November 25, 2019

Tips for Selecting a Senior Thesis Adviser

Posted by AGU Career Center

Completing a senior thesis is a major part of the undergraduate experience. It’s a massive commitment, so deciding who you want to work with for an entire year can cause a lot of stress and uncertainty. There are many factors to consider in selecting an adviser, such as your areas of interest, compatibility with your adviser, and project management preferences. Before you commit to working with a professor for the duration of your senior project, check out these tips to help navigate the decision-making process and confidently start working with your adviser.  

What Classes Did You Enjoy? 

By the time you are selecting your senior thesis adviser, you will likely have completed most of your core classes for geosciences. When deciding who you want to work with, consider which of those classes really excited you. Did you find structural geology interesting? If you liked surface processes, could you work on a hydrogeology project with the same professor? Professors love their specialties; sharing an interest in their research will create a strong chemistry that you will value all year long. 

Did You Click with Any Professors?  

When you look back on your classes, are there any professors that come to mind that you simply clicked with? Sometimes you and your professor’s interests might not perfectly align, but you may communicate remarkably well with each other. Identify professors whose lectures made perfect sense to you and whose general teaching style you enjoyed. Some professors have very different teaching and advising styles, but this can still be a good way to gauge if you two are a solid match. 

How Do You Prefer to Be Managed?  

Another factor to consider is your adviser’s management style. Some advisers prefer to be very hands-on and set multiple deadlines every week, while others want you to navigate the project as independently as possible. You can often get a sense of an adviser’s management style from the way they teach, but the best way to get concrete answers is from the professor’s former advisees. If you happen to know anyone that your potential adviser worked with previously, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask about how that professor manages student theses.  

What’s Your Natural Habitat? 

Consider what type of work you want to be doing. Think about past field trips, coursework, and internships; what kinds of observations and data did you like to gather? Maybe you prefer working in a lab with a microscope over doing simulations on a computer. After reflecting on your interests, you’ll be ready to assess if a particular professor’s research methods would be a good fit for you. 

Are You Willing to Travel and Do You Have the Time?  

If you have the fortune of clicking with several potential advisers, a good way to narrow down your options is to get the logistics on how, when, and where you’d do field work. Maybe you’re an out-of-state or international student, and your site is quite a distance away. Perhaps you are a double major with little time to spare for extra field work. Depending on your and your potential adviser’s personal circumstances, your availabilities may not line up very well.  

Are You Willing to Be Open Minded? 

It’s worth talking to as many professors as you can about what it’s like doing research in their area. Even if you don’t think their area is your top choice, you never know if their research project will spark a new interest in a related area of study. If you come across a dilemma between several project options, be sure to balance the compromise between your interest in the research and your ability to work well with the professor.  


Annette Kang and Mia Ratino, Former Talent Pool Interns, American Geophysical Union