Reflect on your interests
The first step in taking on any independent project is to spend some time reflecting on your intellectual interests, questions, and goals. This is not only the first step – it’s a critical, continuous process!
Whether you are preparing to contact a potential mentor for the first time or already working on your honors thesis, it’s valuable to spend time thinking about what motivates your project.
Explore a topic that intrigues you
Research and other types of projects allow you to wrestle with questions and ideas in a deeper and more hands-on way than most classroom experiences. You might find that something that started as routine homework assignment becomes an intellectual obsession. Or maybe there’s some burning question that you’ve never quite had the opportunity to explore in class, but you always wanted to. Take some time to reflect on what sparked your interest and curiosity. As your project unfolds, set aside time to think about new questions you encounter along the way.
Connect your diverse interests
Perhaps you’ve found an interesting theme connecting your physics homework and your Sociology lectures. Or perhaps you want to use your artistic skills to tackle questions about the French Revolution. Projects offer a unique way to synthesize the many different things you are learning in your different courses.
If interdisciplinary connections excite you, consider doing a Senior Synthesis project as a senior capstone for your Stanford career. While traditional honors theses generally hone in to one area of focused study to discover new knowledge, Senior Synthesis projects demonstrate new connections between different areas of a student’s undergraduate experience.
Enhance your skills
Research and other projects are a hands-on way to learn how to do all sorts of things. As an undergraduate, your research mentors know that you are at the beginning of your academic career and are ready to teach you the skills you need to succeed even if you are a complete novice when you begin. If there is a particular skill or methodology that you want to learn, consider connecting to faculty who use that technique and getting involved in a project.
Broaden your perspective
Research is also a way for you to answer those often expansive questions that result from being immersed in your academic career. There are matters that you always question as a student, topics that you are always curious about, and questions that you always wished you could answer, but never realized you could do it by pursuing research. With guidance from faculty mentors, research offers you an opportunity to customize how you ask questions and find answers for yourself.