work.
Although many majors encourage or require original, independent research, many do not require a culminating senior project. For others, the process behind the project does not differ from any other paper that students would complete for a class, though the paper may be longer. These students are not being encouraged to think independently or to integrate information on their own at the high level expected of seniors. Being forced to do so prepares seniors for their future career pursuits in that they know how to think clearly and innovatively, ensuring that they will excel in their field of choice.
Universal requirements, however, could make having two concentrations increasingly difficult. Even now, the College lacks a universal method to ensure the possibility of two concentrations. Often, students must complete two theses simultaneously because departments refuse to budge on which semester the thesis must be completed. Hamilton’s philosophy encourages students to be engaged in learning a range of disciplines, which naturally generates many students who want to pursue double concentrations. The College could do more to help those who want the opportunity to explore more than one topic in depth do so in a meaningful way. Perhaps those with double concentrations could pursue a project that combines both disciplines if so desired, allowing for a true liberal arts experience. Students pursuing interdisciplinary studies could benefit from more flexibility in their theses from their departments.
The requirements for senior projects also vary widely across majors, which affects students’ choices in deciding on concentrations and the value of the experience. While some departments only require that their concentrators take a senior seminar, others require two full semesters of independent research. These differences should be equalized so that students choose their concentration based solely on interest, instead of the perceived difficulty of the thesis.
Finally, we would like to thank those departments that give their senior concentrators exit surveys, in which students evaluate the value of their experience. Such a survey is extremely valuable in ensuring that students are acquiring a cohesive and meaningful understanding of their chosen discipline over their four years at Hamilton. We would like to encourage those departments that do not already undertake such a survey to do so in the future to allow them to be constantly evaluating their program and how well they are serving their students.
Despite the complaints of current seniors, and the dread experienced by underclassmen, senior theses are valuable learning experiences. Students graduate Hamilton not only with a diploma and a cane, but also with the ability to conduct research and convey that research clearly and concisely. We hope this particular tradition continue for future generations of Hamilton students.