Seven Rules for Completing Your Senior Thesis, by Professor Miles

My Religion thesis advisor is Professor Rogers Miles. Professor Miles is the source of much encouragement and wisdom, and the other day he gave me this list, entitled “Seven Rules for Completing Your Senior Thesis”. I find myself referring to it over and over as I begin the thesis-writing process. Hopefully, this list will prove helpful to you as well, whether you are working on a senior thesis or any other paper or project.


1. When you finish your thesis proposal, don’t kid yourself that your thesis is almost finished.

2. Don’t wait too long to start writing. Writing a senior thesis is not like writing a ten-page paper. You should begin writing even in the research phase.

3. Your thesis adviser will never be as helpful as you wish. It’s your project, not his or hers. Use your adviser as a sounding board and a critic, but always remember that your adviser can’t do your thinking for you. Unless you can present your thesis adviser with something that he or she can reflect upon and have an opinion, your adviser will be useless to you. Give your adviser plenty of lead-time to respond to your submissions.

4. The more structure you build into the process of writing your thesis the better. If you break completion of your thesis into a series of steps and deadlines, it won’t seem so daunting. Your thesis adviser can help you to make a schedule and keep it.

5. Don’t make your thesis serve as the ultimate validation of every intellectual and scholarly virtue you hope you embody as a student. The thesis is not about you; it’s about your topic. If you want find your “voice” as a writer and a thinker, don’t look for it in the thesis writing process. Commit yourself to your topic, have the humility to follow where the research leads, and be content to be a midwife of the conclusions that emerge (even negative conclusions).

6. Completion of your thesis is your responsibility, not anyone else’s. If you get into trouble, no one can save you except yourself. So accept your responsibility, and stop waiting for someone to lift the burden from your shoulders. Don’t think of yourself as a victim. Think of yourself as an agent, and you can overcome the obstacles that are standing in your way.

7. Everyone gets sick of his or her thesis topic at some point along the way. Perseverance, not inspiration, is the key to completing a thesis.

Thank you to Professor Miles for the permission to share this list.


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