Meeting of the Minds
At the LSU Honors College, thesis work isn’t just a requirement—it’s an opportunity. In order to graduate with College Honors—one of LSU’s highest distinctions—students must complete an Honors Thesis. Thesis work can take a variety of shapes, from scholarly articles, to business plans, to design portfolios.
Students have the opportunity to present their thesis research and creative projects at the Undergraduate Research Colloquium hosted by the Honors College at the conclusion of each academic year. This year’s Colloquium is poised to be the largest in LSU Honors history, with more than 40 students scheduled to present.
The 2014 Colloquium will take place over the course of two nights: Wednesday, April 23 and Thursday, April 24, from 4PM to 8PM in Laville Hall. The event is open to the public. Seniors who have completed an Honors Thesis will give individual presentations of their research in sessions grouped by general topic. The sessions will take place in West Laville Library and in 1005 East Laville. During the Colloquium’s second night, Honors College juniors, sophomores, and freshmen will also present posters on research projects in progress. Posters will be on view in Laville lobby.
The benefits of a successfully defended Honors Thesis go beyond graduation distinctions. Through the thesis process, Honors students develop invaluable research skills and work experience applicable to almost any graduate and professional opportunity available in their respective fields.
“An independent research project is so unique at the undergraduate level that it really sets you apart,” said Logan de La Barre-Hays, an Honors College senior pursuing an International Studies and Political Science double major. She will present her thesis (“The Discourse of the Arab Spring in Western Media”) on the Colloquium’s second night.
Honors College senior Morgan Taylor—also pursuing a double major, in Coastal Environmental Science and Music—added that writing a thesis allows students to explore academic interests and even potential future career paths.
“Go for the experience,” Taylor said. “You’ll walk away with great skills.”
Students may consider the Honors Thesis to be an overwhelming undertaking, or may be anxious about approaching faculty with a research idea in the first place. Alumni Professor of English Anna Nardo noted that what a student really needs to get started is a general idea with which to approach a professor—and commitment.
“All a student has to have is direction. You go from direction to topic and then eventually to thesis. You don’t get to that last point until much later,” Nardo said. “More often a student will come with a vague idea of what interests them, and that’s all they have to have. Any faculty member knows how to help a student focus, narrow, or in some directions expand or think in new ways about their idea. All they need is a direction and some ambition.”
Dr. Sam Bentley, Associate Professor of Sedimentology and Director of the LSU Coastal Studies Institute, noted that students should begin considering their Honors Thesis long before the senior year. “Ideally, the student will start out working in my lab a year or so before they plan on doing their thesis, just to gain experience with people and the instruments and the techniques we use in the laboratory,” Bentley said. “Then, two semesters before their thesis is due, we start working together [on that project]."
Some students discover their academic interests through various undergraduate research programs administered by LSU, such as the Chancellor’s Student Aide program, the Chancellor’s Future Leaders in Research program, and the Aspiring Scholars Program in Research (ASPIRE), an undergraduate research program administered by the LSU College of Humanities & Social Sciences. Honors students have also become interested in new fields of scholarship through the Faculty Research Series, a set of weekly talks hosted each semester by the Honors College in which LSU faculty discuss their research interests and projects in an informal setting.
“I made connections with faculty by taking classes I was interested in and asking questions,” Logan de La Barre-Hays said. “It couldn’t have been a more natural process.”
Honors College senior and English major Meredith Will began her thesis work when she developed an interest in Shakespeare through the ASPIRE program. Will contacted Dr. Nardo, whose areas of research include Shakespearean studies.
“I’ve learned a lot under Dr. Nardo,” Will said. “I came in with the idea that I wanted to do something on Ophelia’s flowers [from Hamlet]. Dr. Nardo definitely influenced my idea and helped me develop it into what it is now. Now I’m looking at the differences between the presentations of Ophelia’s flowers in film.” She will present her Honors Thesis (“A Pansy for Your Thoughts: Ophelia’s Flowers in Modern Film Adaptations”) during the Colloquium’s first night.
Associate Professor of History Meredith Veldman commented that following student ideas as they take form and develop is one of the most rewarding aspects of directing an Honors Thesis.
“[It’s fulfilling] to watch the thesis evolve, watch that intellectual project take shape,” Veldman said. “Someone comes, often with an interest, but fairly formless, and then you watch it make those shifts."
The long-term benefits of the research process are apparent for students not only in the sciences, but also in the humanities. For Meredith Will, the act of research helped to concretize her interests in attending graduate school.
“I came to LSU with the goal of going to graduate school and becoming an English professor, but it wasn’t very real,” Will remembered. “The Honors Thesis cemented that goal in a big way because [now] I know what research is like. At this point I feel like I could develop my research into a larger project. It helped me realize this is definitely what I want to do.”
“To come away from having had the experience of planning and working on something for a year is just so important in terms of personal and professional growth,” Dr. Veldman said. “You can then say to yourself and to any employer or graduate advisor, I know what it is to work for full year on something.”
“I wouldn’t be here if not for the same kind of undergraduate research experience,” said Prosanta Chakrabarty, Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes at the LSU Museum of Natural Science. “The experience will change your life. It will be fulfilling, and it will start you on a path to future success.”
Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College
For more information about the 2014 Honors College Undergraduate Research Colloquium, and for a detailed schedule of presentations, please visit our website at: http://www.honors.lsu.edu/events/undergraduate-research-colloquium-viii.
Students interested in learning more about the Honors Thesis process are encouraged to speak with Marybeth Smith, or visit https://www.honors.lsu.edu/current-students/academics/curriculum/thesis.