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Senior paper

Q: My son was due to graduate this spring, but now he says he won't have his senior paper done. He has been stressed over this paper all year, and he seems to think that he just can't get it right. Is there somewhere he can get help with this?

A: Many students find that the senior paper presents a challenge. The senior paper is intended as an opportunity for students to prove their ability to define a problem or issue, research background information about the topic, and express an opinion or argument related to the topic competently and persuasively. It is really not intended to be a barrier to graduation, nor is it expected to be the ultimate, definitive research paper on a topic.

From your question, I gather somebody, either your son or the professor, wants his paper better in some way. I have had clients over the years confront this graduation requirement with a variety of responses, some problematic. Many students have slipped through school without experiencing writing at this length and depth. They can dash off essays or pull research from the Internet that meets minimal expectations, but their high school skills and habits make thin soup when they are working with the deeper topic that some departments expect for a senior paper.

Other students might attach to this project all the changes that come with graduation and what that step implies. Procrastination on the senior paper can delay a scary transition and postpone coming to grips with the next life stage. By putting off completion of the paper—and graduation—they think they can keep the old gang together for a while.

I have also seen cases where there was a genuine impasse between the faculty adviser and student, where one party or the other misunderstood something. Students are usually expected to work closely with a faculty adviser or teaching assistant as they develop the paper. Often students go away from a meeting with their adviser with a mistaken idea of a point the adviser was trying to make. I suggest in these cases that the student send an e-mail to the instructor after each meeting, summarizing what was discussed and agreed to. This reality check is helpful both to the student and the instructor.

Many departments hold a one-semester or even a year-long seminar for writing the senior paper. Urge your son to get in if he still can. Also, help is available in the Center for Writing in 10 Nicholson Hall (phone 626-7579), or students can talk to a learning assistance specialist in Student Academic Success Services in our office in Appleby Hall or on the St. Paul campus in Coffey Hall (phone 624-3323).

By Rod Loper, University Counseling & Consulting Services.
Dr. Roper has retired, but Scott Slattery now addresses questions from parents and guardians of University of Minnesota students. Please address your questions to Dr. Slattery at 612-625-4568, or email