Senior Thesis

The faculty believes that a Bates senior is well-educated and well-prepared to undertake a significant research, service, performance, or studio project in the final year of study in their major. At Bates, this capstone experience most often takes the form of a senior thesis.

Emily Tamkin '22, a biology major from Lafayette, Calif., is doing a summer '21 purposeful work internship tin brewing science, partnering with the Baxter Brewing Co. in Lewiston, where she's studying the number of battering compounds that exist in beer throughout the brewing process. She is working under the supervision of Merritt Waldron, Baxter's quality control manager, and Assistant Professor of Biology Lori Banks.  Emily picks up samples from Baxter's plant at 130 Mill Street in Lewiston and takes them to Carnegie Science where, in Dr. Bank's lab, she conducts a chemical analysis of them. The compounds hit your taste buds, and your brain understands that they are bitter, she says.
For her senior thesis, biology major Emily Tamkin ’22 investigated antiviral treatments for rotavirus, the leading viral cause of severe acute diarrhea in young children, in the lab of Assistant Professor of Biology Lori Banks. Tamkin completed an honors thesis, an advanced version of the tradition senior thesis. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

The traditional senior thesis involves one or two semesters of original research and writing, culminating in a substantial paper on a research topic of the student’s design. Such an effort requires that the student possess an excellent understanding of the subject area, its theoretical underpinnings, and its research methodology.

Specific Information

Specific information on the work required of seniors in the major fields is detailed in the introductory paragraphs to the department’s and program’s courses and units of instruction in the College Catalog.

The student must also be able to think critically and comprehensively about the topic, and must be able to advance a well-formulated argument. Conducting a senior thesis not only draws on a student’s past academic experience, it also requires considerable independent thinking and creativity, self-discipline, and effective time management.

In recent years, an average of 88 percent of seniors complete a thesis, and 12 percent engage in a capstone seminar or similar project. About 15 percent of seniors do both.

Students who have two majors may complete two distinct theses, one for each major. Or, they may complete a single two-semester interdisciplinary thesis to complete the requirements for both fields of the double major.

Invited to present his senior thesis research at the American Society for Environmental History’s annual conference, environmental studies major Caleb Ireland ’23 won a “Most Effective Poster” award for his history of the Great Dismal Swamp, which stretches across southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
The Thesis Adviser

The student is guided in this process by the thesis adviser. Many departments and programs bring thesis students together in seminar courses or colloquia in which they meet regularly to discuss current literature, research methodologies, and their own progress. Several departments and programs require students to deliver formal presentations of their thesis work.

“In many ways, my honors thesis has been a source of love, for which I will forever be grateful.”

A crowd of about 50 students, faculty, and staff gathered on the front steps of Coram Library to celebrate Sam Jean-Francois ’23 of Medford, Mass., and bind Jean-Francois’ honors thesis in Africana, titled “Colonialism as the Disaster: Retelling the Fight for Haitian Sovereignty,” with Associate Professor and Co-Chair of Africana Sue Houchins serving as Jean-Francois’ “proud adviser.”

The thesis “has been a heuristic exercise centered in my journey to uncover more about my history, my family’s history, and Haiti’s history as the world’s first free Black republic,” said Jean-Francois.

“Through this thesis I’ve had the opportunity to engage with the works of Haitian scholars such as Myriam Chancy, and reconnect with my mother tongue, Kreyol.”

Laughing at calls to read the whole thesis aloud (all 126 pages of it,) Jean-Francois read the acknowledgments page aloud, and then bound the thesis, with the help of Verina Chatata ’26 of Lilongwe, Malawi, followed by a joyous shake-and-pop with a bottle of champagne, adorned with a Haitian flag.
Sam Jean-Francois ’23 poses with their thesis adviser, Associate Professor of Africana Sue Houchins, during a senior thesis celebration on the steps of Coram Library. They are holding a bound copy of Jean-Francois’ honors thesis, “Colonialism as the Disaster: Retelling the Fight for Haitian Sovereignty.” (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)
Capstone Examples

Some departments and programs offer or require thesis work that includes theatrical or musical performance, video production, curriculum development, or studio art work and exhibition. Qualified students may occasionally undertake a joint thesis in which two students collaborate on one project.

In some departments a senior may culminate his or her career at Bates with an alternative project. In psychology, for example, a major may undertake a long-term service-learning project as an alternative to a thesis. Portfolios or comprehensive examinations are available as thesis alternatives in several major fields.

For her senior thesis in studio art, Frieda Kickliter ’23 created large abstract paintings inspired by architecture and landscape. Her work, along with other art and visual culture majors who complete the department’s studio art track, was displayed at the annual Senior Thesis Exhibition in the Bates Museum of Art. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)