“Then eventually, you reach something so esoteric that you can imagine a little notification: ‘Congratulations! You’ve reached no-man’s-land!’”

Not exactly the kind of champagne bath we’re talking about…

Welcome to the tenth and final installment of THESISCRAZY 2017! We’ve had a blast talking to 45 (!!!) thesis-writers this year representing 23 different departments! AMST and FILM tied for the lead with 7 THESISCRAZY interviews each! Not quite the 95 theses of Martin Luther, but it still beat Wesleying’s record of 40 interviews in 2016! You can check out all nine previous THESISCRAZY 2017 posts here, here, herehereherehereherehere, and here (phew!) and you can find the entire archive here.

As you’re making the final finishing touches and mentally preparing for the champagne bath you’re about to take at 4 PM on the Olin Steps (Maybe your first bath in days? We’re not judging!), check out these final interviews!

Congratulations to everyone who embarked on the wild journey of writing a thesis this year! (And if you’re an underclassperson reading these, we hope to get to interview you when it’s your turn to go through this special hell!)

Ben Goldberg ‘17 FILM/SOC majors, thesis in FILM, carrel #427

Working Title: “‘No Limits: Sex, Drugs, and Motherhood in the Showtime Dramedy’”

On his topic: “I’m basically writing about half-hour Showtime dramedies (a mixing of drama and comedy) between 2005 and 2012–so shows like Weeds, Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara–and how those kind of mix genre to tell different stories than a lot of like, now anti-hero stories, and also support Showtime’s brand in a different distinct way than other networks.”

On how he thought of his topic: “I basically knew I wanted to be a theory thesis, and I knew I wanted to do it on television, I just wasn’t exactly sure of the topic. But I wrote a paper on Weeds for a TV class with Betsy Traube a few years ago, my sophomore year, and since I had a great time with that and thought that there were a lot of other great shows that would fit in with that, and a lot of things that I could develop and critique in that, so I just felt like it was a good place to start.”

On his progress: “It’s pretty good. I obviously have a full draft. I’m currently doing a final read through [around noon on April 18] because I really want to print it today, but I keep going back and forth between like, thinking it’s awful and thinking that it’s okay.”

On his current mental state: “I’m okay right now. Last night was pretty horrible. I was up until like, five and thought that what I was reading was just complete garbage, and now I’m feeling like, the parts that I’m at right now, I’m thinking that it’s something that I could turn in.”

On his most upsetting thesis experience: “I haven’t had anything awful happen. My advisor’s been pretty strict on deadlines, so I’ve been writing at a pretty good pace. I think the worst thing was I had to write a chapter on Shameless in like, one month, and I was supposed to rewatch all seven seasons over the summer, and I just did not do that. So I needed to somehow rewatch seven seasons and write a chapter in four weeks, and that was really stressful, but luckily I got sick, and so for a week I just sat in my house and watched TV for the whole week. *laughs*”

On his favorite form of procrastination: “Probably just watching moments of the shows again, pretending that I’m doing research, but they’re really just parts that I think are kind of fun. I’ve just been rewinding and doing that. Or I’ve been taking a lot of walks, like, giving myself a lot of mental breaks that I really don’t deserve. *laughs*”

On his advice for future thesis writers: “Well there’s obviously pick an advisor that you get along well with. Also, I think, if you’re doing a film theory thing, or even a screenplay and you have, like, inspiration, you should definitely watch everything over the summer because you don’t want to be doing that while you’re trying to write or read, because it’s so time consuming. Also I think maybe meeting with not just your advisor, but any professor you respect, or anyone who you value their opinion, and just talking to a lot of people about your project so you can get a lot of voices.”

On his favorite part of his thesis: “I guess for the thing, I really liked writing about Shameless because it’s just a fun show that I’ve watched with my sisters a lot, and so it was interesting to be able to write a lot about it. As for the process, I guess the best thing is being able to work on a project this long, and being able to get input from so many people, and being able to just sit with something and change your mind.”

On if his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “Well, it’s three TV shows now. So I guess I don’t have an answer for if the subject was any type of media, but I guess for the past week I’ve been listening a lot to ‘Oh No’ by Marina and the Diamonds, and there’s this line: ‘TV taught me how to feel, now real life has no appeal.’ And so I’ve been feeling that a lot *laughs* and wanted to put it as an epigraph to the whole thing, but it just doesn’t make sense, so I’m not doing that. *laughs*”

On his plans for April 19th: “I’m gonna go to the steps with champagne, and then I think I have my friend’s studio art opening, so I’m gonna go to that, and then after that I’m gonna go out to dinner and celebrate. And then probably doing normal things like cleaning my house and doing my laundry. *laughs*”

On anything else he wished we’d asked: “I guess, like, what’s been the most helpful thing in your process? I think making sure it isn’t isolating. Because a lot of people say that during their thesis, it can be really really isolating cause you’re just alone in your room writing all the time. But being able to be with other people over the past few months, and writing in groups, and commiserating, like, reading people’s drafts–that’s been really fun. And also a great form of procrastination! *laughs*

Carolyn Dundes ’17 BIO/CIS majors, thesis in both, no carrel

On their major, and working title: “My title, which I believe is my final title is “Characterization of hESNP Derived GABAergic Inhibitory Interneurons Through in vivo and ex vivo Model Culture Systems.” *exhales* I’m so sorry!”

On their topic: “I have a really awesome project of culturing inhibitory neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells on a variety of substrates. So there is this traditional model that’s culturing these cells on astrocytes, which are a kind of helper cells, and we’ve [the Grabel lab] had some success with that but we’re not getting the the subtypes that we would like – and oh my god I am doing a terrible job of explaining this –  so we’re moving into a more complex system, uhm, using organotypic hippocampal brain slices. Ahh, we’re essentially taking – or rather I – have taken ex vivo tissue, meaning that I have sacrificed mice but I maintain a slice of their hippocampus alive in a culture, and then I’m putting the embryonic stem cell derived neural progenitors into the slice and watching them grow into inhibitory interneurons. And the point of this, the big picture *the stressed laugh-almost-cry begins*…oh my advisor is going to kill me for this, can I start over? The whole point of this to derive a cell replacement therapy for Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.”

On how they came up with the topic: “I’m really lucky that the project I was trained on in Professor Grabel’s lab was a kind of gateway into this project. So I was working on the in vitro work with astrocytes, and then as I began thinking about wrapping it all together in a senior thesis, I wanted to take a look at the aspects of the astrocyte system that weren’t quite working and think of a new way that we could devise a model system. I ended up with hippocampal slices because a graduate student in the lab had done some acute work with hippocampal slices but nothing long term. I thought we could apply them to our model.

On progress: “Well, seeing that is is late Monday evening [on April 17th], I am happy to say that I am pretty much almost done. It’s been a process – and it won’t be done until it’s turned in… but my progress is good.”

On their mental state: “Not judging my most recent tear induced mental breakdown *light laugh crying from approximately 3 questions ago* I’d say I’m doing okay. I’ve seen people doing way worse than I am. Champagne, please?”

Most upsetting thesis experience: “Uhm, so most of my thesis work hasn’t been writing, it’s been doing benchwork in lab – and the biggest setback I had was some contamination over the summer. Uh, it’s pretty frustrating to be culturing these slices with the stem cell derived neurons on them for 7 weeks, hoping to take an 8 week timepoint and 7 weeks and 3 days you walk in and there is bacteria covering everything. That’s pretty demoralizing. Yeah… yeah. Luckily I was able to repeat it and get the data I needed.”

On their favorite form of procrastination: “I have recently discovered the art of maximizing airline reward miles through online purchases. I can go three or four layers in through credit cards and airlines and clicking links that have cookies that follow where you shop. It’s kinda embarrassing. You can get a $12.00 pair of JCPenney shorts and end up with 300 American Airlines miles. Yeah, uhm – starting a lot of new Netflix shows is a favorite pastime.”

On their plans for April 19th: “I already have my champagne at the ready, so that’s definitely going to happen. The Biology Department, in all of its wisdom, scheduled a Senior Symposium at 5pm at April 19th. So I will be presenting my research, champagne in hand.”

On their advice for future thesis writers: “Phew… for those of you who are hoping to do a research based thesis in terms of lab research, start talking about your thesis earlier than you think you need to with your advisor. I’m lucky I had a very close relationship with my advisor, so we kind of had an understanding going forward because I had waited to talk about the thesis process in terms of research. There were probably some hiccups that could have been avoided. I should have started thinking about the thesis itself earlier.”

On their favorite part of their thesis: “Oh, there are so many pretty pictures! I have some confocal images I have taken, and they are showing mature inhibitory interneurons that are derived from human embryonic stem cells and as far as I know I am one of the first people to actually culture human embryonic stem cells into inhibitory interneurons for extended periods of time on mouse hippocampal slices. And so seeing these images, it’s really, really cool.”

On if their thesis was a movie/song/TV show: “I think the TV show Startalk – like, Neil Degrasse Tyson and I have a very similar enthusiasm for science, so if my thesis became some type of show thingy-ma-bobber, Neil Degrasse Tyson as a host would be the right level of enthusiasm.”

On anything else they wished we’d asked: “Not sure if it’s a question – but I think there is a really huge difference between the way that theses are written on campus depending on the department – but also just like style… like, I didn’t actually start writing my thoughts into a cohesive document until Spring Break, which I know is crazy if I were in another department. I don’t know, this is not a question.”

On their most used word/phrase: “‘Cells,’ ‘Stem’ – ‘stem cells’… they go together.”

On their thesesfeces: “*Face of shock* Is that a real question? I don’t want to talk about this. I’m fine, thank you for your concern, Wesleying.”

Lili Kadets ’17 FREN/AMST majors, thesis in AMST, carrel #337

Working title: “It’s a recent development, but my title is, ‘When Intelligence met Intelligence: Psychological Testing and National Security in the Early 20th Century.’”

On her topic: “So it took me a little while to get here to where I am now, but my thesis traces two conceptions of intelligence–one being military intelligence and one being psychological intelligence. And there’s a very interesting point in WWII where these two conceptions actually collide: when the establishment of an intelligence agency called the Office of Strategic Services actually utilized intelligence testing to recruit their agents. It’s been really interesting looking into the history of psychology and the history of intelligence in psychology, as well as the history of the consolidation of agencies like the CIA.”

On how she thought of her topic: “My interest in all of this stems from a love of crossword puzzles. I’m sure a lot of people have seen the movie The Imitation Game, everybody always asks me that when I tell them what I’m writing about. Yeah, so that led me to look more into military intelligence and codebreaking just cause crosswords played an important role during the wars. Talking to my advisor and figuring out sort of a viable subject to write about sort of led me here.”

On her progress: “I would say my most productive time has definitely been the past two months when I really felt like I knew where I was going. I think for a while I was doing a lot of research and a lot of thinking about abstract concepts that weren’t necessarily coming together in any complete way. So definitely that’s been my most productive time. I’d say my most unproductive time is just when I’m pondering about sort of WWII in general and just sort of feel myself just consistently wondering what it was like to be a codebreaker and to work in military intelligence during the war.”

On her current mental state: “I’m good! I think I know that this is a project that I’ve been excited about for a long time, and I am a little tired–I’ve had some late nights lately–but I think in general I’m just really proud of myself of sticking to one thing and getting to where I am. I’m also very excited for everyone around me who feels like they’re also accomplishing big things.”

On her most traumatic thesis experience: “Well, I would say my most traumatic thesis experience has been realizing that when I hand my thesis in, it means that I’m that much closer to graduating. I’d say that’s pretty traumatic.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “Oh, it might be too easy to say crossword puzzles, so that’s one… Yeah I guess you could say it’s a productive form of procrastination, I guess.”

On her plans for April 19th: “Well, maybe popping some champagne with the rest of everyone, with everybody else. I would love to just lie in my house with friends and talk about anything but the military or psychology.”

On her advice for future thesis writers: “I would say that it’s okay to start with an idea that maybe doesn’t seem ‘academic’ because I think that you can have an interest in something that is totally random and fun, and you can always find a way to turn it into something interesting to write about.”

On her most used word/phrase: “Definitely ‘intelligence’ cause it already shows up twice in my title. ‘Military,’ ‘psychology,’ ‘naturally’… I use the word ‘however’ probably far too much. And then like, ‘consolidation.’”

On her favorite part of her thesis: “This is totally random, but I loved putting the table of contents together because it just showed my whole progress on one piece of paper, and I just thought that was really cool.”

On if her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: ‘[Besides obviously The Imitation Game] if we’re going on that same theme of Benedict Cumberbatch, I’d say probably Sherlock or perhaps some weird documentary about crossword puzzles or something.”

On anything else she’d like to add: “I think that it was a really great experience. I’m happy that I did it!”

Samuel Stern ‘17 COMP major, thesis in COMP, no carrel

Working title: “It is ‘The Tree of Trees: On Methods for Finding All Non-Isomorphic Tree Realizations of Degree Sequences’ which is kind of a mouthful.”

On his topic: “So a graph in computer science is sort of a really general structure. It’s like a network. People imagine it as maybe cities and the roadways between them, that’s a really common example. Or maybe train stations and the rail lines between them. Points and edges is all they are. And so, for any graph, you can write down a list of numbers that says something about it. Not everything, but it’s useful to have. And for any graph, I can give you the list of numbers; it’s called the degree sequence. If you give me a list of numbers though, it might have no graphs or 26 graphs that match and 14 of them are really the same. So we decided we were going to focus on this one type of graph called a tree, which makes things a little bit easier for us. And we were going to focus on seeing if we could take any list of numbers and see how many graphs there were that matched, or how many trees there were that matched. And we’ve been writing programs for that and proving that they do what we say they’ll do.”

On how he came up with the topic: “It was my adviser mostly. I just went to him in September or so and said ‘Hey, want to do a thesis?’ and he said ‘Sure, let me start thinking about this.’ And the way it works in computer science is, unless you’ve been doing research for months already by then–which I hadn’t–your adviser usually thinks of something he hasn’t seen done and you look it up, and it’s been done. So you think of a more specific version of that, he looks it up and that’s also been done. Then eventually, you reach something so esoteric that…you can imagine a little notification: ‘Congratulations! You’ve reached no-man’s-land!’ And then you start working on that if it’s not completely out of your ability. And this is kind of a really niche topic, but it’s not really that complicated by compsci standards.”

On his progress: “I’m pretty much done at this point. Just working through a bunch of edits and corrections before tomorrow, mostly stylistic stuff. It’s about 60 pages of the written thesis and 1500 lines of code. So, you know, I’ve gotten done with the bulk of it by now.”

On his current mental state: “I’m as checked out as I can afford to be right now, which is pretty checked out. I was in a bit of a rush for the past few months trying to get this done and job applications and other stuff. I mean, the end is nigh. I’m pretty much okay with that.”

On his most upsetting thesis experience: “Well, this would have been about a month ago. For the programs I’m writing, they’re all supposed to give the same results, it’s just some of them are faster and the ones that are faster make it farther before the computer eventually says ‘enough of this, I’m throwing an error.’ And the two fastest ones I had, they seemed to give the same results for a while except, if I let them run for an hour or two, I started noticing the really high level results were different. And so I had a moment of ‘Very good. I’m going to publish results that might be incorrect, this is fine.’ And finally, I figured out where it was when they started to do things differently–I still don’t know why it is–but the fastest version of my program seems to be right but the second-fastest version seems to be doing something wrong. So I finally just had a moment of ‘This piece of code, I don’t need this for my thesis,’ so I just took out all mention of it. And everything’s been going fine since then, I just had a moment of panic where I was afraid.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “I’ve done a lot of running recently. I mean I always do, but specifically, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have time for distance running anymore. If anything, I just kept going. There was this race that went through Middletown about a week ago that I found time for. I’ve gone up to Wadsworth a few times, which is beautiful right about now. In addition to that–is anyone still playing Pokemon Go?–sometimes I distract myself with that.”

Plans for April 19th: “I’m going to smash some bottles of champagne on the steps probably, but after Olin–I’m living in a house this year. It’s not that it’s my particular job to clean it, but I think The Things that I’m going to get done is clean my house from top to bottom. It doesn’t even sound like it’s going to be that fun, but I think it will feel pretty great.”

On his favorite part of his thesis: “Well, there was this moment during spring break. I had turned in the first two versions of my code and my adviser said ‘There’s a lazier way you could be doing this,’ and laziness is one of the chief virtues of programming, depending on who you ask. So, I did some work into the dynamic programming version, which is a word for ‘applied laziness’ basically. And just one day, toward the tail end of spring break, it just worked.”

Most used word/phrase: “Something like ‘tree realizations,’ ‘degree sequences,’ ‘majorization,’ or ‘All honor to my glorious adviser.’ Something like that.”

Kylie Moynihan ’17 E&ES/BIO majors, thesis in E&ES, no carrel

Working Title: “The official title of my thesis is ‘Testing the Accuracy and Sensitivity of the New Stomatal CO2 Proxy,’ because science thesis titles are very exciting. I was very fond of my working title, which was “’Stomata Are A Million Tiny Plant Vaginas: A Thesis.’” [Note: She did not approach her advisor regarding this working title.]

On her topic: “So my thesis is based on this recently developed model that’s used to estimate atmospheric Carbon Dioxide from a few parameters that you can measure from a leaf, including a fossil leaf. So in theory you can go back and find fossils and then estimate what the atmosphere was like when those fossils were growing.But since it was such a newly developed model – came out in 2014 – it hasn’t been extensively tested yet. So my project was using modern species, about 31 species of plants, just basically from around the area, and have been using the model to test the accuracy of the modern Carbon Dioxide value.”

On how she decided upon her topic: “So, I think as is the case with many science theses, I didn’t really come up with a topic on my own so much as I found a professor whose research interested me and asked if they had any projects. So I went to Professor Dana Royer in the E&S department who does a lot of paleobotany stuff and, it’s Summer 2015 and I asked if he had any projects for me, and sort of worked with him from there and developed this new project.”

On her current progress: “It’s submitted! Yay! It was a little rocky but we made it.”

On her current mental state: ”I am pretty… tired. As might be expected. Mostly because at 7am this morning I had several short, successive stress dreams about my thesis. I was supposed to read it all over last night and make any changes and submit it to my advisor one more time for like, edits, but I was super tired last night so I didn’t finish it – so in the morning I was thinking like, ugh, I need to finish reading and send it off. So – that’s the source of the stress dreams.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “*Dry chuckles* There was a three part saga to my microscope breaking down. With science theses, it’s fun because you work with equipment that can malfunction. So a lot of my measurements were made with one microscope in my lab, and over winter break I and my advisor noticed that the camera on the microscope used to take the pictures had like, some sort of scratch in the lens so it was giving these weird little grainy things on the image and it wasn’t terrible but it was kinda just, annoying. So we were like “Oh, okay, shouldn’t be too hard to fix.” We send it to get fixed and two weeks later we still hadn’t gotten it fixed – I’m there like ‘Okay so, I need to make measurements.” It’s coming into Spring Semester now, so we got the camera back without really fixing it. Like, okay fine. So like a month later, the software that was used to analyze the images started malfunctioning and gave an error message any time I tried to do anything. I emailed back and forth with the microscope company and they were finally like, here, download a new version of the software instead of the old version that you have. I download that, and there was one piece of software on the old program that had been purchased originally and separately like an add-on to the software and it wasn’t working with the new version. So that was a multiple week long process for why it wasn’t working.  It finally only got fixed in the beginning of April maybe. I still had so many more pictures to take. But I did it! And it’s submitted.”

Onher favorite form of procrastination: “I think I always get too involved in Netflix. I finally finished the one series I was watching – it’s the beginning of April – I need to exit out from Netflix. But I couldn’t resist – when the stress came I had to watch something else. I also found PDF’s of all 13 of the Series of Unfortunate Events books so I have been working my way through all of those, too.”

On her plans for April 19: “I emailed the professor of my class that ends at 4:10 if I could leave class 20 minutes early so I could be on the steps. He hasn’t emailed me back yet, but if he says no I’m just not going to go to class, so like… *shrugs* ‘Your option, professor.’”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I think an important thing is to know what you’re capable of – like it was both a blessing and a curse to know how quickly I can write stuff when I need to, because I basically didn’t write anything until Spring Break. So it was stressful but I also knew that I could do it… and I did it!”

 On her favorite part of thesis: “I think that if there were a prize for most beautiful graphs  in a thesis I would be quite in the running. My graphs are wonderful and rainbow colored. There are also some graphs that are overlaid on top of other graphs – literally graphs on graphs.”

On her ideas if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show? “I have great aspirations of it being something like Awesome Science, Planet Earth level shit. But it’s probably not that interesting, it’s probably more like a textbook of science than a fun documentary. I wouldn’t know how you turn a science thesis into a Planet Earth, you know. So it’s a high goal.”

On her most used word: “Uh – that is probably estimate. I talk about the CO2 estimates a lot. I’m also very proud  – in my version of word I formatted it so I could type c-o-2 and it format it to CO2 – I was like… I’m killing it right now. I also did it to ?¹³C.”

On the status of her bowels: “You know… no complaints.”


Interviews by michellealix, and wilk.

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