What to Expect This Year
Junior year is a great time to hit your stride! You've shaken off those newbie jitters, you know your way around campus and have settled in to your House and your department. Own it! This school is yours.
Juniors will often start to specialize within their area of study, narrowing in on those topics that are most exciting. It's a great time to explore more deeply, now that you know a little more about yourself. Junior year is also a great time to start thinking critically about your surroundings. See something you want to change? Go for it!
In many departments, juniors are invited to start thinking about whether they want to write a "senior thesis" — a capstone research paper or creative project that will be submitted in the spring before graduation. It's a big commitment that usually requires lots of hours of work outside the classroom, but it's also a fantastic opportunity to work closely with a faculty advisor and produce original scholarship. You don't have to make any big decisions just yet, but as you start to engage more deeply with your studies, take a moment to reflect: Are you liking your concentration as much as you thought? If the answer is "no", then you might consider if there is another concentration that would be a better fit. Would you enjoy doing a really deep dive into one narrow topic in your field? If the answer is "yes", then you might enjoy writing a thesis!
Exploring Your Options
A thesis often requires that you participate in original research under the direction of a faculty supervisor. Is there anyone in your department who seems to be interested in the same things that you are? Anyone who has published something especially intriguing recently? If you don't know many faculty members in your department, talk to your concentration advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Study (DUS). They can help you identify faculty that might be a good match for your interests. Check out our guide to approaching faculty to get some tips on how to prepare for your first meeting as well as developing a good long-term relationship.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Even if you decide not to write a thesis, conducting research as a junior can be a great way to explore your interests more deeply, cultivate transferrable skills, and help you decide what path is best after you graduate. Many juniors start to consider the possibility of going to graduate or professional school after college and developing relationships with faculty and other advisors can help you navigate that decision process. There are also several scholarship opportunities open to juniors to help you fund those further studies, if you choose to go that route. Keep an eye out for information sessions at URAF and the Office of Career Services (OCS). There are lots of experienced advisors at URAF and OCS, along with pre-professional tutors in your House, that would love to help you figure out the best path forward.
How Can URAF Help?
Junior year is a great time to get your start in the research world, it's not too late! However, the summer after junior year is often the last summer that you will be able to conduct research while being supported by Harvard funding. So, if you're interested in pursuing research, come chat with us at an information session, in a one-on-one advising appointment, or during drop-in hours. Especially near the end of your junior year, URAF will host several information sessions designed to introduce you to scholarship and fellowship opportunities to support you after graduation. Many of these competitions have very early deadlines, so keep an eye out for notices from URAF in your junior spring!