THESISCRAZY 2016 (Part 2): The 91,000-Word Thesis

“Sometimes I’ll send people on the fourth floor little esoteric notes from lizard people.”

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Welcome back to THESISCRAZY 2016, where we talk to stressed thesis writers about the thing that has been taking up all their headspace for the past 8-12 months (because what could go wrong with that?). You can check out THESISCRAZY 2016 Part 1 here, read the THESISCRAZY archive here, and stay tuned for more THESISCRAZY posts before April 12th.

Are you a senior thesis writer who wants something other to do other than staring at your computer screen and eating food from Weshop’s candy aisle? Email staff(at)wesleying(dot)org with your name, major, workspace/carrel number, and times you can meet before April 12th.

Onward, folks.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.18.27 PMRebecca Brill ’16: ENGL/FGSS (Thesis in both), carrel #206

Working title: “Holocaust Girls.”

On her topic: “It’s sort of part-memoir, part-literary criticism, and part-cultural criticism, and it’s about women who appropriate the imagery and rhetoric of the Holocaust. It’s partly about my Orthodox Jewish upbringing and also a lot about Holocaust jokes.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I’ve been in a lot of creative writing classes and always talked about my Orthodox Jewish upbringing in my writing, and then last year in Cliff Chase’s Advanced Nonfiction class, I started writing this piece about these approaches to the Holocaust that counteract the normal Schindler’s List version. So for me, that was like at Jewish summer camp, [where] we’d do a lot of Holocaust-themed pranks and make a lot of inappropriate jokes about it. But there’s a long tradition of that.”

On her progress: “It’s okay. I was really, really nervous last week and I’m a little more on track, but I’m still tying together some loose ends. I’m editing, but I’m finding places where I’m like, ‘I could expand on that,’ so I’m still kind of writing. I probably will be [writing] until I have to hand it in.”

On her current mental state: “Right now I’m okay since I just came back from CAPS [laughs], but I did have a breakdown yesterday, and I have a huge pile of laundry sitting in my room, which I think of as a metaphor for my anxiety. I’m very back and forth. I can’t stomach food. Today I’ve just had two cups of coffee and a Diet Coke. I tried to eat breakfast and it didn’t work.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “Over the summer, I had all of these vague ideas about [my thesis], and then I said, ‘I’ve got it, Holocaust girls!” And then I realized that someone else had written a book titled Holocaust Girls and I thought, ‘Oh no, they stole my idea, I can’t do it.” But then I ordered it and read it and thought the book was pretty bad and had a really different idea from what I’m writing about. I’m still going with ‘Holocaust Girls,’ but it’s still kind of a downer that it’s not my totally original idea.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Yesterday I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of a five-year-old presidential expert named Macey. She knows so much about presidents and she’s on Ellen all the time. She gets sent to the White House and they give her tours, but she ends up leading the tours and is like, ‘Grover Cleveland fought in such-and-such war!’ and it’s pretty amazing. I’d recommend it to all thesis writers.”

On who would star in her thesis if it was made into a TV show or movie: “Probably Gaby Hoffmann. I love her so much.”

Advise for future thesis writers: “Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of writing; in particular, don’t do so for a solid two months as I did [laughs]. I avoided writing for so long because every time I would sit at my laptop it would stress me out so much. I would think about everything I wouldn’t be able to achieve, and obviously that came back to bite me in the ass. Do your best and you’ll fix it later.”

Plans for April 12th: “The other day I got a notification from the package room; I have no recollection of ordering a package, I must’ve done this at 3am in the fishbowl or something. I opened it up and it’s one of those knee-length t-shirts with a woman[‘s body] in a bikini on it, so I’ll be rocking that. I’ve been wearing it in my carrel a lot; I just strip down and put it on and think, ‘This is the perfect thing!’ So I’ll be wearing that and drinking champagne and hopefully sleeping.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.40.13 PMChase Knowles ’16: PSYC/SOC (PSYCH/SOC theses), Judd #400B

Working titles: “The psychology [thesis] one is ‘Redneck or White Trash: The Influence of Labeling on Perceptions of White Subgroups.’ And my soc one is…who knows? [laughs] Right now it’s ‘Taking Out the Trash’ and I don’t know what it is after the colon, but maybe ‘Critical Analysis of Whiteness Through Deconstruction of White Trash Discourse.'”

On his topic: “I took the sociology capstone class and wrote about low-income White students and the education system. I wanted to turn that into a thesis, so I met Jonathan Cutler, whose my advisor, and we ended up chatting about what I wanted to accomplish, and I think that what I really wanted to say was how this group is different from how Whites are traditionally viewed. So White trash is one way of capturing that defiance of Whiteness.

On how he’s writing two different theses: “So I’ve been in the psych lab since I was a sophomore and worked with Clara Wilkins as my advisor since the first day. I really wanted to finish [that work] up with a thesis and really capture that research, but I also really wanted to turn this sociology paper into a thesis, and it didn’t really fit with my psych advisor’s work. So I ended up only committing to doing a sociology thesis and doing psych research, but once I got significant data, I thought, ‘Oh, I could turn this into a thesis as well.'”

On his progress: “I have a draft of both done, but editing’s gonna be really stressful [laughs].”

On his current mental state: “I’m actually not as stressed as I expected to be. I feel pretty relaxed right now, but I know this time next week is going to be an absolute disaster.”

On his most traumatic thesis experience: “I think it would be last week when I opened up an email for a [psych thesis] draft that I thought was great and having over 100 comments on it [from my advisor]. My advisor said it wasn’t as bad as it seemed [laughs]. It was just her making clarifying points that weren’t absolutely necessary and were just sort of [things] that could be better. At the time, I was in Puerto Rico trying to not think about my thesis [laughs], so that was different.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Definitely watching Netflix or watching some kind of TV show that has to do with White trash, so Redneck Island is one of them. It’s the equivalent of Survivor except all of the participants are self-identifying rednecks [laughs], and it’s on CMT, so they’re really trying to capture the redneck identity by how these people behave. I find ways of calling [my binge-watching] research but it’s not really.”

On his favorite part of the thesis experience: “Getting really close to both of my advisors. I feel like I’m friends with both of them, so that’s really cool. They’re the homies, they’re the fucking homies [laughs].”

Advise for future thesis writers: “I think the most stressful part was feeling like I had to be at a certain point and written a certain amount at a certain time, and that’s just not true. Honestly, just write at your own pace, and whatever happens, happens. I didn’t write anything before winter break, and nothing was even put into one document until right before spring break.”

Plans for April 12th: “I definitely plan to have a 40 of Bud Light for my White trashness on the steps of Olin and maybe some champagne just to be profesional-ish for the pictures I can post on Facebook. I’m gonna have a great time, but I’m an RA, so I can’t really say much else [laughs].”

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.18.32 PMAlexandra Ricks ’16: HIST/LAST (HIST thesis), carrel #447 (“Maybe?”)

Working title: “‘When Workers Organize at Wesleyan University.’ I’m not good at thinking of flashy titles, so I just don’t have one.”

On her topic: I’m writing a narrative of workers organizing at Wesleyan, as the title suggests, from the late 50s to around five years ago. I’m focusing on a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when pretty much every sector of workers at Wesleyan tried to unionize; the secretarial, clerical, physical plant, food service, public safety, and the faculty and professional librarians [groups] all tried to unionize between 1977 and 1982. I’m writing the precursors and why that happened at Wesleyan when it did and the culmination of all of that (including when the secretarial and clerical workers actually went on strike for three weeks) and then the aftermath in terms of what happened after these [sectors] did or didn’t unionize.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I had been involved with USLAC since freshman year, and then the summer after sophomore year, I worked for the union that represents the food service workers [at Wesleyan] in New Haven. I’d always heard that Wesleyan food service has one of the best food service contracts of anywhere, and I was really interested in why. I imagined looking at that particular progression of food service here, but then I was in the archives and looking through old Argus issues, and I saw that there was all this stuff before food service unionized. I realized that the story wouldn’t be complete without looking at the entire campus.

On her progress: “My progress is fine. I have a complete draft…if I had to turn in a complete draft tomorrow, I could, but it’d probably be better if I worked on it for another week. Now I’m tweaking and what not. I’ve realized there’s a lot of stuff I could add or fill in but it probably won’t happen. I’m trying to make what I have the best it can be.”

On her current mental state: “I have a lot stuff that’s not thesis-related, like job interviews and classes. I feel guilty about it because I feel like I’m supposed to be in intense thesis mode and I probably should be, but I’m also trying to have ‘life after thesis’ be a thing [laughs], so I can’t completely neglect everything else that I have going on. I’m stressed about that, but I’m keeping it together.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “Whenever you find a new piece of evidence, it can really affect and change your argument any which way, so while it’s nice to find new evidence, after a certain point, it also has the potential to screw everything up. Two weeks ago, I got in touch with a former administrator I wanted to [interview] for a long time. He agreed to meet with me, and I thought, ‘This is great, but also my thesis is due in two weeks and I don’t want this to completely explode my argument!’ I was so nervous; I had to talk to him because it was the polite thing to do and it’s also the good scholarly thing to do, but part of me didn’t want to so I could leave it alone. I ended up talking to him and it was actually fine [laughs], so there was more anxiety going in than anything else.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “In general, TV. I’ve watched a ridiculous amount of TV this year. Since the beginning of the year as I was writing my thesis, I’ve watched all of Sex and the City, all of Jane the VirginBeing Mary Jane, the last season of House of Cards, the last seasons of How to Get Away with Murder and Grey’s Anatomy, caught up on Empire, and watched Girls.

On her favorite guilty pleasure show: “I honestly don’t feel bad about [any of the TV shows I’ve watched]. During the summer I watched Power, which is 50 Cent’s response to Empire, and it was objectively bad, but I really enjoyed it.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I’ve been a writing tutor before, but this semester I was a thesis writing mentor, and in doing it, I really wish I had one, so I say take advantage of resources, like writing mentors, the writing workshop, and other professors. The more people you have reading your stuff, the better it’ll be.”

Plans for April 12th: “I have this image of myself of when everyone’s doing the whole champagne thing, I’ll also be doing the whole champagne thing but I’ll be sitting on the steps watching and observing. That’s the plan. That’s all I can give you. I’ll probably go to work and class. Hopefully I’ll sit outside because this [snow] craziness will be over.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.18.37 PMKobi Bordoley ’16: COL (fiction thesis), carrel #416

Working title: “‘JÖRG.’ I might change the name because Amy Bloom says it sounds like someone throwing up. I might not change the name because I can’t thing of anything better, but I’m also a pretentious ass who wants to have both the shortest thesis title name and the longest thesis because mine right now is super long.”

On his super long thesis: “It’s fiction, so there’s a lot of dialogue and stuff, which means there are many pages with not a lot of words on them. The thesis margins also make your pages even shorter. That being said, it’s around 330 pages right now. When I started to do the project, my advisor Charles Barber was like, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I was like, ‘Well, I want to do long fiction,’ and he said, ‘Well you should go for a novel.” And then I just kept writing; my original draft had 93,000 words that I cut 15,000 words from, then I added back in new words, so now it’s around 91,000.”

On his topic: “It’s a young adult dark fiction urban fantasy novel with sci-fi elements. It revolves around three high schoolers from a suburban town similar to the one I grew up in (which is Wilton, Connecticut), and they’re chilling and having a good time when suddenly one of the group reveals that an exchange student from Scandinavia is coming to live with him. But it turns out that this exchange student isn’t everything he says he is…”

On how he came up with his topic: “During winter break of my junior year, I had this dream about a red-eyed gremlin running around a forest lake, and I wanted to incorporate that into a story of some kind but I didn’t know what to do, so I was thinking about that. And then I think I made a deal with the devil, where ze said, ‘If you write a big novel about this, you will be granted good fortune, but if you fail, I get your soul forever.’ So that led me to turn it into a thesis topic.”

On his progress: “It’s been pretty good. I think I’m one of those little creatures who live under thermal vents and thrive under extreme conditions. So having a deadline was okay, and I just worked a ton and had my first draft done by the end of January. Then it was just editing after that. It was a lot of work over breaks and staying until the library closed, but I was passionate about the project from the start and I didn’t want to lose my soul to the devil, so I had to keep going.”

On his current mental state: “I would say it’s pretty calm. I think everyone though, during the last week, got stressed out because it’s no longer, ‘Oh, I can work on it a little bit more tomorrow’ since every day has to be getting something done. So tomorrow is the last day when I’m writing any new words. Then the next two days I’m doing a final read-through to fix all the typos. Then the day after that is gonna be formatting and uploading so then I don’t really have to do anything for the last few days except put it on the internet.”

On his most traumatic thesis experience: “I don’t know if I’d call it traumatic because I’m writing a big novel and haven’t had something catastrophic happen to me, but the most stressed or overwhelmed was right after I finished my first draft and I had to go back and figure out what was working and what wasn’t working. Sometimes I’d be writing sentences that looking back were so bad. Like, ‘He went up the stairs in the house so he could go up to the top of the stairs.’ I’d have to deal with those parts of it.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “So I do a lot of things. Sometimes I hide little plastic dinosaurs around the fourth floor [of Olin]. Also in 3A, there’s an oversized books section and there are a bunch of giant atlases, which are fun to look at. Sometimes I’ll send people on the fourth floor little esoteric notes from lizard people; I send a lot of notes like that to Penny Snyder ’16, who’s also up there. Fourth floor is like a big family. Then sometimes I’ll go annoy Noah Gup ’16 in his carrel and convince him to watch motivational videos with me. I’m also Blaise Bayno-Krebs’ ’16 number one thesis social media fan. I always watch her snap stories at every hour of the day. We’re up at weird times working on our theses, so shout out to her for the snapchats.”

On his carrel decorations: “Right after I got my thesis carrel, I wasn’t really prepared to sit down and use it. I work in the book repair lab downstairs so I know how to cut things out kinda nice, and there were some leftover encyclopedias in the COL library, so before I started writing, I started cutting things out and collecting things all in the first couple days. I was also really lucky because the cork board [in my thesis carrel] is in front of the desk area and everyone else’s is behind them, so I had this big inspirational wall of spooky, scary shit for me to use.

Advice for future thesis writers: “If you can do a creative thesis, then you should really try to do it because I just feel like everyone who’s doing a creative project is super passionate about what they’re doing. Oftentimes when you’re working on something really theory-based or that requires a lot of outside research, it can be really rewarding but also it can feel like you’re barely scraping the surface. Like, where you’re just re-writing what Foucault said but worse. I’ve found that with a creative thesis, you control all of it and it’s all coming out of you. You can have ownership over that. I think other people have that ownership too, but it’s been easy to be passionate about a creative work. Other than that, I would say set your own goals from the start. I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to do a longer project, so I committed to trying to do that. You should consider what you actually want to accomplish out of this; if you can’t find a topic you’re passionate about, it’s fine to choose not to do a thesis.”

Plans for April 12th: “I think my friends and I are going to set out on an expedition to sail the seven seas in search of the hottest funk in all the land. Justin Green ’16 is gonna be the ship captain, and it’s gonna be very fast and loose. It’s gonna be the adventure of a lifetime. It’s gonna be great.”

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