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Importance of Senior Thesis vs. Alternative Pursuits


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What is the general consensus on the importance of a senior thesis?

In my case, I either have the option to pursue a Senior Thesis, which will take up 1 course per semester for my last two semesters (i.e. 1 in each semester of my senior year), or I can take some graduate level courses alongside other, part-time research (~20 hrs/wk). This other research will be primarily my own project, but it won't necessarily be an individual project like the thesis would. This research is something I've already worked on and hope to get a (few) publications out of. In addition, I will have already taken a significant amount of graduate level courses (~10 by the time I graduate), in Math, Computer Science, and Engineering.

I am currently pursuing a BS in Computer Science & a BEng in Mechanical Engineering and looking to apply to a top PhD program in Computer Science (Theory).

I would've normally chose the Senior Thesis, but it will be much more time consuming than I would've liked (because of university requirements) for only one single outcome as opposed to taking rigorous courses and pursuing research simultaneously where I could learn at a high level and possibly publish research.

What option would you go with?

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I don't know that I would say that it was important in Ph.D. admissions (from talking to faculty at my program I think my LORs were a much bigger factor than my undergraduate thesis), but I did learn a great deal from the process of writing and defending it. Bear in mind that writing a thesis does not preclude publishing; I got a first-author paper out of the research for my thesis, and it also led to departmental honors at graduation. Taking graduate courses is great too, but bear in mind that the Ph.D. is primarily a research degree, so the more evidence of original and self-directed research you can provide, the better. Have you talked to your advisor about your options?

From your post it sounds like you're leaning away from the thesis - which is totally valid, and I don't think it'll hurt your chances for admission. Best of luck either way!

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Honestly, I don't think it matters either way. As sareth said I learned a great deal from the process of researching, writing, and presenting my senior thesis, and I could've published it if I had spent the time necessary to revise it for publication. But graduate level classes and individualized research is good, too.

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