THESISCRAZY 2014 (PART 5): Before the Final Hour


The end is nigh. Today at 4 P.M. thesised-out seniors will gather on the steps of Olin and drink champagne. In this fifth installment of THESISCRAZY, we interview nervous and/or already finished (!) thesis writers. For this year’s other THESISCRAZY features, click here, here, here, and here. To see previous years of THESISCRAZINESS, click here.

cassie garvinCassie Garvin ’14, History/Government (thesis in history), carrel #309

Working title: The Empire’s New Clothes: Constructing the “American” in the Colonial Northeast

On her topic: I’m looking at cultural and material exchanges between native peoples and European settlers in the colonial northeast and how those exchanges over time led to the creation of an American identity leading up to the American Revolution. Sort of about how Europeans and Euroamericans constructed the idea of what it meant to be native American through these exchanges but then appropriated that concept to demand for independence.

On her progress: It’s pretty good. [laughs] I’m doing like, the last looks and I’m planning on submitting this afternoon, so… yeah.

On her current mental state: Um. Nervous? I’ve been describing it like this: My thesis is a baby bird and it’s probably ready to leave the nest, but I’m afraid to let it leave the nest because there are predators. You know.

On her most traumatic thesis experience: I haven’t had that many crises or anything. There was a time… I really needed to go visit archives in D.C. and I was planning on doing that over fall break and there was a time when I didn’t know if the archives would be open because the shutdown. It went up to like several days before break, so I was really concerned that I wouldn’t be able to go to these archives. But it worked out.

On procrastination: I take a lot of Buzzfeed quizzes. I also cross-stitch a lot. It’s a different kind of- using my brain differently, I like that. Right now I’m working on a piece that- it’s the sigil of the direwolf from Game of Thrones. So it says “Winter is coming” and there’s a wolf.

Plans for April 11: Just you know, chilling out. Doing the champagne thing obviously. And um, probably going to see Frozen this weekend, or something, because I haven’t been able to see it, and my friend and I really want to go. And I don’t know, relaxing, sleeping, spending time outside now that it’s beautiful.

Advice for future thesis writers: Get a carrel. I know you don’t have control over that but it’s the best thing. Also, just keep going. You’ll be done, eventually.

Favorite part of thesis: It combines a lot of my interests. I’m really interested in clothing history and I got to incorporate that a lot, so whenever I get to do pieces about what people are wearing and how that constructs identity, those are my favorite parts. Also my title? It’s one of my favorite parts, I guess.

Oh, we [the history thesis writers] also did these things: we’d have coffee nights every other Sunday or so, where we would get together and have coffee and donuts and talk about our theses and it was really fun. We stopped doing it a couple weeks ago… because no one had time. It was good to commiserate.

Song/movie/TV show: I’d say, it’d probably be… something between… Pocahontas and The Patriot. Or multiple songs from Pocahontas.

Ella Dawson ’14, FGSS, carrel #435Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 12.05.55 PM

Working title: “My thesis title, which is, according to Michael Roth, the most interesting or inventive, is ‘Girl Has Sex, World Doesn’t End: Reconceptualizing Feminist Erotica.'”

On her topic: “My project is to basically invent the genre of feminist erotica. Erotica, especially feminist erotica, has been around for a while, and there’s an established canon of feminist pornography that has a really cool political theory aspect. What I’ve been doing is taking those principles and trying to adapt them for erotica, as well as looking at what already exists in feminist erotica that hasn’t been labeled as “feminist”. My project is to do all of that critical theory work and then write some feminist erotica based off of that.”

On how she thought of her topic: “I actually spend the first 10 minutes of my thesis explaining that because it’s a weird story. I’ve always written feminist erotica but just never thought of it that way. I’ve been running Unlocked for two or three years now, and a lot of what we do is feminist pornography, it’s changing representations of sexuality in a magazine format. I’ve always written fiction about sex and relationships, and I came to understand feminist erotica through feminist pornography. It was kind of like the natural launching point for me thesis.

On her progress: “I am done! I’m obsessing over typos, but I’m done. I’m lucky that I cranked a lot out over spring break, because I was stuck on a lot of trains and plane rides, so I just sort of powered through. The bulk of my work is over.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “So I spent part of spring break in Los Angeles with my boyfriend, and it was a big deal because I was meeting the parents and all of that. They never asked me what my thesis is about, which is great, because it’s a weird thing to explain to your partner’s parents. But I found out later that I left a page of my thesis behind, and thankfully it was just notes on theory…it could’ve been much worse–it could’ve been a graphic sex scene–but I had the wonderfully awkward moment with my partner of being like, “So…do they hate me now? Do I still have their blessing?” I think I’m okay, but that was pretty scary.

If her thesis was an existing TV show: “I hate saying this because it sounds so cop out-y, but it would be HBO ‘Girls’-ish because it’s all about talking about sexuality and how awkward it is and how shitty it is. But it would be HBO ‘Girls’ with a lot better sex…I’m hoping…A lot of my thesis has been trying to depict sex in an honest manner but still have it be sexy and have it be erotica. Walking that line has been really interesting. I’ve been trying to stay away from any tropes that are commonly found in erotica, like ‘the long lost lover who changes his mind and they have sex in the rain.'”

Favorite form of procrastination: “This is predictable, but Netflix. I discovered House of Cards and started re-watching Mad Men for the season premiere. I will say that my roommate has me beat, because she’s been playing Neopets as a way to procrastinate. So she’s cornered the procrastination market. I look pretty lame in comparison.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Try to pick something fun if you can. My subject matter lends itself really well to being joyful and entertaining and weird, but it’s never felt like work for me, because it’s something I would’ve done anyway. And if it’s possible, pick something that will help you in the future. I lucked out that the erotica I ended up reading was published by a specific publishing house, and I reached out to them saying I wanted to review books for them and could use it as thesis research, and I now have an internship with them after graduating. So it ended up being a great career connection.”

On the most used word or phrase in her thesis: “Oh gosh…thankfully because I have a creative thesis, I didn’t have to get too invested in crazy theory terms. I will say that when I read my stories back to back for the first time, I used the phrase ‘She cupped his cheek’ in every story. It was just awful [laughs] but that’s a very different thesis problem than most people. But I did use the term ‘media representation’ a million times.”

On questions she wishes we’d asked: “I’m surprise you didn’t ask if I’m constantly boning in my thesis carrels, because that’s what everybody asks, because I’m writing porn. People feel very comfortable asking me that. For the record, I have not yet had sex in my thesis carrel. Also, people forget there’s a sky light on the 4th floor where all the thesis carrels are…so turn off your light before you decide to have sex in your thesis carrel…”

Plans for April 11: “A friend of mine is coming back to visit for the weekend, so I’m going to pick her up at the train and have a girls’ night and watch movies and stuff to recover from the drinking that will no doubt occur on Friday. Saturday will be a sobering-ish girls’ day in.”

Andrew Trexler ’14, GOVT, carrel #413Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 12.03.30 PM

Working title: “Well, my final title is ‘A Bellicist Theory of War-Making and State Power in the Modern Middle East.’ I think I wrote that a week and a half ago and haven’t touched it since.”

On his topic: “My topic is…bellicist theory of war-making and state power in the modern Middle East. [laughs] Basically there’s quite a bit of literature that came out of the late 70s and 80s on state development on the bellicist approach that puts war-making as part of the state development pattern. Charles Tilly is one of the better known authors of the bellicist approach and later scholars have taken those theories and applied them to the developing world. The Middle East literature is very opposed to the application of bellicist theory of state development theory in that region, and my thesis contests that more or less.”

On his progress (note: interview was conducted on Wednesday afternoon): “My progress is complete. I am done. [smiles] I’ve basically been done since last Friday. I’ve just been tinkering since then, and as of an hour ago, it’s done. It’s 111 pages and that’s including everything.”

On how he got it done early: “I’m not really sure…I mean, I expected to be working at least a little more down to the wire. I emailed me thesis advisor earlier this week and she gave me suggestions and I finished them, and it was done. The last two weeks were my stress weeks though. I spent upwards of 80 hours in my carrel last week banging out the last couple of rewrites I needed to do. I was on page 50 a month and a half ago and used spring break to really get ahead. It’s just been refining my literature review section and really explicating my theory fully.”

On what his thesis-writing friends think of him being done early: “I’m trying to not to tell. [laughs] Though the ones that I’d told have been very calm about it…But most of them are already squirreled away in their carrels or houses.”

On his most traumatic thesis experience: “Um…I didn’t really have a whole lot of super traumatic thesis experiences. I mean, I guess it was in the beginning when you realize you have no idea what your thesis is supposed to be about. There’s ups and downs. You feel very confident about your theory, and then you spend a little time thinking about it and realize it makes no sense at all. But you get through it.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Going to get food. Yeah. It was a little difficult because I would go to get food at 3 in the morning, so there weren’t a lot of places to get food…probably just went to my kitchen or pantry…”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Don’t panic. You’ll want to panic at several points, but it’s not going to be helpful to panic. Know that your thesis advisor decided to take on the project with you for a reason, so you’re probably not going to crash and burn. Get started on the literature review early. Very early. You could argue I started two years ago before I knew what my thesis was about. Don’t panic when your thesis changes, because what I wrote in my thesis prospectus and what’s in my actual thesis are radically different.”

On the 4th floor of Olin: “It’s interesting. Over break, Olin typically closed at 10pm and there was nobody up there, and it’d just be me alone in my carrel. Some people like to feel alone when they’re working on things, and that’s definitely true for me sometimes. But it can be eerie. It’s been different over the past couple of weeks because more people have been up there clacking away on keyboards. I was surprised by how empty the 4th floor was and is.”

Plans for April 11: “I’m going to go to the liquor store and purchase champagne for myself and a small group of friends who are still working on theses. Then I’m going to drink. I probably won’t drink that much of it because most of it will end up in the air or on the ground…”

Sarah Lerman Sinkoff ’14, E&ES, GIS LabScreen Shot 2014-04-11 at 12.06.02 PM

Working title: “Transport and Fate of Historic Mercury Pollution from Danbury, CT to Long Island Sound”

On her topic: “My topic isn’t too overly science-y because it has a lot of historical information which I love, but it’s about the transport and fate of mercury pollution that originated in the hat-making industry in Danbury between 1820 and 1941. So mercury nitrate was the compound that was made to take fur and make it into felt, and these people would work in these factories with bubbling pits of mercury nitrate. Ugh, I’m not being very articulate…Basically, there’s a river, the Still River, that runs from Danbury north where it meets with the Housatonic River and drains into Long Island Sound. So my professor’s work was he took sediment cores of certain compounds and he accidentally found a ton of mercury in the sediment and decided to do some historical work.

Then, Beth Goldoff ’02, whose thesis I’m basing mine off of, sampled these different sites in Danbury and found huge issues all over there. So since these cores were taken, the big question was how mercury from Danbury was getting to Long Island Sound. And who’s affected by it? It’s really fun and interesting.

On the time she had to show a fish cartoon to fishermen for experimental purposes: “One time I was sent to the Still River with a cooler and a scale to ask fishermen for some dorsal muscle. And I was like, ‘What’s a dorsal muscle? I know nothing about biology,’ so my prof drew a cartoon of a fish and circled the dorsal muscle was like, ‘That one. Now go talk to people.'” But then we found out that there were no fish in the Still River, so we never got any fish…basically my project changed a lot at the whim of this professor…It’s fine though.”

On accidentally setting shit on fire: “I followed all of the procedures and was safe and no one was hurt, but one of my most important measurements was taking sediment and compressing it to figure out how dense it is. So you take this little die and this pin and put it in a press. So we got this new die and I was the first person to use it. I used the amount of pressure I was used to using with slightly larger die, and basically the die exploded when I put to much pressure on it and it blew up into a million sparks and shards. Basically you should put in Wesleying that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was a faulty die, and it exploded. Super casual. That was probably my most traumatic thesis experience.

On her other traumatic thesis experience  “Well…no data hasn’t gotten deleted yet…praise God…oh, you see these braces? [points to arm braces that are heavily taped] So I had homogenize all of my samples, which involved grinding everything with a mortar and pestle. There’s nothing more glamorous than that…I had 100 samples that each required 10 minutes of grinding per sample. I did it in two weeks…and basically ruined my wrists. So I haven’t had use of my hands since December. Also, Dean Patey is the best, so she hired someone else to help finish my data collection for me, which was awesome. So losing my hands…that was a bummer…Trying to go to Weshop and not being able to pick stuff up, yeah that sucked.”

On her progress: “I have a section of my intro to write, I have to rewrite my discussion, and I hate to write my conclusion. I have it all jumbled…I also found out today that I interpreted my most important graph wrong. So I was like, ‘Oh…I guess I have to change that now…'”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Playing with my cat. Its name is Tuesday. It’s a black cat with one eye. It’s really cute.”

On using the term “WTF” in her thesis a lot: “It means Wastewater Treatment Flux.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Remember that it’s as much physical as it is intellectual. Remember to eat. Eat lunch! Don’t skip lunch. Rest your hands. Smile…Laugh…”

Plans for April 11: “Hopefully I’ll finish my thesis. [laughs] Hopefully I’ll be done with my asthma medication so I don’t have to drink sparkling apple juice because that would be a bummer. Probably play with my cat. Probably sleep. I have a Pathfinder game planned for Saturday, so that’s going to be epic. Mostly hopefully finish my thesis though.”

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