Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Honors thesis challenges students

Joey Gamble, a senior majoring in English, estimates that he has written somewhere around 30 papers for his major. That’s not counting his Honors thesis, a 35-page work he wrote last year about post-9/11 poetry.

“I plan on [writing papers] after I graduate here,” Gamble said. “It just made sense for me to go ahead and start flexing the muscles I need.”

The Honors thesis, which is required for students interested in majoring with Honors in departments like English, philosophy and psychology, required Gamble to do his own research, formulate his own argument and back it up. It also gave him a chance to work personally and closely with faculty members.

“With a thesis, the field is completely open,” he said. “In English, if you’re not writing a thesis, you learn a lot of the tools graduate students and professors might use in research, but you’re not necessarily asked to use them in the same way a graduate student or professor might be using them.”

The program’s co-coordinator Deborah Weiss said the skills needed and developed for and during the process would be useful at and beyond the graduate level.

“The idea that you have to come up with an original analytical argument about a piece of literature is a real exercise in intellectual ingenuity,” she said. “That’s a skill you can apply not just to Shakespeare, but to the world around you.”

Weiss said the English department developed the program in response to student population growth.

“We wanted to make sure the students who wanted to have more challenge … didn’t get lost as the University got bigger and bigger,” she said. “Even for the best, most-focused students, it’s really a challenge to put together something of this length over many months. Being responsible for a long-term project that’s made up of many parts is extremely helpful.”

Though being a thesis advisor can often mean extra work for a faculty member, Weiss said she and several other members had done undergraduate theses and felt it was a valuable experience.

“Our faculty do it because everybody’s very committed to this idea of furthering undergraduate education,” she said. “We wanted our students to be able to have that option.”

The skills needed for writing a thesis are important to research in any field, Weiss said, and the department has developed a 300-level seminar that serves as a mandatory prelude and preparation for the process.

“Learning to do research in any discipline that you’re in, I think, is an important step towards more advanced work,” she said. “[The class is] always an intensive research-based seminar. We have that class so we can help students develop the kinds of skills they need writing the thesis.”

Peyton Moss, a senior majoring in English, took the class last spring and is now preparing for her own thesis, which she will write this spring.

“It put me out of my comfort zone … we read a lot of like critical theory, which is something I’d never dealt with in any of my other classes. It was a lot more in-depth [and] required a lot more concentration,” Moss said. “I think I am in a lot better position to [write my thesis] now that I’ve taken [EN 399]. It was a struggle for me at the beginning, but seeing that I was able to make it through … kind of reassured me that I was able to write my thesis.”

Moss said the thesis could be a sort of litmus test for her future. In the meantime, it will also stretch her beyond what has so far been required of her, she said.

“It’ll help assess whether or not I’d like to do grad school or whether it’s not for me,” she said. “It’ll be good for kind of taking on more responsibility and learning a lot of skills I wouldn’t necessarily have if I hadn’t chosen to write it.”

For Gamble, who is planning on attending graduate school, the paper was not just an extension of his undergraduate career but the beginning of a professional career.

“I can certainly see this being the origin of my master’s thesis and maybe even ultimately a chapter in my dissertation,” he said.

Gamble said the paper could even be the source material for things like publications and presentations in the future.

Weiss said the thesis is a glimpse of the future for students who think graduate-level English might be for them.

“The writing of the long paper is the standard vehicle of communication in the field,” she said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we as professors do.”

She said the process required high-achieving students to stop and evaluate whether the process is for them. Past that, however, students should come with just ideas.

“I find that it’s mostly students are really intrigued and excited about the idea of doing something that will really stretch them,” she said. “Actually, it’s very unusual that they come with a real clear idea of the author that they want to work on. Mostly they came with the idea that they want to do this thing – this new thing, this challenging thing, this exciting thing.”

More to Discover