As a graduating senior at Emory, I have been fortunate enough to be awarded many opportunities to help me grow and learn from the amazing professors in the Human Health Department to the numerous student-run clubs. That being said, one of my best experiences at Emory was writing an honors thesis. My thesis, titled “Examining the Trajectory of Empathy and Communication Skills of Emory University School of Medicine Medical Students”, tracked the empathy and communication skills of the Medical School Class of 2016 throughout their four years. I was interested to see if the medical students’ empathy skills declined or increased throughout medical school. My interest in this topic began after learning about the Clinical Skills Center through one of my Human Health classes, and by interning at the Center over the summer (for more details on my experience, visit this page).
Throughout this entire process, from conception to execution, I have discovered my dream job (and future career), learned how to conduct journal-worthy research, and wrote a 45 page thesis. I encourage all eligible undergraduate students to consider completing an honors thesis. So here are my top 5 tips for those who are interested in, or are unsure about, this amazing experience.
- Start early. It is never too early to start working on your thesis. Although the Human Health department requires students to turn in their project proposals the Spring semester before they write and defend their thesis, not all departments have these early deadlines (or any deadlines at all). It is best to sit down with the head of the department you wish to get honors in and create a timeline—with deadlines—at least 12 months before you defend. This will allow you to collect data over summer break and write your thesis over winter break, so you can avoid scrambling to complete your research or paper during school. Thus, you can write many drafts of your thesis before you send it to your committee.
- Select a solid advisor and committee. Your advisor and committee members are very important in the honors process as they not only decide what level of honors you will receive but are also there to give you support and feedback on your paper and defense. Select your committee wisely, having one person who knows your topic well, and one who might not and be able to give a different perspective. Your advisor should be reliable, available to meet frequently, and someone whom you trust and with whom you can talk. Picking the dream committee makes writing the thesis, and defending it, much easier. Ask faculty to be on your committee early in the process and in person, as other students might want those members on their committee as well.
- Choose a topic that interests YOU. This might seem obvious, but choose a topic that interests you. You will be working on this project every day for a long time, and having something that is exciting to learn about, and do research on, will make the process that much smoother. I loved my topic, and stayed with my thesis even when times were tough and I wanted to quit because my project was so interesting to me.
- Take advantage of Emory’s abundant resources. Emory has so many hidden resources that students do not use enough! Head to the IT desk (on the first floor of the Woodruff library) to have help downloading and using EndNote on your computer or to learn how to create a “Table of Contents” in Word. Also, on the second floor of the library, there are librarians who can help find resources on your specific subject, get full access to journals you may want, or determine if something is copyrighted. The writing center can help with thesis edits and formatting. And, my personal favorite, the QTM help desk-located on the third floor of the Modern Languages building-helps honors students (only!) with statistics, programming software like “R”, and much, much more (Note: this is by appointment only. Find more information here).
- Breathe. Writing and defending a thesis might seem very intimidating at times. I was incredibly nervous, as I had never written anything like this before. Although it seemed daunting at first, I quickly realized that I had the tools and skills I needed, from my time here at Emory, and had many resources to fill the gaps in my knowledge. I also realized that I needed to breathe more whether it be tackling an inconsistency in my data or trying to write a conclusion (the worst part of writing a paper, I think we can all agree). I knew I had what I needed to execute this project, and breathing, taking a moment to gather myself, and meditating really helped to push through the rough patches and create an honors thesis that I was proud of.
All in all, I would go through this process ten times over, and cannot wait to write my thesis in graduate school. I feel very prepared for the next chapter of my life as a public health student. I encourage everyone to think about completing an honors thesis. It is worth the time and effort; the tradeoff is huge and the benefits are uncanny.
I would like to thank Dr. Amanda Freeman for helping me throughout the entire honors process, Dr. Douglas Ander for being my thesis advisor, Dr. Jennifer Sarrett and Mary Lynn Owen for being my committee members, and to Emory University School of Medicine’s Clinical Skills Center. Without each and every one of you, I wouldn’t have made it through this process, and I appreciate all of your support!