There are only a few hours left until theses are due and the steps of Olin are covered in champagne and seniors in varying states of intoxication. In this (bonus) installment of THESISCRAZY 2015, we bring you words from a few more soon-to-be-relieved thesis writers, including our very own Samira and ztevenz! Check out this years’ other features and previous years’ here.
At this point, we’re probably not going to interview you, but if you want, you can email us your hopes, dreams and nudes (don’t email us nudes) at staff[at]wesleying[dot]org.
Elijah Stevens ’15: GOVT/LAST Major (LAST thesis)
Major: Government/Latin American Studies.
Working Title: “‘Seeds of Change: Campesino, Indigenous & Afro-Descendant Empowerment Through Food Sovereignty in Colombia.’ It’s a long title [laughs].”
On the thesis thought process and field research in Colombia:
“I did my thesis based off of field research from last summer. My junior year I was studying abroad in Bolivia and the program I was on had a month long independent field research project. That was my first foray into doing field research on my own. That was a really cool experience and I did that on food sovereignty issues in Bolivia.
Then, last spring, I was having lunch with a friend and we were talking about thesis research and she was like, ‘oh I was thinking about doing thesis stuff this summer in New York.’ I hadn’t thought about it a lot, but I thought maybe I should do something similar because there are a lot of grants that offer similar opportunities. I thought, where do I want to go? Colombia seemed like a really cool place. I decided that I still wanted to explore issues of food sovereignty so I researched if there were similar issues in Columbia.
I found some, but honestly, I went down to Colombia with only one meeting scheduled. I stayed in hostels, and sometimes the people’s organizations I was visiting put me up with their families. Because I did all that field research, it has definitely been a source of inspiration, not only because it has made this thesis what it is, but also because the fact that even when writing is challenging and exhausting, I’m still pulling from my own research. It makes the process continually engaging.”
Progress as of April 8th: “I’m pretty much there. I don’t know what I expected the last few days to feel like, maybe climatic, but it has really been more like exponential decay. The closer and closer I get to the end and the smaller and smaller revisions I have to do, the longer and longer each one takes. The gears have been turning ever more slowly.”
Current mental state: “Well my lunch was a Red Bull and a Peanut Butter sandwich. I said to myself two days ago, ‘wow, this is great, it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be anymore all nighters,’ and then today I went to bed around 5 am and had a work shift at 8 am this morning. I also spent most of the night I was sleeping dreaming about revisions so when I woke up I wasn’t sure what revisions I had or had not made.”
Most traumatic thesis experience: “At the end of last semester, literally the last night of the semester, after everything had been turned in, my laptop was stolen from my house. I had not backed up the digital chapter I had submitted, so I lost the digital copy of that first chapter. Luckily, I had submitted a paper copy so I was able to scan it so it could be digitally read. I had to redo all my footnotes again and I lost a bunch of my notes. Because my thesis is based off of field research I did last summer in Colombia, and my external hard drive was not stolen, a lot of the videos were backed up but some of them weren’t, so I lost some of the primary source material. Luckily, I recovered pretty well from all that, even though it was pretty shitty at first. I pretty much just curled up into a ball for a week. But then I got to work and finally have a full thesis.”
Favorite form of procrastination:
ES: “Wesshop breaks are always good. I’m trying to think of other things.”
astag_rocky: “You could always go with the classic Netflix.”
ES: “But see, I didn’t do that.”
astag_rocky: “You’re one of the few.”
ES: “Oh, you know, maybe don’t put this in, but going to the gym is one. I made myself go to the gym like every day this semester. That was an hour I was being productive, but not doing my thesis at all. You can put it in, but don’t make it sound like, ‘oh I go to the gym because I’m so healthy.’”
Plans after April 10th: “Drink a lot of champagne. Sleep for a really long time, and then not sleep for a really long time to just really soak up the last of time at Wesleyan.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Yeah, backup all your stuff constantly (laughs). Start writing earlier. I was working hard on my thesis throughout the entire process, but I don’t know what a lot of that working hard was on because there are just so many notes from books I didn’t end up using. I should have focused on just starting to write because the amount of thesis I’ve written in the past month compared to the last year is ridiculous. At the same time, you do have to put in all that prep work because its so important.”
If your thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “Let me take a quick peek into my itunes. I’ve probably been listening to Waxahatchee more than any other band during this thesis process, so I’d probably say The Dirt by Waxahatchee is appropriate.”
Dex Blumenthal ’15: COL/French major (thesis in both)
Working title: “Disgusting, Delicious, Divine: A Conceptual Architecture of Eating in Western Culture”
On his thesis: “So I’m working with representations in five contemporary works of French literature, it’s actually three authors, so I have four books that are by two authors each. And what I’m looking at–it sounds kind of reductive, but–I noticed a while ago that when we talk about eating, we have very conflicted attitudes. Like sometimes eating and the body are disgusting things, other times we’re like, “Oh, I wanna eat it, I just want to be in it.” You know, eating and sex are very fluid categories. So I started asking why is that, and basically what I’m arguing is that we have two basic systems of thought floating around in our contemporary Western culture. One is the religious legacy of transcendence, which says, as a subject, I’m a mind first and a body second, I’m separate from materiality, God is separate from the material world, all the real things exist in the immaterial world. And the other thought system floating around is modern science, so it’s materialism. And what we do when we think about food is we try to push those two things together, and we end up actually inserting transcendent concepts, everything from divinity to just a mind-body dichotomy, into materiality. So think about when you say, “I eat the calf’s brain and I become the calf,” that’s not what really happens. But we conceptualize it that way. You get a lot of great clichés out of it, like if you’ve ever heard someone say, “I found God in a bite of chocolate,” or something. And what’s more than that, we create these kind of food religions, so we’ve coined the term “superfood.” This is getting towards my conclusion; I don’t really look at things outside of the literature I’m using as a sample.”
What sorts of examples are you using? “Lots of talking about pooping. ‘cause shit is undeniably a representation of food and eating, it’s a necessary process associated with it. We tend to talk about disgusting aspects of corporeality as, we take the body and we cast it as this type of machine that’s totally opaque. We’re like, “What is going on? How am I attached to this thing? It’s a prison.” You know, very classic Christian theme. Or even just indifference towards materiality and corporeality; one author says, “You can eat all the vitamin C and green beans you want, but that’s not gonna nourish your soul.” Then on the other hand, there was one guy that was on a stomach pump for so long, he couldn’t take it any more. His neighbor brought him a chocolate bundt cake and he just, like, he put his hands in the cake. So eating is this experience of physical communion with something. He goes, “I tasted an entire world in there. I saw Captain Morgan subway ads, I could smell the rum in the cake.” It’s interesting, because when you think about it, that’s what holy communion is supposed to be. It’s like I take God and have this whole experience.”
On the relationship between his thesis and his poop: “My poop is a representation of eating. One that I’m not inclined to analyze the way that I do those in books. Um. Yeah.
Definitely more caffeinated. I would say, we’re waiting for the champagne flood, let’s put it at that.”
On his progress: “I got a little bit ahead of myself: I wrote my preface today, and my acknowledgments which are the last thing before I write my abstract. And I put it all in a PDF document and printed it out. So I’m in final draft copyediting mode. I was surprised, I’m a very last-minute person. I never thought that I was gonna, I thought that I was gonna be one of those people that was like still writing the end of their third chapter two days in advance. I can’t believe it, it doesn’t feel done. And the funniest part is like, the more time you spend with it, the more you have your advisor telling you, “You know, this makes great sense, I’m so proud of you,” and you’re like, “What are you talking about? Like I don’t- like this is gibberish.””
On his mental state: “I would say, manic with a touch of sunshine. Relieved that we’re done, almost. I’ve started using the royal we a lot too. I don’t know if you watch Archer. [I don’t.] Well, like Barry and other-Barry. Your thesis becomes the other that you can say “we” about. So I’m glad that we’re done, almost. I don’t know if it’s going to be like driving off a cliff. Where once I’m off the cliff I’m gonna be like, what do I do with myself.”
On his most traumatic thesis experience: “Probably having to completely drop my first topic after not even having a thesis advisor over the summer. And then I came back and I dropped my first thesis topic, which was looking at contemporary developments in French cuisine in Paris restaurants. I dropped that in October. That was pretty nerve-wracking, ‘cause everyone around you is picking up speed and getting sources and stuff, and I was still like, what am I doing? I think that was the hardest part of the thesis for me. Well, that and March break, when I house-sat and dog-sat for my family when they were away. And thank god I had the dog. ‘cause that’s the second period you go through where you’re like, “This doesn’t make any sense, what am I doing?””
On choosing this topic: “It was kind of a thing of convenience. The project I was proposing with the French cuisine thing was much more feet-on-the-ground, hands-on. I would’ve had to travel to France which, I would’ve had to do that over the summer to be honest, so I was gonna look at blogs, you know food blogs. What’s the discrepancy between the way that the old guard of food criticism is writing about these new foreign chefs versus the young people in France? It just, you can’t write about a movement, unless you’re really gunning for it, you can’t write about something that’s not even a classified movement, so I just said, you know what? Literature is always there. It doesn’t go anywhere, I don’t have to go anywhere for it. And it’s still people talking about food. And so I just kind of picked me up and ran with it and my advisor was gracious enough to trust me to find something. And that’s how it happened.”
On his favorite part: “I think the number of times I got to write the word “shit,” to be perfectly serious with a straight face. (He said laughing.) Which is a pretty juvenile thing to say.
Oh! I know what my favorite part of the thesis was. So I’m super ADHD and I can’t work with music. But when you go all day and have to write all day, you can’t have quiet space all the time. So I actually figured out that I can write to like John Coltrane and the Bobby Brown Trio and stuff, like nice rainy day jazz music. And now I just listen to it all the time. So I guess discovering jazz was my favorite part.”
On procrastination: “Besides procrasturbation? Which is a thing.
Old-fashioned’s. Drinking old-fashioned’s. So getting drunk. Or the jazz music. Choose whichever one is less incriminating. But procrasturbation is probably top of the list.”
On plans for tomorrow: “I have a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne chilling in the fridge right now. I turn 22 on Sunday actually, and it’s also the Game of Thrones season premiere, so the whole weekend is going to be awesome. But April 10th, I think. I would like to metamorphose into some kind of weird jungle animal and back again. I actually, like, I’m gonna do the thing that everyone does. You know, drink champagne, hopefully be coherent. Just be relieved, dude. The other thing is that I just snagged a dream internship/job in New York over the summer. So I have to start thinking about that. So I’m kind of thinking, drink my champagne and honestly, I’m gonna sit down and start looking at like, housing.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “You can never start planning your topic too early. And also, don’t research something that reflects you as you’d like to see yourself. Research something that reflects you as you really are. So a good exercise is to ask other people: “What do I really like?” That’s how I came to food, someone was like, “What are you talking about, like you love food, you should write about food.” I was like, oh, yeah.
That and uh, it all works out?”
If his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I honestly want it to be Pulp Fiction but it’s definitely not Pulp Fiction. And it’s not Eat Pray Love. It’d probably be something fairly existentialist, cause it’s very existential.
Okay, let’s go ahead and say my thesis is Risky Business even though I know it’s definitely not. More than anything it’s the learning experience. But I don’t go completely broke at the end, I keep some of the money for myself.”
Michael Linden ’15: CSS Major (CSS thesis)
Working Title: “I’m writing about the history of marijuana. One of my biggest research pet peeves has been bad marijuana puns, but I’m still going to make one. My working title is Seeing Through The Smoke: The Origins of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States. Every good title needs a colon.”
On the history of marijuana prohibition and his topic: “I had a lot of high (ha) and mighty ideas to begin with, but it’s turned into basically a history of how marijuana prohibition emerged in the United States. It’s approximately from 1900-1940. I’m basically writing about the origins of drug control more generally and then tracing marijuana prohibition through the state-level and how the states by enacting this on the state-level encouraged the federal government to prohibit marijuana.”
Highlights of research: “The interesting thing about what I’ve discovered in my research is that marijuana wasn’t really a big deal in this period. It really didn’t get any traction until the 1920’s and 30’s. Even at that time, when Congress was going to vote on the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which began marijuana prohibition and was the law until 1969, that vote came up and one of the congressman literally said, ‘what is marijuana?’ One thing I found interesting is how policy ossifies, and that no one cared about marijuana regulation until after its prohibition.”
On how marijuana prohibition has changed over time:
“Interestingly, if you look at marijuana arrests going back to the 1960’s, marijuana arrests today are super, super high. At that time, they weren’t, and there weren’t that many people arrested under these federal or state laws.
In addition, by the 1950’s Congress introduced two other bills that increased penalties for marijuana and many other drugs. People today think of penalties for marijuana as being very punitive, or even the 80’s and 90’s, because that’s when mass incarceration and the crack cocaine epidemic began. In terms of marijuana on its own, the 1950’s was the most punitive time, as possession of a joint or two was a 1-2 year mandatory minimum. If you were caught and convicted of that crime you were certainly facing jail time, whereas today even in the harshest states like Texas, you would get a fine for the same crime.
What I think is interesting about this period, is it set into motion this prohibtion that really took almost 60 years to be questioned. In the 1960’s there were these decriminalization movements, but it was more about, ‘we shouldn’t be putting people in jail for this.’ There wasn’t this concept of, ‘this shouldn’t really be prohibited at all.’ It took until 1996 in California for the first medical marijuana law to be passed.”
Current mental state: “Probably a bit too relaxed. I’m not really panicking but I have a bit of a procrastination problem I’d say. I probably should be panicking more than I am. For now, I’m trying to stay calm and collected because I think that’s the best way to do work.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “Well, you know, I try and do things that are at least semi-productive so I’ve been applying to jobs as a form of procrastination. I would say I’ve read more of the New York Times than I ever have before. I read a lot of news. And then, you know, stupid stuff like Yik Yak and Facebook and Snapchat. I think there’s a good community of people on snapchat taking sad photos of themselves next to their laptops depressed about their thesis.”
Plans for April 10th: “I’m looking forward to a lot of peach Andre and a lot of sleep. I’m going on a trip to Chicago. I’m partially enrolled, so I’m going to have six with weeks with nothing to do and nothing I can do. It’s going to be great.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Try and think of something you’re interested in and going to be interested in for nine months. Also, trying to come up with an argument about something specific much before I did, which was about two weeks ago. I sort of floundered for five months and read a lot of interesting things that had absolutely no relevancy to my argument.”
If your thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “This is just so easy. My thesis would be Reefer Madness, which is a 1936 production turned into a cult-classic musical. However, I haven’t seen the movie yet, only the musical, so maybe that will be a post thesis endeavor.”
His thoughts on the future of marijuana policy: “I think the future of marijuana policy is clearly going to go in the direction of legalization. What I think is more interesting is the question of, is there a relationship between marijuana policy and other drug policy, and on that I’m not so sure. As someone concerned about issues much broader than marijuana, I’m interested in, ‘does the fact that we’re willing to talk abou marijuana in a rational and at least quasi-scientific way indicate that we are going to be more willing to talk about other drugs in a rational harm reduction focused maybe we shouldn’t lock up 100,000’s of people way.’ And on that I really don’t know. TBD.”
Working Title: I don’t have one yet, but it will be really short and to the point.
On her topic: I’m looking at networks of social capital in Dhaka, Bangladesh — Dhaka’s the capital city of Bangladesh, and it’s also one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Bangladesh is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries. I’m looking at how people’s social networks in Dhaka can potentially help them have better climate change adaptations. And hopefully that can be applied to other climate-vulnerable cities around the world.
On her progress (as of March 29th): “It’s fine. I just really need to keep working on it. People always ask, ‘How’s your thesis —'”
jackson: *sneezes obnoxiously loudly*
SS: “‘— going?’ And, no one ever says it’s great. That’s just a really bad question to ask. [laughs] My thing is fine, I just have to edit really intensely.”
Current mental state: “Pretty good. I just saw my friend — my friend, Merry Li ’15, you can include this bolded and in red. Merry Li just had a music recital about Chinese propaganda and it was just like a bunch of people dressed up in Mao Revolution-era army suits and singing Chinese propaganda songs. And that made me hopeful that theses can be finished.”
Most traumatic thesis experience: “Probably just in general, realizing that it’s my last semester of college and wanting to do all these cool and fun things. One of those is doing a thesis I guess. I want to do a thesis, but it’s also hard. So I’m trying to balance the monotonous routine of working on this one thing every day, but also trying to hang out with people that I like, and going to fun events. It’s just weird thinking that it’s my last couple months of college and I’m spending it, like, on a laptop. Yeah, it’s like an ongoing thing — not necessarily one traumatic experience. But trauma’s a strong word. It’s just this constant sad buzzing inside myself.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “Basically, I have a map of the US in my carrel. I’m trying to get better at US geography. So I just look at the map for a long time… trying to get better at US geography.”
On what she’s learned: “I’m just way better at understanding what states are next to other states. I used to be really bad with — it’s embarrassing to talk about — I used to be really bad with the Midwest. But I’m better at it now, I think. I think I’ll be even better at it in two weeks.”
caro: “Do you know if Mississippi or Alabama’s on the left?”
SS: “Oh my god. Mississippi. No. Yes. Mississippi’s on the left? Is Alabama on the left? I’m going to guess Mississippi. Maybe don’t include this.”
Plans after April 10th: “I’m going to try to spend as much time outside as possible. And try to be on Foss as much as possible. And gain back the sunlight that I haven’t been getting enough of into my body. And I’m also going to see Sufjan Stevens on April 12. I’m just trying to re-acclimate myself into social situations, because I’ve been not-as-good with that lately.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “Yes. I think it was very helpful to choose a topic early, so start thinking about a potential thesis topic very early on. And only choose to do a thesis if you’re really into your topic. It’s really hard to do a research project that’s a year long if you hate what you’re writing about, or if you’re only doing a thesis because you want to get honors. Also, in the times that you’re not writing your thesis into a Word document, it’s helpful to just keep thinking about it. I’d say that the thinking part is actually more important than the writing part. And partially enroll if you can. It’s really nice to just have time to only focus on your thesis and other things you care about in your last semester of college. Oh, other advice: It’s really important to try and take some time for yourself. Just to take care of your mental state. And to take breaks. Because it helps when your brain is refreshed to just write more shit down.”
Favorite part of the thesis process: “Probably realizing that I’m getting stuff done, even when I think that I’m not getting stuff done.”
If your thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “If it was a song, it would probably be a Bengali song. I could link you to a song. Okay, yeah. If it was a song, it’d be this Bengali song that is very nostalgic for me that my parents would always play on long car rides. Part of the reason I’m doing my thesis is that it’s a very personal issue to me, and the song gets a lot of cool Bengali cultural and historical things that I’m trying to write about in my thesis.”
On coming up with the topic: “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a really long time because I’ve gone to Bangladesh a bunch of times over the course of my life. And every time I’ve gone I’ve just had a newer and deeper understanding of the critical social and economic stuff that happens in the country. Then I did research there, and it all pieced together, and it made me want to write a thesis about it. I already knew that I wanted to do something environmental and theory and policy related. It was an easy way to bring it all together.”
Most used word/phrase: “Probably social capital. Or networks. Or multi-level. Or synergy. [laughs]”
Any question you think we should’ve asked? [Also known as The Birth of Theses Feces]: “I wish you had asked me about theses feces. The concept of theses feces arose maybe two years ago. We never made it into a separate ThesisCrazy section. I think theses feces is a great potential ThesisCrazy topic because so much of writing a thesis is like pooping. Like, sometimes you feel super constipated. It’s stuck in you, these ideas, you can’t get it out on paper. When you do, it’s super satisfying, but sometimes hurts. And sometimes it’s like a really, really good poop that’s been marinating in there, and it’s out, and when it’s out it feels great. And I’m assuming that’s how it will feel on April 10th. I guess there are times when it’s like diarrhea and you need to get it out, but it’s really shitty, and, like, bad. But then you edit it! Or, whatever, clean the toilet. Yeah, my poop’s been fine.”
Emily Hoge ’15: History and Russian & Eastern European Studies Major (REES thesis)
Working Title: “Participation and Isolation: Russian Concepts of Disability after the Collapse of the Soviet Union”
On her topic: So I’m writing about the idea of disability in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, thinking about it not necessarily as something that’s related to a specific kind of body but more defined through work and participation in society, and how that functions as the meaning of ‘work’ changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union into different forms of participation in a society that experienced a period of isolation and trauma.
On her progress as of March 29th: I have a lot to edit, but also a lot that I’ve done. It’s way too long right now, so I have to fix all of this massive length, but it’s good… better than it could be, but not where I’d actually like it to be.
On her current mental state: “Frantic.”
Most traumatic thesis experience: “My computer — I’d written, like, half a chapter, and my fan broke — and my computer shut down. And I hadn’t actually saved in an entire day, so I lost all of it. That was a while ago. But I always have everything in, like, a thousand documents, so I had various previous drafts, so I recovered from it pretty quickly, but the actual experience of having the computer just shut down and die… was its own problem.”
Favorite form of procrastination: “Cooking, mostly. I’ve done a ton of baking, and I make dinner for my house most nights. As I’ve gotten more stressed, I’ve made increasingly complicated food. [Recently] I made dumplings from scratch, which I’d never made before, so it was an entirely new thing. It went pretty well, I think. But it took a long time.”
Plans for April 10: “Find a job, not work for a little while… those are the main two. I haven’t really thought about it, because it feels simultaneously distant and too close to think about.”
Advice for future thesis writers: “When you feel good the first [fall] semester, you should be pacing it with the assumption that second semester goes by way quicker than you think it does. Once I was done with first semester, I was way ahead of where I was planning to be, and I was like, ‘This is easy.’ And this semester is like… ‘Oh, this is, like, a few weeks.’”
Favorite part of the thesis process: “I got money to go to Russia to research [in Moscow and St. Petersburg] and that was probably my favorite part; sort of, that opportunity to go and to research like I was a real person doing real research, as opposed to some kid.”
Thesis as a song/movie/tv show: “I mean, half of it’s about movies. Hypermasculine war movies… I can’t really think of an answer to that one!”
On coming up with the topic: “So, it went through a lot of forms, but I started thinking about it because Russia’s the place I was interested in for a long time. At the end of sophomore year, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and so from there I started to be super interested in disability in sort of an aggressive political way. And the thing with Russia is that there’s nothing on disability. There’s a few people that work on it but it doesn’t really come up as much as it does in other contexts. So I started thinking about that, and I came from a place of having no idea what I was going to find. I wasn’t sure what ‘disability’ even meant. From there, I developed kind of what I thought a concept was, but that was over the process of research. And when I write about disability, I’m writing about disability in the context of the family and social participation.”
Most used word or phrase: “There are [a few] that I keep coming back to. Disability, trauma, isolation, and participation. I use them around five times a paragraph.”
Interviews by astag_rocky, kitab, caro, and jackson