The senior thesis is a defining moment in the lives of many Princeton seniors. In this video, Valerie Smith, Dean of the College from 2011-2015, talks about the importance of independent work and graduating seniors reflect on their thesis journeys.
Spotlight on Thesis
A video documenting Maura O'Brien's senior thesis in art and archeology follows her as she works with wood and paint.
From studying the culture of war to creating a theater piece featuring aerial choreography, Eamon Foley's senior year at Princeton allowed him to experiment with and execute many of the ideas that had interested him for years. For his theater thesis, Foley blended his academic studies with his professional experience as a performer to create an original theater-dance piece titled "Hero."
The senior thesis is helping Alec Lowman ’16 find a sense of himself in the world as an artist, says Professor Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and director of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Creative Writing—and it inspires her.
Stories - Class of 2016
Dennisse Calle found the topic for her senior thesis along a Havana street, in the back of a stall that sells pirated movies and music.
Stories - Class of 2015
Princeton student Denisa Buzatu's vision for an environmentally sustainable building is a sort of shape-shifting origami façade. For her senior thesis, Buzatu, a civil engineering major, is designing and prototyping a structure that shades the façade of a building by folding and adapting its shape in response to sunlight. "It's like electrical origami," said Buzatu. While the overall shape of the structure is immensely flexible, the individual surfaces are rigid and can be composed of any material, such as acrylic or solar panels.
Princeton student Rebecca Basaldua's senior thesis relies on academic knowledge, research skill and a generous helping of tenacity. The politics major's thesis focuses on rape kits, which contain physical evidence collected from sexual assault victims and can play an important role in identifying and convicting rapists. Sometimes, though, victims go through the invasive, hours-long procedure for the evidence to be collected only to see the kits remain untested for years. Basaldua, who is from Edinburg, Texas, wanted to understand how often — and why — that happens.
Dayton Martindale, a senior who receives his bachelor's degree in astrophysical sciences this year, doesn't want to be a scientist. He wants to be the person scientists need to help bring their research before the public. Martindale wants to help the average person understand the importance and influence of the work that occurs in the laboratories they'll never see, and that comes out of the fields they'll never study. He wants to be a science writer. "I realized that if presenting science to the public is what I'm more excited about, why not do that?"
Martindale will begin the master's program in science and environmental journalism at the University of California-Berkeley in the fall.
Natural catastrophes such as China’s magnitude -7.9 earthquake in 2008 and Japan’s magnitude -9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011, motivated Princeton student Hanna Kim's senior thesis, "When Disaster Strikes: A Comparative Study of Civil Society Response to Earthquakes in China and Japan." These events led her to travel to East Asia over winter break of 2014 to conduct field research. A major in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Kim also is pursuing certificates in East Asian studies and translation and intercultural communication.
Senior Abidjan Walker pursued extensive international experience as an undergraduate. A comparative literature major from Hanover, New Hampshire, Walker has studied in China, Morocco, Switzerland and France. Building her linguistic and cultural toolkit sparked her senior thesis, which focuses on the language of instruction in educational systems in these countries. The advice she gives fellow Princeton students wondering about studying abroad, "I say, 'Go, just go.'"
Stories - Class of 2014
Princeton University senior Taylor Francis, a Menlo Park, California, native, grew up surrounded by technology and the startup world in Silicon Valley. For his senior thesis, Francis, a major in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is applying his interests in the tech world to examining two forms of alternative educational credentials: massive open online courses and intensive occupational "bootcamps" for software engineers. Read the full story here.
For his senior thesis, Evan Saitta, an ecology and evolutionary biology major at Princeton, has painstakingly analyzed 150 million-year-old fossils to determine whether a single anatomical difference found in a species of Stegosaurus indicates if male and female individuals were physically distinct. The work could provide a new understanding of the physiology and lifestyle of Stegosaurus. Read the full story here.
Elizabeth McKenna's senior thesis examines the delicate environmental balance of coral reefs. The Princeton ecology and evolutionary major conducted fieldwork in Bermuda last summer, where she investigated the ideal conditions for coral growth. Princeton has a research partnership with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) in St. George's. McKenna's research was funded by an award given annually by the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to support field projects critical to the senior thesis. Read the full story here.
Obianuju "Juju" Obioha's senior thesis explores perceptions of status and race and the relationship between explicit and implicit beliefs. She found evidence that white people have a more difficult time associating black people with high-status jobs than they do associating white people with the same jobs.
Princeton senior Miranda Kalvaria, who is concentrating in Near Eastern studies, is focusing her senior thesis on the impact of legalized sex reassignment surgery and assisted reproductive technologies on various social groups in Iran. Her research spans a variety of source materials and includes several interviews with LGBT activists living in exile in Turkey and Canada.
“The Thesis: Quintessentially Princeton” features the thesis-writing experiences of Princeton students and their advisers. From research conducted around the world to discoveries made in the library or the lab, students share their joy in doing original, independent work, while relaying some of their mistakes and tips for the next generation of Princetonians. The advisers then explain their side of the thesis journey—from the steps for writing a successful thesis to the close relationships that develop between students and faculty members in a way that is “quintessentially Princeton".