THESISCRAZY: Voyage to the Deathly Carrels

“I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m clawing towards it.”

There’s a silent army in Olin. You don’t see them, but they’re there—camped in carrels, from 9 AM to 2:00 AM, caffeinated and crazed, wolfing down microwavable Weshop dinners as they type away their undergraduate careers. And you thought you were stressed?

They are senior thesis writers, a cagey, fervent crew of unkempt, malnourished, sleep-deprived nutjobs, zealously trying to beat the clock. While you sleep, they write. While you eat, they write. While you read this post and then get wasted and wake up in your own vomit, they write. Theses are due April 12 (40s on da steps, yo), so it’s crunch time up in Carrel City. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

In accordance with a Wesleying tradition, for the third consecutive year, we sent a brave crew of post-millennial muckrakers (read: BZOD and myself) deep into the bowels of Olin’s thesis carrels to document these last two weeks of madness. What we found wasn’t always pretty: chronic sleeplessness, dangerous caffeine dependency, bitter self-loathing, foul-smelling carrels. April 12 can’t come soon enough—as one especially crazed writer offered, “It will be like walking out of an exploding building.” Scroll on for the individual profiles, and contact us at staff_at_wesleying_dot_org if you’re writing a thesis and want to be profiled in the next installment. Let us know where your carrel’s at and when we can come find you there.

Jisan Zaman ’12, HIST, carrel #450

Working title: “Disconnect, Distrust, and Dissent: The Structural Conflicts of American Foreign Policy During the Bangladeshi Liberation War”

On his topic: “During the Bangladeshi Independence War, the American diplomats in Dhaka dissented against U.S. foreign policy that did not condemn West Pakistani atrocities. I’m trying to figure out why that happened based on new evidence.”

On his progress: “At this moment, all the research is mostly done. It’s just writing, editing, writing, editing, writing, editing. I decided to devote eight hours a day every day until the thesis is due.”

On sleeping: “I mean, I have a weird sleeping schedule in general, but it’s fine. I stay here till 2 am every night. If I’ve done the work that I need to, I go to bed at 2:30. Wake up before 9. But I take naps and then come back usually by 8. I spend a lot of the afternoons here, too.”

How to maintain sanity: “Just knowing it’s gonna be done. I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m clawing towards it.”

Nicholas Quah ’12, CSS, carrel #445

Working title: “The Last Man and the Banality of Immortality”

On his topic: “I’m trying to address a really big question, which is: how should we respond to the prospect of a biotechnological revolution? In this context I’m specifically talking about human-enhancement biotechnology. And I’m taking this guy Francis Fukuyama and a bunch of fringe philosophers known as transhumanists and I’m using them as a way to answer this question. It’s pretty obnoxious.”

On summer research: “I had a Davenport over the summer and went to Boston, New Haven, and New York. I was hanging out with Transhumanists, which included different kinds of people: a bunch of academics (philosophers and sociologists mainly), and some adherents as well (writers, artists, etc). I was trying to figure out if they were rational, normal sane people who thought these positions through.”

On sleeping: “I generally have sleep issues. I just don’t sleep very well. When I do, it’s amazing, but I always wake up with half my teeth on the floor. I’m constantly in a state of freaking out, so this is just normal for me. I’m just editing now, but I might just jump the boat and change the whole structure again in these two weeks.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I recommend writing a project that you wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. I don’t think there’s a specific discipline I could write this in if not for CSS. Take a leap. Do something really interesting for once in your life.”

Plans for April 12: “Engaging in PG-13 revelry which includes beverages of an appropriate nature in relation to my personality and age followed by extensive involuntary napping on the steps of Olin.”

Myles Potters ’12, MUSC/COL, carrel #410

Working title: “Music in the Age of Technological Reproducibility”

On his topic: I’m looking at what it means for music to be live in the 21st century given the technological advancements of our time. I’m focusing on different mediums of recording and how those mediums affect listening habits—digital, CDs, YouTube, online, as well as the beginning of these advancements, the gramophone and the radio.”

On doing a joint thesis: “I love performing, but what I’ve been thinking about for the last three years has informed everything that I’ve done musically and vice versa, so for me it’s a perfect synthesis of my interests. It’s certainly not for everybody, and you need to have a certain palette of things that you find interesting, and I don’t know how many other circumstances there are in which this would work.”

Most traumatic experience: “Writing a 25-page chapter, walking into a meeting, and having the professor say one of the core premises of the chapter is wrong, which was a startling realization.”

If his thesis experience were a song title: “‘Ain’t That Easy’ by D’Angelo. [Pause.] I’m pretty sure that’s a D’Angelo song. I hope that’s a D’Angelo song. He hasn’t released it yet.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Pick something that you’re willing to sit and think about and probably hate yourself and it for for eight or nine months of your life.”

Nik Owens ’12, DANC, carrel #447

On his topic: “It’s about how societal behavior is dictated through dance performances.”

On his inspiration: “It started from a personal investigation into how I interact with others and how I behave with others in certain social contexts. I change very drastically—with friends, at my job, with my parents. I want to use dance performance as a proxy for how to investigate that.”

On his progress:  “I’m going crazy! Last night I was up till 5:30 and the night before that was the same and tonight will probably be the same as well. Not the most fun. I’m very stressed and I’ve yelled at my housemates a couple of times.”

On the fourth floor of Olin: “It feels like it’s dead even though it’s not. I know people are here, but I feel like I’m the only one up here. When 2 am rolls around, I’m like, okay, there’s no one else here.”

Sarah Wolfe ’12, THEA, carrel #10

On her topic: “It’s something to do with The Trojan Women, which is a play by Euripides. I’m talking about how instead of being a traditional Greek tragedy, it’s actually a war play—a precursor to Brecht’s Mother Courage or Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul.”

On her progress: “I have a full draft. But I had a meeting with my advisor today and she’s like, ‘What if you move this piece from the end to the beginning’ and I’m like ‘That would change a lot of things.’ At one point I was just sitting there staring at her and she was just talking at me and I just realized that I had no one idea what’s she was saying and I just looked at her and said, ‘I think the first idea makes sense.’”

On eating habits: “I’ve gotten better at eating. Three weeks before Spring Break, I would just be in my carrel Monday and Wednesday—I’m partially enrolled and CAing—so I’d just be in my carrel eight hours at a time and eat all my meals here and get microwavable meals from Weshop. But now I’m eating pretty well.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Love your topic. If you don’t, don’t do a thesis. You’ll hate yourself and you’ll hate the world. And so many other things. If you’re trying to think of a thesis, wait for something to come to you—don’t force it.”

Plans: “Oh my god, so much champagne. Just so much champagne.”

Charlie Hanna ’12, PSYCH/SISP, #253

On his topic: “It’s about the drug Ambien and its use as a technology of the self—how we use Ambien to repair or improve or enhance ourselves, particularly with insomnia. And how at the same time the pharmaceutical industry is forcing choices of medication on us.”

On his most traumatizing experience: “Not sleeping for 72 hours and listening exclusively to trance music. I’m definitely losing my mind. I’m eating extremely sporadically. Like, I’ll have a huge meal one day and then I won’t eat for 24 hours.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Start early. Finish by the end of Spring Break.”

Plans for April 12: “Going to Coachella. Leaving on April 12 to go. Handing it in on the 11th.”

Charlotte Robertson ’12, HIST, carrel #437

Working title: “The Unfinished Revolution: Louis Auguste Blanqui and the Jacobin Tradition”

On her topic: “I’m writing about this 19th century socialist revolutionary. He was kind of a screw-up and an ideological predecessor to Lenin. I’m trying to explain why he’s important in the greater scheme of world revolutionary history.”

On her progress: “The last two weeks of break were definitely a downward spiral towards insanity. But I think I’m starting to come out of it. It’s a battle between really, really caring about this and not giving a shit about how it turns out in the end. And that inner-conflict is really excruciating.”

On work habits: “A good friend of mine, Charlie, introduced me to the 80-minute Deadmau5 essential mix. Together we spend 8-hour time spans listening to that on repeat. At the end of those days, you have no grasp on reality.”

On whether it’s worth it: “I think so. It’s nice to leave here knowing that I know a lot about something that’s really completely useless in the real world. But it’s my own.”

On plans for April 12: “I’m probably gonna pour strawberry Andre all over my body and just roll around or something. It’s gonna be disgusting.”

Kevin Donohoe ’12, HIST, carrel #306

Working title: “The New Look: The Democratic Reform Movement in New York City, 1945-1965″

On how he arrived at his topic: “I was originally gonna write about Arthur Schlesinger, but his archive was really difficult to use and I wanted to write something that was more of a social history, so I ended up finding stuff he wrote abut this reform movement that was going on and I’d never read anything about it. I spoke to one of the archivists at the New York Public Library and they referred me to Columbia and I found really good stuff and I was really excited about it, but this was in, like, October that I finally figured it out.”

On his progress: “My writing is so bad! It’s just so terrible that it’s embarrassing. I’m so, like, humiliated, I guess. By myself.”

On turning Olin’s main floor into his own thesis carrel: “I just bring stuff down there. I’ll leave, I’ll stay there, I’ll come back. You just can’t leave stuff there overnight. I don’t even think of it as my carrel, I just think of it as what I’m gonna do.”

Plans for April 12: “Upload it, cry. I know you’re supposed to be really happy and excited, but I’ll probably be by myself, reflective, alone, feeling even more humiliated, wanting to leave school—not excited, not relieved. Actually I will be relieved that I can’t keep working on it. But I’m just gonna be like, ‘I can’t believe I turned that in.’ I had so much hope, such great ideas, and I just fucked it up completely. Like, wow, I completely mismanaged this process! There were so many points where I could’ve corrected myself.

I feel like it will be like walking out of an exploding building.

The thing about a thesis is there are so many highs and lows. With any other thing, you have to do it, the deadline’s coming up. With this, for a few hours you feel like you’re doing great, for a few hours you’re awful. For a week you’re confident, then for two more weeks you’re really upset. An emotional element, not just a stress element. A lot of highs and lows. Why are you on Facebook and not quoting me?!”

Advice for future thesis writers: [long silence]

Writing a thesis? Want to be publicly humiliated on this blog before the big day? More installments of THESISCRAZY will follow, so don’t be shy: email us at staff(at)wesleying(dot)org with THESISCRAZY in the subject line. Include your name, where your carrel’s at (if you have one), and when we should come find you.