Psych To See Thesis Boom

Department anticipates twice as many honors essays next year

After a wave of faculty hiring spurred in part by concern that students were unable to find thesis advisers, the psychology department forecasts a possible doubling of senior thesis writers in the coming academic year.

According to Undergraduate Program Administrator Shawn C. Harriman ’83, 53 psychology concentrators set to graduate in 2005 are writing theses—and more thesis applications are expected come September.

This year, 27 seniors completed honors essays.

According to Harriman, the department is taking steps to accommodate this explosion in thesis writers.

“On one level, a psychology thesis is a particularly complicated project, in most cases involving human participants in experimental studies. In recognition of the care this requires, the department has increased its services for students planning thesis projects,” he wrote in an e-mail.


For juniors considering theses and first-term seniors who have begun work on their theses, the department has instituted monthly meetings with Lindsley Professor of Psychology and Head Tutor Stephen M. Kosslyn.

Graduate student Amy L. Wiseman will also fill the new role of department-wide adviser for all students writing theses. Additionally, the department expanded the amount of thesis information available on the psychology website.

The requirements for a psychology thesis, which is mandatory for departmental honors, are unusually demanding. Potential writers are encouraged to begin preparing a prospectus in the middle of junior year, and they must find both an adviser and a reader.

Readers must be departmental faculty members.

The need to obtain such supervision has been a stumbling block to potential writers in the past.

Renee J. Gasgarth ’03 said in fall 2002 that she had been actively discouraged from pursuing a thesis by her adviser.

“She said that she didn’t recommend writing a thesis, and that there was no reason everyone should be writing one,” Gasgarth said at the time. “She said it’s a real drain on the faculty, and not to even consider asking her to advise [a thesis].”

In 2002-2003, only 25 of 117 seniors who received degrees in psychology wrote theses.

In fall 2002, Kosslyn called that number “surprisingly low,” but added, “we’ve made great appointing new, very dynamic faculty.”

In 2003, the department lured Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker from MIT, and increased the number of lecturer positions.

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