THESISCRAZY 2018 (Part 2): My Grandma’s a Badass

Sara in her thesis carrel talking about how badass her grandma is.

Welcome to the second installment of THESISCRAZY 2018! You thought we died because there hasn’t been a post in a week, but you were wrong! The thesis writers in this post are pheNOMENAL so get ready to ~dive into their lives~. We’re in the final stretch (one week left!!!!)

Check out Part 1 here and the archive here!

Get yo thesis on after the jump

Sara Eismont ‘18 SOC Major, QAC Minor, Thesis in SOC

Carrel: Open Carrel on 2nd floor Olin

Working Title: “Oh my god I don’t have a title! I have two weeks to figure out a title, now I’m having an existential crisis……. I think it’s gonna be a game-time decision, like Monday I’ll figure out a title.”

On her topic: “I am writing a biography of my grandmother, focusing on a lot of the abortion rights activism she did from the 60s until today. There’s a solid biography chunk, but I’m also thinking about my own relationship to my grandmother, and what that means, and what her legacy means to me, and different types of feminism and working through that, and what do we do now. I’m just finishing my conclusion and I was like, ‘I just have to fix abortion,’ and I got really upset and cried in my advisor’s office yesterday, but he told me I didn’t need to fix abortion, so we’re good. But I need to tie it up nicely, so we’re still working on that.”

On how she thought of her topic: “I switched my topic a million times in the first semester, or like, three. But I wanted something that was important to me. I knew a lot about my grandmother’s life, but I just knew bits and pieces, so I was really interested in sitting down with her. It kind of felt like investigative journalism. I’m lucky that she’s in newspaper articles and books and things like that. It’s been helpful to have other sources, but it’s a lot of archive work.”


On her progress: “Like I said, my topic’s shifted a little bit, so we were on the current topic right after Thanksgiving, and I did a lot of research and digitizing her casette tapes of when she did interviews, and a lot of archive work up through February, and then I was like, ‘Oh wow, I need to write!’ and just wrote a lot in a very short amount of time. Now I feel good. I mean, we have a little bit of time, but it’s all gonna get done. I definitely didn’t think I could do it until I did it, and then I was like, ‘Wow! I did it!’”


On her current mental state: “It’s been pretty good. I feel like I’m in a good place, and I’m trying hard not to feed into the frenzy of stress that’s going on right now. I feel like everyone just makes each other even more stressed. I feel good. My grandmother’s read it, and she’s really happy with it, and I feel like that’s enough of an accomplishment. My advisor’s also been really helpful being like, ‘You’re in a good place.’ Cause sometime’s you’ve got to hear that, you’ve got to hear it from someone else because you can tell yourself you’re fine, but hearing it from another person helps a lot. What I am is I’m really emotional about it being over, because I feel like it’s been a huge thing in my life, and there’s gonna be an end. I’m not gonna be doing what I’ve been doing and thinking about forever anymore… I need some hobbies, I’m taking suggestions if anyone has any!”


On her most upsetting thesis experience: “*laughs* There’s been so many… I feel like it was what just happened, where I was putting so much pressure on myself and like, conclusions generally. In school, we never focus on conclusions. I was like, ‘Wow, I have to fix everything in a conclusion!’ Which A) is not what a conclusion is for, and B) I don’t have the time for that. I did all this work, but I knew it wasn’t what I needed to be doing, and then my advisor was like, ‘This is fine, but you’re not saying everything you need to say if you want to take this route, and I also think that you don’t want to take this route.” And I was like, ‘But I have to fix it!’ Because here’s the thing, this is what I’ve learned in my experience: We’re so screwed in terms of abortion. Learning about all the legislation and all the different policies and all the things that have happened since Roe v. Wade… The anti-abortion activists have organized so well, and we’ve just grown so complacent and believed that Roe will be fine, and Roe is not fine, and we’re in danger. People need to care and people need to wake up… So yeah, I was like, ‘I need to fix it!’ But now we’ve decided that’s not feasible, and I’m feeling better now since yesterday!”


On her favorite form of procrastination: “I find myself reading a lot of articles/news things that are very tangential to my thesis. I’m like, ‘This documentary is super important!’ and it’s not, but I feel like I’m doing something relevant, and I’m thinking about it. But I did a lot of thinking and not a lot of writing for a long time, so that’s dangerous. I’ve been watching a lot of TV too, like Jane the Virgin, Unreal… I feel like I don’t have a lot of other stuff going on, it’s just this one thing that I’m doing.”


On her plans for April 17: “Oh that’s so soon! I have to figure out what kind of champagne—I’ve been spending a lot of mental energy on that lately. It’s gonna be so… wow… I’m definitely gonna cry, but I cry about everything. So I’ll have a long cry, and then I need to find that hobby!”


Her advice for future thesis writers: “It’s really easy to be miserable writing a thesis, but it also doesn’t make sense to do something for a year that… it’s easy to get stresed out, but like, why would you spend a year doing something that doesn’t make you happy? I’ve had the best time—it hasn’t always been the best time, there’ve been many tears—but I think if you think about it, like, ‘How can I make this a productive, positive experience?” I’ve been able to grow so much closer to my grandmother and learn a lot about her life. It will consume you if you let it, so just don’t let it.”


On her favorite part of her thesis: “Definitely the parts where I’m actually writing about my grandmother in the 60s where she’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so messed up. I’m gonna do something about it!’ And the newspaper articles that she’s cited in, cause she’s such a total badass! Like, the things she says, she’s so snarky and such an idol. She really is my feminist icon. So finding pieces of her from different times and listening to recordings of her has been a really neat way to know my grandmother. I mean, we’re best friends, and she’s 84, but to know her at a different time and to see how she ended up who she is today… it’s like a time capsule.”


On if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “Maybe it would be some kind of pop-punk song, because like I said, we’re in deep trouble, and we need to realize how destructive different pieces of legislation have been. I think learning the history has made me realize how precarious things are. This is the thing, I’m trying to write my conclusion so that it’s not this, but…. It’d be a really emo song about reproductive justice.”


On questions she wished we asked: “My hope for my thesis is that if/when people read it, it provides perspective that I think, as a millenial, it’s hard to gain the perspective of what came before us in terms of abortion. My grandmother wrote this book called The Worst of Times where she did interviews with people who had illegal abortions before Roe. It’s so powerful, so amazing. I think we’re living in a false state of security where we think if Roe is overturned things will be fine, but like I said, it won’t be fine. People are gonna die. I just want to communicate my message that we’re screwed. There’s big trouble. People need to organize.”

Talia Kaplan ‘18 GOV Major, Jewish and Israel Studies and Middle Eastern Studies Certificates, Thesis in GOV

Carrel: Open Carrel in 3rd floor Olin

Working Title: “See Where it Takes You”: Attitude Formation and Collective Memory on USY Israel Pilgrimage

On her topic: “I am using a specific high school trip to Israel as a case study for attitude formation and collective memory when it comes to Israel for American Jewish teenagers. I wanted to see the effects that these trips had on high schoolers and their relationship to Israel and their relationship to Judaism and more broadly look at what that means for the American Jewish community. I’m using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods—I actually surveyed trip participants last summer before and after they went on the trips, so I have comparative data that I can analyze. I also spent some time in the archive so I have old records from trips. These trips actually go back to 1950s, so it’s really interesting to see to what extent there is a collective memory, how much trips have changed, how much they actually impact participant attitudes.”

On how she thought of her topic: “I think I remember starting sophomore year, if I had a little idea I would just jot it down… And I had this modge podge of ideas having to do with collective memory and Israel. I took a great class sophomore year called ‘Political Theory and Transitional Justice’ so I was thinking a lot about that. I read an amazing book kind of for fun about Israeli collective memory. There’s been a ton of writing on how Israelis understand their past, but there’s not been as much writing about collective memory among Zionists in the diaspora, so I knew I wanted to look at that, how Zionists in the diaspora relate to Israel and understand Israel’s history. I had also experienced the impact of teen travel to Israel because I have gone on one of the trips that I’m writing about, and I’ve also seen other people who have gone on these trips either decide to move to Israel and serve in the army, or got motivated in one direction or the other. I wanted to see if there was any effect of trips that can be quantified. Because trips have been going on for so long—there’s a trip called Birthright which is for college students, but that’s been going on for less than 20 years. USY Pilgrimage has been happening since the 50s, so it’s a really interesting case study for collective memory because it’s been going on for a long time and there’s a lot of consistency in trip content.”


On her progress: “I am really lucky in that I got an advisor really early on. My advisor’s really great, shout out to Professor Foyle! I went abroad junior spring, and I’d actually committed to working with Professor Foyle before I went abroad. If we hadn’t realized that I needed to put a survey in the field the summer before senior year, I wouldn’t have been able to do this thesis. I’ve actually been working on this thesis since January of 2017. So my progress has been a pretty consistent effort for about a year and a half, but obviously getting more intense as April 17 looms *laughs*”

On her current mental state: “I fluctuate between ‘I’m totally fine!’ and ‘Oh my god what am I doing???’ Also like, ‘Why am I semi-enjoying this?’ I think there’s something wrong with me, like, the fact that I don’t want to go into academia, and I don’t want to get a PhD, but I decided to do a thesis for fun, so do what that information what you will…”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “One was the whole thesis carrel situation. I understand that they have a limited number of thesis carrels, but I actually have a back injury, and I can’t really carry heavy things, so it would be hard for me to move books around and to carry things in my backpack. We tried to get a medical accommodation for a thesis carrel, but we were unsuccessful, even when my professor got involved. Not getting a thesis carrel was a little bit stressful at first because I can’t really take things back and forth with me and I don’t have a place to lock things. I actually have some primary sources that I can’t just leave sitting out, and as you can see, a lot of books. The library staff has been really helpful. I actually have to keep a laptop desk in one place and my books in another, and it’s a bit of a hodge podge, but I’m making it work. At first that was really stressful, because it’s not fun to have to worry about a thesis and a medical accommodation. And then the thing that’s actually related to my thesis itself: over winter break I had to do a lot of data analysis, and I would just be staring at a computer for, like, seven or eight hours a day running data. I’m not a math/science person, like, I did not want to do a quantitative thesis, which is kind of hilarious considering where we are now. When I didn’t know where the thesis was heading, like at that point I didn’t have a thesis of my thesis, and I was just drowning in data, and that was a little bit scary.


On her favorite form of procrastination: “I do lame procrastination, like doing other work that’s less stressful. That’s not a fun answer, but that’s what I do. I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe I should do some work for my part-time job, or maybe I should apartment hunt…’”
On her plans for April 17: “First of all, I think that Wesleyan does not have enough traditions, so I’m excited that there is a strong 4 PM thesis tradition. I’m very excited to be with my friends on Olin steps, and after that, if the weather cooperates—which who knows at this point—you can find me chilling on Foss with my books that I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and probably even more ice cream than I already eat.”


Her advice for future thesis writers: “I actually have a couple things. I was told this by a religion professor, not my advisor: she told me to leave a month to edit, and I thought that sounded crazy. She was like, ‘Oh yeah, have a draft by spring break.’ I left myself three weeks to edit, not a month, and I’ve actually really needed it because I’m the type of person who doesn’t do serious revisions while I write. Just keep in mind your writing style, and if you’re someone who likes to go back and edit after, leave a ton of time because it’s very different than writing a 20-page paper for class. You also have to come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to include everything that you want to include. I semi-knew that, but I still have to remind myself every day that it’s okay to cut out that really exciting thing that you were thinking about two weeks ago, like, you have to have a coherent argument. Just being able to emotionally part with ideas that you’re attached to. And then figure out an organizational system that works for you. For me it’s been really helpful to keep a list of all the small things that I need to worry about two days before my thesis is due, but aren’t big enough for me to worry about while I’m writing or editing.”


On her favorite part of her thesis: “I really like how I’ve been able to make my thesis incredibly interdisciplinary. I’ve gotten to take a pretty good mix of classes at Wesleyan, but I haven’t had any specifically interdisciplinary classes, and being able to draw on political science, collective memory, education studies, and Jewish studies has been really really cool, just bringing all those worlds together in my own way. Speaking of bringing things together in my own way, it’s been really rewarding to have a project that I’ve been committed to for this long. It feels like I’m putting something into the world that probably no one will read, but it’s still so cool to be able to put the time and effort into producing something tangible.”


On if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “I’ve thought about this question a lot! And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean I’ve read the other interviews, but it didn’t take me very long to come up with an answer. Any of you who went to Jewish summer camp (which is probably a very small portion of your readers), you will know that, especially if you go to a Zionist camp, there’s really cheesy Israel music from the 70s and 80s. My thesis would probably be one of those songs because on the surface level, it seems really nice, and a lot of it actually is really nice, but then when you go deeper and you look at the lyrics, there are some things that are a little bit upsetting.”

Questions she wished we asked: “What do you wish people knew about your thesis, or what might people misunderstand about your thesis? I think a lot of people don’t know what collective memory is, and that’s fine, it’s this kind of niche academic thing. The way I explain that is it’s the way societies or groups remember their past. The other thing is I think that people think that since I’m writing about Israel and I have these giant maps on the wall that my thesis is one about borders or political contestation, but it’s really about these high schoolers, and how these experiences affect these high schoolers, and what that means for the American Jewish community at large.”

Ari Polgar ‘18 she/her FILM and FRENCH major; Thesis in FILM

Working title: “I don’t have one. I’ve been calling it “The Thesis”. My advisor emailed me yesterday to tell me I needed to come up with a title, and I’ve got nothing.

On her topic: “It’s about narrative in video games—how it works, why it works, if it works; how games have become a potential storytelling medium these days, and how that fits into the established canon of films and literature and all the stuff that’s already out there.

On how she thought of her topic: “I’m really interested in storytelling and how different media tell stories and what kinds of stories can films tell versus books, for example. I’m also interested in how chance plays into storytelling in traditional tabletop games—Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, all the classic stuff. How do you tell a story when chance and luck plays into a story progression? But you can’t do that stuff in the Film Department, so I went with the next best thing, which is video games. The department was into it, which is good.”

On her progress: “Hopefully I’m almost done. I think I can finish my draft today, or by the end of the weekend.”

On her current mental state: “It varies. Going back and forth between euphoria about being almost done and utter terror for the amount of work I have left to do. Currently feeling really good about near completion.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “I don’t know if it’s upsetting, but I was in pre-production for a production thesis—I was going to do a film, I had a script written and most of a crew put together, and then the week before school started I decided I would rather write a history/theory thesis for the department. So I scrapped all of that, and I only regret it a little bit. I definitely love my topic, but it was a lot of work that I had done and then just sort of tossed out the window. Maybe one day I’ll get back to it.”

On her favorite form of procrastination: “The best thing, hands down, about writing about video games means I have to play video games, so I can spend hours playing whatever I want and call it research. So I’ve played through most of the earlier Uncharted games—you know, for work.”

On post-thesis plans: “See my friends again. That’s the big one. Hang out with people. Emerge from the cave of thesis writing.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Pick something you really want to do, even if it means turning away from something that you kind of want to do. If you’re going to spend this much time with a project, make sure it’s something that, at the end of the day, you want to spend that much time with.”

Most used word or phrase: “Ludonarrative—my advisor told me I need to find a synonym cause it was popping up too often, so that’s on the to-do list.”On theses feces: “Drinking Usdan coffee has not been great, but I’m looking forward to cleansing my system once it’s turned in.”

interviews by michelle and josh