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Writing a Senior Thesis

November 5, 2012

by Karise Carrillo and Alyssa Lundahl

What is a Senior Thesis?

A senior thesis is an undergraduate project, which may take the form of a paper, presentation, or creative performance (depending on your discipline). A senior thesis is modeled after the master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. The goal is to demonstrate an undergraduate’s ability to independently and creatively think about a topic usually requiring research.

Why Write a Thesis?

  • Fulfills requirements for the Honor’s Program
  • Looks terrific on a Curriculum Vitae
  • May allow you to graduate with distinction
  • Helps you gain additional experience with research writing
  • Helps you decide if you would like to continue with an academic career – graduate school consists of writing many papers!

How to Write on Time

Theses require a lot of work and have multiple steps. Be mindful of the following when crafting your thesis:

  • Enroll in your department’s senior thesis class (an independent study).
  • Determine deadlines for submission – various colleges, departments, and the Honors Program may have separate due dates.
  • Choose faculty advisors who will help you and have time for you.
  • Plan your defense early – consider your own and your advisors’ schedules in advance. You’ll need to schedule plenty of time for revisions.
  • Submit early to allow time to re-submit documents that may get lost or corrupted in transit.
  • Fill out appropriate graduation forms (regardless of whether or not you are in the Honors Program).
  • If working on a faculty member’s project, ask EARLY in the writing process about whether you can submit part of their project as a senior thesis. You don’t want to hear “NO” at your defense!

 Thesis Writing Tips

  • Consider using or expanding upon your McNair or UCARE research or choose a topic that is manageable for an undergraduate project.
  • In Neihardt, there are manuscripts of past senior honors theses to peruse.
  • Use the appropriate manuscript style for your discipline (e.g., APA, ASA, MLA, Chicago). Unless this is a creative arts project, use the structure from your discipline. This isn’t a free write!
  • Know the appropriate paper length for your discipline and stay within that range.
  • Clear writing = clear thinking. In the words of Dr. Richard Lombardo, keep your readers in mind when writing. Don’t simply try to sound smart. Your goal is to educate others on a topic with which you are most familiar.
  • Have many people read your thesis for revisions and content (e.g., faculty mentors, graduate student mentors, McNair staff, friends and family – this helps to ensure laypersons can read it).
  • Don’t be downcast if you need revisions after your defense; this only improves your paper!

Note: Be sure to check with the requirements of your department to ensure that these guidelines apply to your specific program of study.

Highlights from the McNair Summer Research Experience: Reflections on Berkeley

October 22, 2012

Over the last couple of weeks, the UNL McNair Scholars have participated in a number of academic forums to share their research.  As one of many capstone events, the scholars presented their summer research projects to students, staff, and faculty at the UNL McNair Research Colloquium. One week later, they traveled to Berkeley, California to attend and present at the University of California-Berkeley National McNair Conference. For many of the scholars, this was their first time presenting at an academic conference and they had much to share about their experience.

To capture the scholars experience at Berkeley from beginning to end, the scholars were asked to complete a small survey. Some of their responses are listed below:

What were your thoughts heading to Berkeley?

Bridget Agnew shared, “I was nervous because I was not sure what to expect.”

Daniel Sotelo stated, “I was nervous. I was concerned about the quality of my research compared to the other scholars.”

Joseph Tran questioned, “How amazing will everyone else’s research be?”

What were some of your first impressions when you arrived at Berkeley?

Eric Harmes expressed, “There were more scholars then I had anticipated.”

Joseph Tran shared Eric sentiments as he stated, “I was amazed at the number of attendees, and I felt very small.”

How did the McNair Summer Research Experience (MSRE) help to prepare you for Berkeley?

Maggie Gossard reported, “The MSRE really gave me the opportunity to take baby steps toward a big goal. I think that going through multiple drafts and getting feedback along the way really allowed me to be confident about the quality of my work.”

Moses Pacheco stated, “MSRE allowed me to collaborate with my research mentor and engage with my peers to better articulate my research to others. I was organized and ready to present.”

As you were presenting, how did you feel?

Ross Benes shared, “I felt nervous during the first few minutes, however as time went by, I really got into my presentation.”

Maggie Gossard stated, “I felt empowered knowing that I was contributing to a bigger academic discussion about a topic that I am passionate about.”

Besides relief, how did you feel after your Berkeley presentation?

Moses Pacheco said, “I felt like my MSRE had come full circle. The trip made me realize my hard work was worth every hour I put into completing my research project.”

Bridget Agnew expressed, “I felt confident and ready for other challenges.” 

What advice would you give to upcoming scholars as they prepare for Berkeley?

Daniel Sotelo advised, “Practice your presentation and make sure you really understand what you’re presenting. Most of all, have fun. You’re the expert, so make sure you act the part.”

Maggie Gossard encourages, “Take care in choosing your research topic because you will be living and breathing it for the entire summer. Try to pick something that excites and challenges you.”

What positive things did you learn about yourself after your experience at Berkeley?

Joseph Tran shared, “I learned that as long as I have determination and put in the time, I can accomplish amazing feats in academia.”

Bridget Agnew said, “I have learned to trust myself.”

One of the main objectives of the McNair Scholars Program is to provide students opportunities to engage in research and develop skills critical for academic success. Presenting at Berkley contributes to this goal; scholars grow both personally and professionally. Berkeley is often a transformative period for scholars because they can see the result of their hard work; the sharing of knowledge.  As we can see from the students’ responses, the scholars did indeed have a positive experience and grew from it.

Public Speaking 101

July 17, 2012

The culmination of MSRE is quickly approaching: only two and a half weeks remain before the McNair scholars present their research at the University of California-Berkeley. In the following weeks, the scholars will be hard at work practicing their oral presentations. But how can one quell those public speaking jitters? Below are some tips and tricks to help conquer public speaking fears and give a successful and confident oral presentation. 

Visualize success. In the upcoming weeks, engage in visualization exercises. Imagine yourself walking confidently to the podium, speaking with a loud, clear, and assured voice, and finishing with a satisfied applause. When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful!

Come prepared. The best way to overcome speaking anxiety is to know your material. Though it may feel overwhelming knowing you’ll need to stand in front of other scholars and speak about your research for 12 minutes, you can feel assured that you know your research better than anyone else! Of course, it will still be necessary to plan and organize your speech so it flows, is easy to understand, and is interesting to your audience. The more familiar and comfortable you are with your material, the less anxiety you’ll have. Practice and revise until you can present with ease.

Conduct a few test-runs. Practice in front of small (and warm) audiences such as family, friends, or co-workers. The more times you practice in front of small audiences, the more comfortable you’ll become.Image

Be positive. Think positive thoughts and don’t automatically assume that everyone is judging you. Rather, assume that your audience is interested and likes what you’re telling them.

Dress for success. Dress professionally and comfortably. You’ll want to wear something that does not require any maintenance. For example, you don’t want your shirt to be so short that if you lift your arms to point to a figure on your PowerPoint, your stomach shows. You also don’t want your shirt too revealing or your skirt so short that the audience doesn’t take you seriously. Avoid colors and materials that will easily show perspiration such as gray or light blue. Simple black and white will be the least likely to show signs of perspiration. Wear manageable heels, if applicable, and avoid distracting or noisy jewelry. Overall, you want your audience to be captivated by your presentation, not your outfit.

Know the audience. If possible, greet the audience before it’s time to give your speech. Shake hands with audience members in the front row and make small talk. It’s much easier to speak to a group of people you know (even if you have only known them for a few minutes!) rather than a bunch of strangers. It will also be easier to make eye contact and connect with your audience members if you’re (even slightly) familiar with them.

No need to apologize. Never feel as though you need to apologize for feeling nervous. Everyone gets a little nervous before speaking in front of others. However, most of the time, your nervousness is not even apparent to the audience. If you don’t mention how you’re feeling, no one will even know, so don’t call attention to your anxiety. And if you make a mistake, don’t fret! Your audience has no idea what you have planned for them, so if you accidentally omit a word or even a sentence, they will have no idea. Just gather your thoughts and continue on with your speech!

Good luck!

Overwhelmed?

July 9, 2012

The scholars are moving swiftly through their summer research projects and deadlines are quickly approaching. By mid-July, they must complete a research paper, develop a PowerPoint presentation, and orally present their research at a colloquium and conference. Feeling overwhelmed yet? Here are some suggestions for managing your stress and staying on top of your work.

Set Advanced Deadlines. The McNair Summer Research Experience is structured with multiple, manageable, deadlines. However, you can set your own advanced deadlines. Attempt to complete your work before any assigned due dates. That way you can have your work reviewed and critiqued by your mentors and peers in order to turn in a more polished product. This may seem like extra work at first, but it will save you time revising and resubmitting drafts, and you will have a leg up on your next deadline.

Organize Your Day. Create a daily and doable to-do list for yourself. Large projects, like your research paper and PowerPoint presentation, are essentially a compilation of small tasks.  Ask yourself, “What can I do today to make progress on this?” As long as you remain disciplined, which is an essential skill for graduate school, you will begin to see positive movement towards your goals.

Take Care of Yourself. This may seem like an unrelated component of staying on top of your work, but it is! When you feel exhausted, take a power nap (i.e. 30 minutes). When you feel hungry, eat. If you start to feel sluggish, go to the gym. Taking care of yourself in these ways can help you regain focus on your research. Often, when we decide to “power-through” without taking care of our basic needs, we work at a slower pace and are less productive. Therefore, take care of yourself.

These suggestions may seem small, but they can have a huge impact on both your health and success. Additionally, honing these skills this summer will help you in your future endeavors.

MSRE Week 3: Research Underway

June 18, 2012
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Brooke Micek

The 2012 McNair Summer Research Experience is in full-force as the Junior Scholars begin their third week of the intensive research program. The Scholars have already completed the literature review and introduction sections of their research papers, and engaged in a peer-review session in which they gave constructive feedback on each other’s work. In the following days, the Scholar’s will continue drafting their papers, studying for the GRE, and learning how to craft a one-of-a-kind personal statement.

We checked in with three of this year’s Scholars to see how their projects are going thus far. Ross Benes, a Psychology major working under the mentorship of Dr. P.D. Harms, is researching the effectiveness of workers at different levels of the job hierarchy through the lens of the personality trait theory. Maggie Gossard, another Psychology major, is examining the obesity stigma in the workplace under the guidance of Dr. Sarah Gervais, while Brooke Micek, a Biological Systems Engineering major, is researching enzymes that control oxidative stress in prostate cancer cells with Dr. Melanie Simpson.

What have you learned about conducting a full-scale research project so far?

Ross Benes: There are many revisions. First drafts don’t cut it. Also, it’s important to organize the layout of your paper for the reader. Proper formatting is important for keeping your reader focused on your writing.

Maggie Gossard: I’ve learned that it takes a lot of planning and careful analysis. It’s not enough to simply have a research question; it takes a lot of hard work to figure out how to measure everything, who to sample, etc. It’s a big undertaking.

Brooke Micek: Writing down every detail is a major contribution. Repetition is extremely important in research and without each detail being written to know how each step was done, then repetition becomes difficult to accomplish.

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Ross Benes

Ross Benes: The research has been going fine. There’s still a lot to be done though. I enjoy the independence the most. Being able to make my own schedule and approach problems how I see fit has been the most positive part of the research process thus far.

Maggie Gossard: I feel like my research has been going really well. What I enjoy most about the process is being able to explore topics that I’m interested in and feeling like I can contribute to a bigger academic discussion.

Brooke Micek: Research has been going pretty well. I love learning new techniques for different experiments.

How has MSRE helped you in terms of your research project and/or graduate school preparation? Have you come across anything unexpected?

Ross Benes: It’s helped me realize how difficult the verbal section of the GRE is, and that I need to learn many new words to increase my score. It’s also taught me that everything is a process – there are no quick fixes. I haven’t come across anything unexpected so far.

Maggie Gossard: I think MSRE has really helped me stay organized and focused. With so much going on at once, it’s important to prioritize things and pay close attention to deadlines.

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Maggie Gossard and Graduate Student Jill Allen

Brooke Micek: MSRE has been a great help in preparing me for how much work needs to be done. Because many of the deadlines are ahead of when most things need to be done, the bulk of the work is already written out, and any extra details that need to be typed out can be added. This makes writing the papers a lot easier.

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) – Fully UPDATED

June 4, 2012

The GRE is the most widely accepted graduate admissions test in the world. Whether you intend to earn your advanced degree in Physics, Psychology, English, or any other area, the GRE will more than likely be a step you must take towards entering your desired program.

Last year, the GRE was updated and revised to be more test-taker friendly. The test has a new design and new questions to more accurately capture your potential as a graduate student. While part of doing well on the GRE involves good old fashioned studying, knowing the structure and set-up of the exam can also help you complete the test satisfactorily.

Similar to the previous version of the test, the GRE still contains three parts: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each part contains two sections representing the complexities within each area. For example, the Analytical Writing portion contains an Issue and Argument essay, which require you to develop an argument and evaluate an argument respectively. Also, unlike the old version of the test, the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning portions of the test are adaptive at the section level instead of the question level. This is not the only major change to the GRE either!

Some other changes worth noting are the on-screen calculator and the mark and review feature. The on-screen calculator appears during the Quantitative Reasoning sections and contains basic mathematical functions (e.g. addition, subtraction, division, etc.). The on-screen calculator also recognizes order of operations. The “Mark” button feature enables test takers to mark and return to questions they want to skip. The review page allows test takers to review all of the questions they marked and the ones they answered or left blank. These are just a few of the new features on the test.

Now that you are aware of some of the changes to the GRE, you are better prepared to take the exam.  If you would like a more thorough review of the changes to the GRE revised edition and tips for tackling the test, visit the sites below.

http://www.ets.org/gre

http://www.kaptest.com/GRE/Home

MSRE 2012: Kicking off the Summer Research Experience

May 25, 2012

The McNair Junior scholars jumped into the McNair Scholar Research Experience this Wednesday. Over the next few months, scholars will whet their scholarly appetites and gain a new understanding of research by working on their own projects under the guidance of their faculty mentors.

University Hall, the first academic building on the University of Nebraska campus

 

Before discussing the various benchmarks for their research and receiving an overview of the process, scholars watched “Frontier University Dreams,” a production of Nebraska Educational Television. The film details the first few decades of the University of Nebraska, from its founding as a land-grant university in 1869 and near failure in the 1890s, to the university’s golden age, when research in agriculture contributed directly to improving farmers’ ability to prosper on the prairie.

 

Many kinds of windmill can be seen in on the Nebraska prairie

During its first few decades as an institution, the university, thanks to James Hulme Canfield, grew a relationship with the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska. Researchers like Erwin Hinckly Barbour continued to serve farmers, through his own observations on fossil digs in rural Nebraska. He noticed the variety of homemade windmills dotting the prairie landscape, and applied his scientific abilities to cataloguing the different types of windmills.  The resulting publication became a guidebook for farmers and ranchers who, looking for relief from a drought that had been going on for years, could use the patterns in the extension bulletin to make their own windmills. This was especially helpful for those farmers who needed access to water, but did not have the resources to buy an expensive manufactured windmill.

From its inception, the University of Nebraska was intended to serve all of Nebraska’s residents. All were welcome to enroll, including women and African-Americans, at a time when schools back East were open to white males only (most Ivies only began accepting undergraduate co-eds starting in the 1960s).

Now that McNair scholars know about Nebraska’s past, they can continue the tradition of serving the community and applying their abilities to further scientific knowledge.


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