March 8, 2018
With Intent to Register opening up, many students may be considering whether a thesis course would be right for them.
Why take a thesis course at all? After all, thesis courses aren't always mandatory and they may be a lot of work. Although these sentiments may ring true, I find that thesis courses offer a plethora of benefits.
For example, if you're interested in research as a career or planning to go to grad school, a thesis course is an invaluable experience: it gives you the research experience that schools look for and may potentially get you into a lab to continue your project after undergrad. Enrolling in a thesis course may help you keep your options open.
If you're considering attending professional school, research can also be helpful for your application. Maybe you can use the experience to better understand where treatments and new insights into medical conditions and diseases come from. It's also helpful if you want to develop your scientific writing, presentation and interview skills.
Despite the positives, thesis can be a lot of work, so think about your interests before you dedicate yourself to one. Research (and your grades in the course) often requires you to be in the lab, which can sometimes make your week and weekends hectic, especially when you have to balance this commitment with your other courses. In my course, students must aim to be in the lab for about 15 hours/week.
You must communicate with your supervisors to keep you accountable for your research. Fortunately, your supervisors are usually understanding about responsibilities you have and can help you to schedule your time appropriately
Before you start, look up professors in your department to see what types of research their labs do and compare these to your own interests. You don't want to get stuck in a lab doing research you're not interested in.
You can even look outside of your own department, which is what happened in my case. I'm a student in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, but my supervisor Dr. Penuela is from the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.
Consider reaching out to professors ahead of time to express your interest and explain your plans. It's also helpful to begin working in the lab early because it can save you time learning the lab techniques and also interviewing for a position. I completed my research project the summer before my fourth year, and it allowed me to learn the techniques that would be associated with my project ahead of time.
I explained to course coordinators how I wanted to continue working in the lab I had been a part of for previous summers and they were more than happy to accommodate this request.
But if you don’t find a supervisor beforehand, don’t worry! There are still interviews at the start of the school year if you are accepted into the course (most have limited spots based on the department/course) and coordinators will ensure you are matched to a supervisor. People still have great success despite not having had any prior research experience.
Now, despite all of the serious benefits and considerations, remember that the lab is not always work and no play! Your lab can be a great place to network. From time to time your lab or department may have optional events like lab dinners, Christmas parties or bowling nights.
So, weigh all of these considerations accordingly and get the most out of your undergraduate experience as you can, regardless of if you do a thesis or not.
Disclaimer: I'm taking the Physiology/Pharmacology 4980E thesis course offered by the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, so my opinion is based on the course from this department and my own experience with it. Not every thesis program is the same, so make sure you check the registration specifics on the department website.