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Ruchi Patel, an economics major and IT and business minor, just completed her senior year at Commonwealth Honors College (CHC)— and has been working on her Honors Thesis for the better part of the academic year. As the Honors Thesis is both a universally large undertaking, yet entirely unique in each individual’s method of its execution, knowing how to start and what to focus on can be quite overwhelming. Ruchi, now nearing the end of her own thesis process, gave us the inside scoop and shared some of its details. 

Ruchi’s thesis is centered around student debt and the economy; or, more specifically, the role mental health plays in someone’s perception of the relationship between the two. She examined how student debt, and the stress a person feels regarding it, play into any pessimistic views they may hold about the current state of the economy overall. 

Getting Started on the Thesis: Creating a Proposal

When first approaching her proposal, Ruchi had been nowhere near settling on the idea she wanted to focus her thesis on. She had to work through many different ideas that, to her, never felt quite right. 

“I wanted it to be personal, and something that I can relate to,” she said.

This direction eventually led her to the subject of student debt, as she realized she knew quite a lot of people that were currently worrying about how they were actually going to start paying it off. 

“I made up a map and I put student debt in the middle, and I was like, ‘What are things that relate to student debt; mentally, physically, economically…?’ And stress stuck out to me, and mental health, just because I don't think it's discussed enough,” she explained. 

Even after settling on a topic and actually starting her project, though, Ruchi admitted that her direction for it changed quite a lot as the months went by.

“I thought— and I'm going to sound crazy for saying this— I literally thought that when I started, I was going to end the same way,” she said. The main question behind her thesis, Ruchi emphasized, also changed frequently. The place and topic she eventually settled on looked nothing like the one she’d thought she’d have when she’d started. 

Making Progress: Thesis Seminar and MassURC

Having joined a seminar for her thesis, Ruchi said that the structured guides and deadlines given in the class were a great help in tackling each step of her project. When asked about other forms of help she received, she replied:

“The help I received just literally came out of nowhere. I would be talking to somebody, and then their words would just help me.”

“But I also would ask, obviously, my professor. I work under Kevin Young…He has one-on-one meetings with his students all the time. If you are struggling with data, he'll sit down and help you explain it,” she said,

Ruchi also made sure to mention her time spent with the CHC Writing Coach, Susannah Poland. At the very start of her project, when she still felt entirely lost on what topic she should focus on, she was able to talk through her struggles and get advice on how to find a solid place to start. 

Later, having decided to present her thesis at the annual Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference, Ruchi was able to receive even more guiding feedback from a wide variety of people— such as the Dean of the Honors College, Mari Castañeda. She stressed that even though her thesis hadn’t been completed yet, presenting it as-is proved to be an incredibly valuable experience. 

Photo of Ruchi posing with two other people in front of her poster at 2024 MassURC

Reflecting on the Honors Thesis Experience

In regards to what working on a project of this magnitude has taught her, Ruchi had this to say:

“[It’s] okay to feel like you don't know what you're doing. It's okay to feel that. There are people to help you. You just need to take the initiative and ask. If you don't ask, you're not going to get the help. You're going to stay in the same spot that you are and you're probably going to struggle by yourself, and you shouldn't do that,” she noted.

Ruchi also stressed how much she’s learned about time management, and how to actually organize and structure her work. As the thesis is such a huge part of the Honors College, it shouldn’t be taken lightly — but it also isn’t something to be stressed out about every second of the day. Having that strong foundation, a solid ground to stand on, is important, Ruchi feels. 

In terms of her major, Ruchi described how she’d come away from her project with a lot of practical skills. She’s learned how to look at and analyze data outside of just the more brief or simple work she’d done previously, as well as how to relate it to larger concepts like the economy as a whole. She thinks this will be a great help for getting her MBA; serving as the stepping stones she can use to work herself into a good school as well as later down the line. 

When asked to give some advice for people who are preparing to start their thesis, Ruchi recommended, as a good early step, to just decide whether you want to take a seminar for your thesis, or have it independently contracted. 

“That [decision] will help you figure out where you want to be within your thesis,” she explained. “If you already know what you're going to write about in your thesis, independently contact that. But if you don't, and you want that structured format — seminar.”

Ultimately, the biggest point Ruchi stressed was to simply go slow. With how much her ideas evolved and changed over the course of working on her project, she doesn’t think people should be worrying about trying to search for data right out of the gate. Simple ideas, jotted down whenever they arise, is more than enough. 

“And then from there,” Ruchi promises, “you're going to figure out what you want to do.”

Article posted in Academics for Prospective students and Current students