Most academic programmes require student-led research projects as a demonstration of scientific proficiency. Sandwiched between demanding coursework and the promised land of employment, many students experience their thesis project as a burdensome, final chore on their academic bucket list.

In so far, the thesis project merely extends the transactional learning experience of a tertiary education in many cases. Consequently, a sizeable share of students completing their theses does not experience their research project as a particularly purposeful, worthwhile, let alone enjoyable learning opportunity. Each year, more than 40 million of the best-educated minds around the world spend the final six to twelve months of their academic programme on a mandated project that appears to many as less than it could be.

Our intent is to help unlock some of the vast potential that we currently appear to lose. The overarching goal of our project is to foster students’ adoption of a positive attitude, useful mental models, and confidence about their own scientific proficiency. The complex and interconnected challenges of our world require a problem-centric, creative, and scientific mind. But a positive attitude toward scientific thinking matters not only when it comes to solving challenges for themselves. Considering the range of current and future societal, technological, and environmental challenges emerging, we need those best educated to be not only well-versed in, but also motivated to apply their scientific capacities. We depend on our alumni to build on their adopted capabilities to help solve these challenges when they advance into positions of responsibility. Given their education, many of them will come into positions where this inclination makes a difference.

Consequently, we do not want a student’s thesis to be her or his final academic project. We need it to be the first of many future well-designed solutions to critical problems. This book project is the centrepiece of our initiative.

Our three objectives are to help (1) increase the effectiveness of the thesis as a learning tool, (2) strengthen the quality of student research, and (3) fortify alumni’s inclination to apply their scientific mind-set when they advance into responsible positions.

The strategy to reach these objectives revolves around illustrating a thesis project’s full scope of potential purpose and explaining how students can design their project to reach this purpose and in turn draw meaning and motivation.

The key logic of argument will be to reposition the thesis from its perception as an obligatory examination to an examinatory opportunity, from a debt to be paid to an investment worth making, from an administrative transaction to an educational transformation.