Saturday, March 1, 2008

my talk at the honors program

last week i went to UH to talk to some honors students (UHM Honors Program). these students were just starting out in their honors theses and were forming their ideas and preparing themselves for the real research phases. the purpose of the talk was to share some advice to the students as they start their projects. it was really interesting to hear what the students were researching. here are few things that i observed

  • some students were able to provide a complete sentence of what they are researching some students just gave a very general area. no problem, they have a semester to figure that out, but at some point they should. one thing that i didn't have a chance to tell the students is that your thesis paper can be summarized at different levels. think of your introduction as the 10 page version of your thesis. think of your abstract as the 100 word version of your thesis. think of your presentation as the 30 minute talk of your thesis. and think of that 5 sentence description as mini version of your thesis. in all cases, you need to understand what your thesis is all about and communicate at the right level; only the communication changes not the idea.
  • a student asked about how to start writing their thesis and commented on the fact that it felt daunting to write a 20 page paper. well, it is very important to break up your paper into sections (classic outline stuff is really really important). the most important thing about writing is to just write. don't worry about grammar or even spelling. just type something, then print it out and make it better. type, read, correct; type, read, correct.. continue that process and you can write anything. some sections are going to be stronger than others and you'll know it. keep moving in a forward direction. to do that you need to keep on writing, keep on reading, and keep on correcting.
  • i noticed that there were a lot of english majors. and its very nice to see that the english department fully supports the honors program. the english major students talked about how the professors really help them. other majors like political science, biology, art, and psychology were well represented. they often have a couple of students per major. thats really great, because they can share experiences and help each other out.
  • unfortunately, there were no engineers at all. no EE, CE, ME, nor ICS, LIS, CIS, MIS students. the computer world and electrical world. from what i can tell (via the alumni listing on the honors website) there have been 3 students in the past 5 years that have come from either EE or ICS. that is sad. there might be more that aren't listed on the alumni website. but still; i only know of Seth, Melissa, and I. so why are the social sciences so involved in honors and the hard sciences not? do the professors not know of it. do they not endorse it. do they care? (i know at least one ICS professor that cares). it definitely seems that the other disciplines spend much more time with the undergraduate students. :(

    i'm my portion of the talk i tried to stress how doing the honors thesis really changed my education and possibly even my life. doing the honors thesis allows me to grow "vertical expertise", something that classes really can't provide. (i talk more about that here: why you need to do a honors thesis). i didn't get to stress this as much, but i think learning how to think and communicate is really important; and the honors program helps you do that.

    in all the University of Hawaii Honors Program is awesome. You can see the difference between these students and the rest of the crowd. i'm sure the students that i talked to will do just fine. its the journey that is important. its the journey that will separate them from the rest.
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