THESISCRAZY 2016 (Part 5): Everything’s an Iceberg

“Yeah, I just think in terms of sediment. I think my brain’s turning into sediment.”

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Welcome back to THESISCRAZY 2016. At this point, you probably know the drill, but here’s the quick spiel: We interview crazed mutants thesis writers as they race against the clock to get their theses done by April 12th. You can check out the other installments of this year’s THESISCRAZY here, here, here, and here. The THESISCRAZY archive is here.

Time to talk to stressed people after the jump.

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Maddie James ’16, HIST/ENGL (HIST thesis), Olin Smith Reading Room 

Working title: “My working title is ‘Women in Nazi Germany: Female Perpetrators in the Liminal Spaces of Ravensbrück and the Nazi East’ but that is definitely going to change. [Laughs] It’s a little too pretentious for me right now, but we’ll see.”

On her topic: “My topic is looking at female perpetrators in Nazi Germany. I am looking at female camp guards in Ravensbrück, which is an all female concentration camp outside of Berlin, and then I’m also looking at women who went to occupied Poland as part of the Nazi administration as settlement advisors and school teachers. I’m looking at how these women saw these new spaces of colonial Poland and the concentration camp as spaces of opportunity and freedom and how their experiences of these spaces enabled them to assert their independence and authority as Germans rather than how in Germany they were subordinated as mothers and housewives and kind of taken out of the public sphere. These new spaces enabled them to assert their dominance and independence.”

On how she thought of her thesis idea: “I’ve always been really interested in European history, especially World War II and World War I. I took Inside Nazi Germany with Professor Grimmer-Solem my sophomore year and loved the class, but realized how a lot of histories of Nazi Germany were so male-dominated and women were really relegated to the background. I started looking into it and trying to find out what women actually did and whether they were victims or whether they were also complicit in the crimes of the regime.”

On her progress: “Right now I’m finishing up my conclusion, and then I have a ton of editing to do. My second chapter completely got away from me, so I have to cut out like 20 pages of that. Yeah, and then just editing and stuff like that.”

Mental state in one word: “I don’t know. My mind seems to be everywhere; I don’t know what the word for that would be. Just all over the place. One moment I feel like I’m insanely stressed and the next moment I feel like really good about my topic…I don’t know, I’m sure I’ll be an emotional wreck at the end of the week though.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “Well I have two. One was in the fall, I had to present for a colloquium. I have to give like a-10 minute presentation of my topic and I just hate public speaking so that was stressful. The second one was probably writing my second chapter, because it literally just became an absolute shit show. I don’t even know what I was writing about, it was the worst thing.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “This is really weird but I procrastinate by doing work for my other classes by spending hours on it. I’m taking intro econ pass/fail and I’ll literally spend hours on my homework when it means nothing, but it makes me feel like I’m being productive instead of wasting my time.”

On her favorite part of the thesis experience: “I think the whole research part was my favorite. I got to go to Germany, which was incredible. Except visiting the concentration camp was a very sobering experience. But yeah definitely the research. And I mean now I get to brag about my thesis!”

Most used word/phrase: “I use ‘gender’ a lot. I guess I use ‘hierarchy’ a lot also, like gender and race hierarchies.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Well I mean the obvious that everyone says, pick a topic that really interests you. But also what I would say is don’t freak out if you don’t meet your deadlines, because I thought I was going to be done with my thesis by the beginning of March and I’m still writing it, so don’t stress out about that too much, and definitely take advantage of your advisor! Ask them for help.”

Plans for April 12th: “Well, in case my coach is reading this, I will only be celebrating with sparkling cider. But I’ll definitely be out on the Olin steps with some sort of *drink* in hand, and then I’m probably celebrating with my roommates. One of my roommates is doing a film thesis so we will be celebrating that together.”

AileenAileen Lambert ’16, THEA, Espwesso/Olin

Working Title: “Like No One I Ever Saw Before: Fun Home’s Singular Portrayal of Lesbianism on a Broadway Stage”

On her topic: “So I’m writing about the musical Fun Home, and I’m using musical theater literature but also queer studies and queer theory to talk about how what the production Fun Home does feels more lesbian than most portrayals of lesbian characters in Broadway musicals until Fun Home.”

On her progress: “I started this last spring, actually, and then I took a semester off to do an acting program, and so I’ve been working on it for a full year, but right now I’m in the sort of zone where I write something, and then I give it to my advisor, and she’s like, ‘This is cool! But like, change all of these things.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, cool! That’s exciting, like, yeah! Like, I want to change all these things, but I have a week.’ Or just this past one was: Last week I gave her a full draft and then she was like ‘Okay, so I spent an hour and a half on your intro and didn’t read the rest of it.’ But one of those, my intro, hadn’t seen the light of day, so she’s like, ‘Here, do this, and also, like, maybe do these things and the rest of it, and also maybe bring the theory through more.’ And I’m like, ‘Totally cool!’ And she’s like, ‘Can I have a draft by like, Sunday night?’ And I’m like, ‘…I guess so?’ Something will get done.”

On her current mental state: “My current mental state fluctuates between ‘How will I ever get all of this done?’ and ‘I could turn this in tomorrow, and it’d be fine.’”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “There are like two. The first one is when my—she’s not my advisor, but she’s basically my mentor in the theater department—my junior year saying, ‘Are you gonna do a thesis?’ And I was like ‘Claudia, I’m not gonna be here in the fall, I can’t do a thesis.’ And she was like, ‘You could start this semester.’ I’m like, ‘No I couldn’t.’ And she was like, ‘Yes you could. You should write a proposal and get that to us by next week, and then also send one to the Honors College.’ So I decided I was doing a thesis, and what my thesis was on, and wrote my proposal in a week. And then the other one was when I turned in my third chapter—or the word vomit that was my first draft of my third chapter—and my advisor goes, ‘So I think you’re in this really exciting place where you’ve hit a wall.’ [Laughs] And I was like, ‘What? I don’t know what to do?’ [Laughs]”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Watching old Tony Awards! Because it feels like research, but it’s not even remotely like research.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I think you should do it! There are too many people who are like, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna write a thesis.’ But if you have a thing that you want to write about, and you want to spend a year with this personal project, I think you should do it.”

On if her thesis was a song, movie, or TV show: “Oh… I don’t know, you could do something really stupid and call it The L Word or something… I don’t know, like, whatever the gayest thing it could be, it’s that.”

On where she writes her thesis: “I don’t have a carrel because I wasn’t here in the fall, so I do a lot of work in here [Espwesso], or the theater department, or Olin. I just sort of migrate… and drink caffiene. [Laughs]”

Plans for April 12th: “I feel like the quintessential answer is get plastered and party on Fountain or something, but in actuality, I will probably make something really time-intensive for dinner, like risotto.”

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Zach, Kate, Suzanne O’Connell (their advisor), and Bridie

Kate Cullen ’16E&ES, carrel # 214 and Zack Kaufman ‘16, E&ES, carrel #207

Working titles:

K: “My working title is ‘Orbital Forcing on West and East Antarctic Ice Sheet Glaciation During the Pliocene Epoch’ but it’s probably gonna change a little bit, ‘cause there’s a lot of things to add.”

Z: “My title’s gonna be the last thing I’m gonna write.”

On their topics: 

K: So we’re studying glacial melting and glacial behavior in Antarctica from a period about 3 million years ago, which is the last period where the climate was as similar as it’s been in geologic history like to today. So basically we’re using all these different methods, looking specifically at sediment that was deposited next to Antarctica in the sea, to reconstruct how glaciers behaved then to kind of help people understand how they might behave now.

On their progress:

K: “Sporadic.”

Z: “Extremely sporadic, yeah. I mean, we started—for science theses you have to kinda start the summer after your junior year, ‘cause you have a lot of data collection to do. So, summer we were full speed ahead, fall [we were] medium speed ahead, and then beginning of second semester I had sports and some other stuff going on and I just…did not do much. So now it’s really full speed ahead.

K: “We’re making some really good progress now though—“

Z: “Yeah, it’s really good progress right now.”

On their current mental states:

K: “Umm…mmm…

Z: [Laughs] “Good question…”

K: “Like, somewhat satisfied but also like, very frazzled.”

Z: “I think I’m weird right now ‘cause all I think about is Antarctica. I don’t really, like, interact with people…”

K: “You just talk about dirt all the time, like changes in dirt. [Laughs]”

Z: “Yeah, I just think in terms of sediment. I think my brain’s turning to sediment. [Laughs]”

K: “Everything moves in cycles, in my head.”

Z: “Everything’s an iceberg.”

On their most their most traumatic thesis experiences:

K: “Like, emotionally traumatic, or traumatic for the project? In the fall, I spent like a month trying to figure out like one line of code in R, and it was consuming me, and then I finally figured out I was just using the wrong function, and it was so fixable but took so much time and I was talking to all these people who really know R a lot better than I do, and it was just  taxing. But I figured it out, so it’s okay!”

Z: “Umm, I think it’s my weekly meetings with my advisor. You either walk out feeling really wonderful and proud of yourself, or feeling an impending sense of doom. [Laughs] So it’s kind of a little rollercoaster in that sense. But it’s been a positive for the last few weeks, so that’s good.”

Favorite form of procrastination:

Z: “Ooh! There’s just too many to count…”

K: “Yeah there’s way too many…Favorite? Okay, so favorite…Honestly, all the WSA work I’ve done this year has been procrastination of my thesis, and vice versa. [Laughs]”

Z: “Mine’s less professional than that, I have this very special game called Bloon’s Tower Defense where you uh—it’s a computer game where you’re a monkey and you shoot darts at balloons and pop them. So I’ve been doing a lot of that.”

Advice for future thesis writers:

K: “Start really early. Like, I think that we got work done over the summer was huge for being able to do now—”

Z: “Yeah. Pick a thesis advisor you like. We have a really cool thesis advisor, which makes it really fun. If you don’t have a cool thesis advisor like we do, it’s not quite as fun.”

Favorite part of their theses:

K: “Figures. They’re pretty, and fun to make!”

Z: “Yeah, I’ve got some cool figures. Hmm…Yeah figures are fun. And maps too!”

K: “Yeah, maps are great. That’s one thing that’s great about doing a science thesis that you don’t get as much of in humanities—except obviously, like, art—or like, a social science thesis. A lot of the work that we do is making visualizations of things, or explaining an idea in a visual way instead of just writing.”

On what their theses would be if they were a movie:

K: “[Laughs] Ice Age. It’d definitely be Ice Age. And we’d be like the little squirrelly guy, that’s just like, trying to look around for little nuts, and things in the ice.”

Z: “Yeah, yeah…there’s not much better than that.”

On their lab:

Z: “We have lots of [stuffed] penguins, they shift around.”

K: “Also there’s Bridie, who’s kind of like a therapy/emotional support dog for the whole department.”

Plans for April 12th:

K: “Champagne. [Laughs]”

Z: “Yeah, lots of champagne. I think it’d be fun to get all the Earth and Environmental Science theses writers together for some…some celebration of various sorts.”

K: “Yeah, we have a long-standing bowling date with one of our professors and advisors from the department so we’re definitely gonna do that. In a past post, the famous Kobi Bordoley ’16 mentioned a ‘fast and loose funky dance party’ so, um, that’s definitely something that we’ll be participating in as well, I think that’s the best way to celebrate.”

Michael King ’16 (otherwise known as Miguel Rey), SPAN, carrel #444IMG_5964

Working title: “I don’t know. Wait okay, so the last one I gave was…’A History of Mexico and Its Politics as Seen Through the Collection of Its Vocabulary’. Accompanied by a dictionary presented by a young gringo amateur lexicographer.”

On his topic and how he came up with it: “What it all started out as is, I was in Mexico and I started making a list of words… I’m telling you this because it’s the only way to explain it that makes sense, I’ve tried other ways to explain it and it doesn’t make sense so I’m going to say it this way…I started out making a list of words, just collecting all of the words that I would hear from my Mexican friends that were not in the dictionary. I noticed that I was starting to understand slang really well and my other friends, my gringo friends from the program, were not. So for the final project for my program class I decided to make a little mini dictionary of slang words that weren’t in the dictionary, and I kept on doing it and it kept getting bigger and I ended up with like 150-200 pages of notes and entries of English and Spanish words. It was really big, and I wanted to work on that for my thesis, but I couldn’t just do the dictionary. So the project is that but from the perspective of an author of one of those dictionaries. Looking at the history of other people who have done the same sort of thing, so looking at why they’re doing it based on their politics and their lives, so like the wars that were going on throughout Mexico and Spain during that time or whatever it might be.”

(Author’s note from Dasha: His thesis is entirely in Spanish)

On his progress: “Well I was not doing very well like before spring break, but I grinded my ass off and I wrote like 120 pages in the last month so I’m on page 135 and I need to probably get it up to like 160 pages, which is a lot. And then I have to go back and edit all of them, in Spanish, and then I have to go back and look at my whole dictionary, which I haven’t looked at in like a year because this project has been taking over. It’s going to be a lot of work. I have to go back and cite everything that I haven’t cited. Yeah, the next seven days are going to be tough. Especially with the two matches, and practice, and my Chinese class everyday at 12 pm. Which is right in the middle and I can’t get a grind or a groove or anything! Story of the semester is that Chinese class blocking me…”

On his current mental state in one word: “Discombobulated.”

On his most traumatic experience: “My most traumatic experience was being stuck for two weeks over spring break investigating a 500-page mining treaty. The first ever list of mexicanismos (mexicanisms) was this guy in 1761, 60 years before Mexico’s independence, who was a lawyer/elite. He went to Madrid and spent 5 years there and wrote this 500-page mining book about all the laws and blah blah techniques of mining in New Spain, aka Mexico, with the goal of trying to help the crown capitalize on the mining of New Spain. At the end of it he has this 500-word list of words used in New Spain, so I had to figure out what his intentions were. I read so much about his life. It got really interesting but it took so much longer than I thought it would take. Basically, I got stuck in this guy’s life. I got stuck in this 18th century Mexico for 2.5 weeks.”

On his favorite form of procrastination:  “Watching Los Graduados which is a telenovella that I watch. It’s a Colombian telenovella and I’m on episode 214.”

On how many episodes are in Los Graduados: “I hope not many more. I think like 250. I don’t want to know because then I know what’s gonna happen, if that makes sense.”

On if his thesis was a movie: “It would be like a battle between the liberal lexicographers on one side and the conservatives on the other. The liberals would be just using all this Mexican slang all the time and arguing with the conservatives. And it would take place in the 19th century amidst all the political strife.”

On his favorite part of his thesis: “Besides the dictionary part back in the day, probably investigating the early 19th century. Crazy time in Mexico! Between 1821 and 1854 there were 45 different presidential periods, 100 different uprisings. Crazy amount of shit happened. Three different invasions from the French, the Spanish and the United States! Crazy shit.”

On the most used word in his thesis: “Mexicanismo maybe?” (Author’s note from Dasha: He later told me that it was actually pues, which I then translated. It means ‘since.’)

On his plans for April 12th: “Get laid. Uhhhh…yeah, get laid. Oh and finish my telenovella. Yeah.”

matthew stein

Photo: Jonas Powell ’18

Matthew Stein ’16, MUSC/COMP major, CJST certificate (MUSC thesis), Olin

Working title: “Sliding into Jewishness: A Pentimento of Portamento”

On his topic: “So I’m discussing…what am I writing about, anyway? [Laughs] I’m discussing approaches to a sort of Jewish expression as used by Jewish violinists in the early 20th century, in particular their use of portamento—of slides—in their playing, and employing a new system for computational analyzing portamento use, specifically in violin playing, or more generally in any sort of musical performance practice. I’m analyzing recording of a khtsos Jewish melody (it’s like an Orthodox prayer that was usually sung after midnight) by this violinist Jacob Gegna from 1921 (written in late 1920, released in ’21) and Ernest Bloch’s ‘Nigun’ from his Baal Shem Suite—so two pieces of Jewish-inspired art music written in the early 20th century. The latter (the Bloch piece) is still performed by many non-Jewish violinists, so [I’m] using this case study to really demonstrate a sort of idiosyncratic, very individualistic approach to playing Jewish music, and then more idealized, or over-stylized approaches to performance of Jewish art music that still abounds in the violin repertoire, partially as a result of half of violinists in the early 20th century being Jewish.”

On his current mental state: “Oy gevalt!”

On his most traumatic thesis experience: “Even though I still have a substantial portion of my paper left to write, it’s probably something relating to my recital preparation process. For music majors, the recital and written component, which can be related to the recital or separate research, are both parts of the thesis. So my recital was a week after we returned from spring break, and I had 7 or 8 separate ensembles, each performing very drastically different pieces in the recital. So there were a few days there where I had 6 or 7 back-to-back recital rehearsals taking up my entire evening, and having to switch between tap dance quartet and figuring out how to order clown noses that didn’t smell really bad (I got one batch that smelled really bad).”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Fixing up Mazel Tones [Jewish a capella group] arrangements…[laughs] Um…probably just a mix of  John Oliver and Colbert clips, and slightly-longer-than-they-should-be Usdan meals.”

Favorite part of his thesis: “I don’t know if I have a singular favorite part…I certainly have certain favorite moments from the recital preparation process and the recital itself. My favorite part so far was definitely ‘Coulrophobia,’ just seeing this dream I had back in November of this army of kazoo-playing clowns popping balloons actually come to reality and exist in beautifully chaotic form in Crowell. Though also just digging through newspaper archives for research for my thesis is a lot of fun!”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Pick a topic that’s serious enough that you’ll be able to form it into a formidable scholarly work, but also something that you enjoy enough and that has enough potential for sort of goofy tangents—whether those come into play in the actual final product or not—that you actually enjoy the process as well.”

Plans for April 12: “Honestly not much different than what I’m doing now [laughs]: Spend all of my time organizing Klezmerpalooza, which is on April 17. [It’s] this full day long klezmer festival that the Wesleyan Klezmer band and I are organizing with 5 other bands coming. [I’m] sending out W-9s to all the different coaches who are coming up and also carving some stamps for Feet to the Fire—I’m putting together a letterboxing series for that…And other things I will not mention on the record. Not as much of those other things as will happen on April 2oth and beyond. [Laughs]”

Interviews conducted by Dasha and michelle.