My undergraduate thesis was not what I would consider a complete product. I did due diligence in the background and theory of the topic, but while I have attained results, my output of validated analysis methods and observed trends was notably missing the data that motivated this work. It wasn't done. On the other hand, it was due.

I received a general attitude from the chair of my department, that this is OK. My chair's thoughts could be summed up as "it's not a Master's or PhD thesis". This would be a public document with my name on it, and I wasn't fully happy, but my institution seemed to be.

What are your thoughts on the expectations of an undergraduate thesis, and what you feel is an acceptable product from undergraduates? Does this significantly differ from a PhD or M.S. thesis in factors other than depth of work?

1 Answer 1


Honestly, my expectations for undergraduate theses are very limited. Any well-written discussion that demonstrates significant understanding of the research area is probably satisfactory. A doctoral dissertation is supposed to demonstrate significant research skill and the ability to perform cutting-edge research. A master's thesis is supposed to demonstrate the ability to perform some useful research in the subject area. An undergraduate thesis is supposed to demonstrate that a student knows something worth knowing about a topic, and original results are not generally a requirement.

In a way, it is good that you are unhappy with your undergraduate honors thesis. That demonstrates that you know what you have actually accomplished and also clearly understand the weaknesses of your work. It may be unfortunate that you have not had enough time to complete all the work you would have liked to complete, but if you continue along an academic career path, you will get ample opportunities to pursue more complete research projects.

(As a personal note, I should add that as I am writing this comment, I really ought to be providing comments on the thesis draft that I received the other day from my own honors college student. This is a really good student, and he has already appeared as an author on a paper in a top journal, based on his work over the past year. On the other hand, his written thesis is lacking in both contextualization and descriptive detail. To bring his work up to the level where I would like it to be would be a significant undertaking, and it is probably not going to get to that level in the limited time we have. To some extent, that leaves me disappointed, but I do not want to lose track of the fact that this is a really first-rate student, and what he has produced---imperfect as it is---is quite remarkable for an twenty-one-year-old undergraduate.)

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