How do I know if my thesis idea is viable? (B. Zakarin 2011)

Contributor: B. Zakarin, Office of Fellowships,
Posted: 2011

Once you have a thesis topic that excites you, make sure it is viable; that is, can you pursue it with the resources at your disposal?  The definition of “viable” will change over time.  Something viable on February 15 may no longer be on September 15 if you do not make headway in the intervening months.  You and your advisor must align means and ends because the committees that decide admission to the Senior Thesis Program and summer funding are especially concerned with viability.  You can complete a successful and rewarding thesis between September and May of the senior year.  Ask yourself if the project’s current scope fit the time you have and the space you can cover:

  • Are you willing to start work on your thesis over the summer?  If so, then you can apply for summer funding to…
    • conduct research in local or distant archives
    • perform oral history interviews
    • do essential reading (especially foreign-language sources that demand more time)
  • Are you definitely going to start work on your thesis in September?  If so, then…
    • devise a research agenda that depends on local physical resources (e.g., microfilm, Chicago-area archives) and electronic resources
    • avoid a topic that requires sources available only in distant archives because it will be relatively late in the thesis process before you can acquire them
  • Are you asking research questions that can be answered…
    • with your skills and background knowledge?
    • in 60 pages?
    • by May of next year?