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Choosing a Topic and Mentor

Choosing a Topic 

Are you struggling to brainstorm a thesis topic? Try one of the following tips: 

  • Find a professor who does research in your broader area of interest. Most faculty have a description of their research or interests on their departmental (major) website.
  • Talk to the faculty in your department -- or a particular faculty member you may be interested in working with -- and tell them you are thinking about doing a thesis. If you are not sure exactly what you want to write about, ask if they have any suggestions for narrowing down your interests. They also may have a project in mind that you could help with.
  • If you are writing your thesis in a science discipline, your thesis could contribute to a bigger project or paper. Ask professors whose research you are interested in if they need help on any projects.
  • The Honors Office has a collection of theses that we have funded the past. They cover a range of topics and are a great way to get an idea of the structure, style and breadth of focus of a typical thesis. Visit the library in Washburn Observatory to page through the thesis books!
  • If you are planning (or required) to write a thesis proposal before beginning your work, you will need to do some preliminary research. This can also help you narrow your focus.
  • Read some academic journals in an area that interests you. Pay special attention to the article's discussion section and/or suggestions for further research.
  • What makes a good thesis topic? If a potential topic interests you, poses questions you can't answer and lends itself to a year of research (constrained, of course, by your own time and resources), then you are off to a good start!  

Choosing a Mentor

Looking for a thesis advisor? The following tips and considerations can help you forge a great relationship with a UW faculty member while getting your senior thesis off to a strong start. 

  • Think about professors whose courses you have enjoyed. What do they research? Does it relate to your interests? Even if they cannot advise you, they might be able to direct you to other faculty who have similar interests.
  • If you have no idea who would be a good mentor, talk to your departmental advisor. They know the department well and can most likely direct you to a faculty member who does research in your area of interest.
  • Most department websites feature profiles of their faculty members, including their publications and research interests. These can be great places to look for potential advisors. Many (although not all) faculty are open to working with students they have never met before as long as they have similar research interests.
  • When you find a mentor who interests you, go to his or her office hours or email him or her about your interests and ideas. See if he or she might be willing to mentor you!
  • If you do not already know the professor, think about what he or she would want to know about you. They will likely want to know what your interests are, what you want to study and your research skills or prior work. (And of course, your name!)
  • If you don't know what you want to study, think of some possibilities and discuss these ideas with the faculty member. You might also ask him or her whether s/he needs help in a particular area of research.
  • Talk with the professor and make sure the mentorship will be a good fit personally and academically. You want to make sure you can have a good working relationship for an academic year.