Reflections on writing an undergraduate thesis by Charlie Thiesen

This is the third and final guest post by students who have recently completed First Class undergraduate theses.

Throughout the three years of my geography degree, and of all the classes taken, writing my thesis in final year was by far the most enjoyable and rewarding experience. I learned so many lessons, not only about the world of academia and the process of research, but about myself and my own learning.

My thesis examined how the fear of violence among women on Maynooth university campus affected spatial behaviours. I wanted to study how fear and intimidation shaped the places and spaces on campus through which women moved, and how it shaped their decisions made with regards to the spaces they would use on the campus. Several activist-scholar projects inspired me, such as Rebecca Krinke’s Mapping Joy and Pain project. In my personal life, I like to consider myself somewhat of an activist, and I like to take a pro-active stance on things I am passionate about, so I wanted to mirror this in my thesis, and was lucky that geography was a subject that allowed me to do this.

To carry out my research I conducted a public mapping event, inviting all self-identified women to map points where they felt either comfortable/empowered or out-of-place/vulnerable. By the end of my research I was presented with a series of maps which acted as a physical representation of the answer to my research question. I found this to be an extremely effective way of research, on top of being enjoyable and interesting, as it allowed for a tangible piece of evidence to support any points being made. In addition to creating a map, I invited women to leave notes elaborating on why they chose certain points, which gave further insight and allowed me to pose suggestions as to why certain spaces were deemed safe/unsafe by women.

One lesson about the process of undergoing an undergraduate thesis which I would like to pass on to all budding thesis-writers is a simple but extremely important one – be sure to choose a topic which you are invested in, one which you love and could spend days on end working on. The thesis is a substantial piece of work which will require a substantial amount of time and effort. If you’re not passionate about what you’re studying, you’ll find that sitting at your computer, or in the library, will become a laborious chore, and one that you WILL procrastinate until it’s far too late. If you love what you’re studying, spending five hours reading academic papers will be fun – I promise! Research, writing, and even editing will be something you look forward to, if your thesis is something you care about, so it is absolutely pivotal that you ensure that what you’re going to study is a treasured topic to you. Take it as a lesson from someone who made the mistake – wasting weeks (or even months) of time on a topic you can’t get behind is not worth it.

A lesson learned about my own process is similar to the one above. I learned that it is important for me to make work not feel like work. I needed to make sure I was working in an environment that felt more relaxed than stressful – for me, that was a multitude of coffee shops across Maynooth, Dublin city centre, and home. The background noise and chilled-out vibes made it much easier for me to work than being surrounded by hyper-productive people in the university library, but at the same time, not being surrounded by friends meant I had no one to chat to and so HAD to work. I realised that in order for me to be productive, I needed to set goals, but to make achieving those goals seem like a hobby rather than a piece of work. Once I did this, the words flew out of my mind and on to the page (or keyboard) in no time. Make sure that the environment you work in is one of comfort for you, and not one that induces anxiety, while also ensuring you can be productive.

Writing your final year thesis will be the most rewarding aspect of your degree, so make sure you throw yourself in to it and produce a piece of work that you are proud of and allows you to confidently say “heck yeah – I killed that!”

Charlie Thiesen

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