THESISCRAZY 2018 (Part 9): Knee-deep in the KGB

Dasha filling us in on her thesis

Welcome to the NINTH installment of ThesisCrazy 2018. It’s been a day, with a lot of posts, but I feel the need to emphasize that each of these thesis writers has done a phenomenal job, and we wish each of them the best of luck in these last two days.

Two of the three theses in this post feature our BFF, Russia. Dasha Dubinsky ‘18 is writing a thesis where she gets to shit on Putin, which is definitely a win in my opinion. James Reston ’18 is entrenched in a KGB file about the Jesuits. And Nathaniel Barton ’18 is talking about the Isle of Pines, an Island off the coast of Cuba (more Cuba!).

Get yo thesis on after the jump!

Dasha Dubinsky ‘18, CSS; Thesis in CSS

Working title: “Lawyers or Liars: An international law perspective on the role of Russia in the annexation of Crimea.”

On her topic: “There are two main parts of my thesis, but they both focus on the annexation of Crimea. The first analysis is much more focused in detail on Crimea. I’m looking at the legality of the secession of Crimea and the annexation by Russia. So there are two distinct questions that are focused on the principle of self-determination in international law and the principle of the use of force, but they both blend together to illustrate why I believe the annexation was illegal. My third chapter is focused more broadly on what Crimea shows us about how Russia thinks about international law in general.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I did a lot of international law classes when I went abroad to Denmark because we don’t really have them here. And I really enjoyed it, and I want to go to law school in the future. I was really interested in self-determination and initially, I was looking more at Kosovo, but then because I am Ukrainian and I’ve been to Crimea, and my dad lives in Ukraine, Ukraine was a much more personal issue for me. I saw the self-determination connection there with Kosovo, and I pivoted and started looking more into Crimea itself.”

On her progress: “Pretty good tbh. I was really stressed fall semester because I’m neurotic and I need to do everything ahead of time so I was like freaking out in October when people hadn’t started their thesis. But it’s helped me because now I’m much more relaxed.”

On her current mental state: “I literally haven’t done anything in three days. Today’s my first time being in my carrel in like a week.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “When I came back from winter break I had sort of a miscommunication because after winter break your department looks at whether you have enough progress to keep going. [My adviser] submitted a review saying he recommended that I keep going but that I was behind. But I didn’t feel like I was behind because I thought I was ahead. So I like freaked out because he’d never said anything to me. So I confronted him and he was like ‘Oh no, you’re totally fine I just meant you need more sources.’ But it was this weird miscommunication and I was freaking out for like two days.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “In the fall it was looking at jobs because I would, instead of doing my thesis, I would be like ‘Oh, I’m being productive, I’ll just look for jobs that I’m never going to get or apply to.’ But then I got a job, so then I had to pivot to watching Millionaire Matchmaker and just bingeing stupid shows on Hulu like Say Yes to the Dress. I now started watching Runaways which moves like two inches every 5 episodes and is clearly for fifteen-year-olds. But I’m really enjoying it.”

Plans for April 17th: “I have an exam that morning and I have three classes that day, so I’m not really sure. I mean, definitely the champagne thing. I think my house is trying to have a party for people that finished their thesis. So hopefully we get that all together.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “This is probably not good advice, but I would say to relax the summer before because I did nothing for my thesis and I just chilled all summer. And it was really nice. It’s pretty much the last summer you’re going to have because you don’t know if you’re going to start a job or an internship the summer after senior year. Mentally, that helps you because you’re not burnt out in the fall.”

On her favorite part of her thesis: “I have multiple parts of my thesis where I’m like ‘Putin said this. He was wrong.’ And I just feel really good about myself because I’m shitting on Putin.”

If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “There’s this documentary made by Russian propaganda media that tells their side of Crimea that is just blatantly wrong. So if my thesis was a video, it would be a YouTube compilation of that documentary. But they would say something, and then it would make a fart noise, and then it would be like me talking over them.”

Most used word/phrase: “I think besides the obvious ones that are related to my thesis, I use ‘however’ every other sentence and I constantly have a tab open with synonyms for however and there’s like four synonyms.”


James Reston ‘18, CSS and Russian Studies; Thesis in CSS

Working title: “Terror must be answered with terror: How Soviet state security infiltrated the Jesuits, 1945 to 1953.”

On his topic: “I am essentially writing a micro history centered around this one KGB case file called ‘The Jesuits,’ which is about the Soviet infiltration of a group of Jesuits in Lithuania and Berlin. They’re these Catholic exiles managers of power and what I’m trying to say is that the KGB sees these Jesuits almost as a mirror of themselves. Similar managers of power were controlling institutions through the collection and use of information. And so information kind of becomes this vital weapon or tool for both the KGB and the Jesuits.”

On how he came up with his topic: “I came up with my topic because my adviser Victoria Smolkin was doing research in Ukraine two years ago. I was her research assistant and we were doing research in the KGB archives about religious persecution. And I originally wanted to do my thesis about the KGB but I wanted to focus on recruitment and training practices and not the Jesuits. But I got to the archives over the summer and I realized that if I wanted to do recruitment and training practices I would have to write a dissertation. And the documents weren’t there; they were overly bureaucratic or they didn’t tell the entire story. So then I found this case and I decide to focus on this.”

On his progress: “My progress is good so far. My advisor is really demanding and sets very strict deadlines which I don’t always meet but I feel like I’m in a good position. It’s just the number of days counting down and I don’t have much time to accomplish what I need to accomplish to make it a coherent, cohesive thing.”

On his current mental state: “My current mental state is slowly impending exhaustion. I think that I’m just going to get more and more tired. I’m not that tired yet but I can feel myself just like sinking into a place where I can think.”

On his most upsetting thesis experience: “I wouldn’t say I have a most upsetting thesis experience but some of the things that my advisor has said to me over the course of the year has been pretty cutting. I remember, right after Thanksgiving break I’d written like three different drafts of my introduction and I came back with them and she just sat me down and had a conversation about how I can’t disappoint her. And then I just remember this very clearly. She said ‘Look, James. I know you. I know that you’re really good at coming up with creative ideas and innovative stuff but your writing is generally lacking in any real material.’”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Probably cooking videos but I’ve been watching the Crown right now with my housemate Yael Fisher ’18 and that is currently a great form of procrastination.”

Plans for April 17th: “Oh definitely steps. I’m also I think just going to go off the rails a bit after theses are due. And I really want to sleep a lot and not do any work. I have one paper due after the theses and that is all the work that I have left in my Wesleyan career.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I think one, love your topic to the point where you’re like ‘Oh this is really awesome! This is really cool! Like I can completely nerd out about this.’ You don’t want to get to the point where, one month in, you’re already hating it. And then second, having your adviser set deadlines for you because if you’re operating without any deadlines it’s hard.”

On his favorite part of his thesis: “At one point, a KGB agent who infiltrates this group of Catholic exiles in Berlin who were planning on doing anti-Soviet actions. And they asked the agent ‘What’s the situation with the youth inside Lithuania?’ And the agent’s like ‘Oh well the Communist Party is kind of attracting the youth through these sports and social clubs’ and the exiles are like ‘Oh yeah we already know that. We actually have this plan to meet with this Lithuanian basketball player when he goes to France and try to convince him to defect to the west and that way we’ll mess up the entire Soviet youth operation.’”

If his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “It would definitely be a spy movie. I mean it is a spy movie. It does actually happen. The main Soviet agent is only identified as Agent 7 in the case file and I don’t know what his background is. He’s never named by his actual name. He’s just Agent 7 throughout.”

Most used word/phrase: “State security. ‘State security’ just because the names of the actual organizations change so much during the time period I’m working on, and I’m trying to theorize this thing that is state security that then can be used to apply to other organizations.”

On his theses feces: “I think it all depends on how much coffee I’ve had that day. But definitely very consistent with the amount of coffee.”

Nathaniel Barton ’18, HIST Major

Working title: Defining Cuban Race, Symbolism, and Sovereignty in the Dispute over the Isle of Pines: 1899 to 1925

On his topic: I’m looking at a contest over the ownership of an island off the south west coast of Cuba. Several U.S. settlers claimed that the U.S. owned this island while the U.S. executive branch and most Cubans said that this was not the case.  The U.S. and Cuba reached a treaty on the matter in 1904 and it wasn’t ratified until 1925 and the reasons for that delay have a lot to do with the change in the nature of U.S. imperialism that tracks to around that time, as well as some racial politics that were going on at the time.

On his progress so far: I don’t have as many pages as I’d like to have, but I’ve got about 20 hours of work away from a completed hand-inable draft so I’m okay.  I started too late though.

On his current mental state: I’m altering between very calm and very panicked and I just try to ignore the panicked parts and write during them.

On his most upsetting thesis experience: It took me a long time to start writing and I kept flitting between work, but the real worst experience was when I stumbled upon my topic last spring and then over the summer I discovered that someone had already written a book about what I wanted to write my thesis about. That was a big setback.

On his favorite form of procrastination: During the warmer months I spent a lot of time reorganizing the sailing team’s storage space and doing a lot of maintenance there and that just started up again which is fantastic.

On his plans for April 17th: Depending on how well I write in the next few days I will either fall asleep immediately after handing in my thesis. Already I have plans to go with my family and fiancée to Mia’s Sushi in New Haven.

His advice for future thesis writers: Follow the advice of when to start writing your sections.  Do not think to yourself I can start writing a chapter in February and I’ll be fine.  You might be, but it won’t be pleasant.

On his favorite part of thesis: I really enjoyed going to an archive in Florida, the Cuban Heritage Collection, where I stumbled across some truly hilarious primary sources.  One of them is a tourism pamphlet put out in either the 1930s or 40s by Cuba calling the U.S. settlers, and implying by extension most U.S. citizens, a bunch of idiots.  This was in English designed to entice U.S. tourism to the isles so that was a lot of fun.

On if his thesis were a song/movie/TV show: I’ve actually been thinking of this one since around the time I signed up for this interview and I really don’t have a good answer to it.  Not being either a music or film buff it’s difficult. It reminds me of the songs written by my brother’s middle school band in that they have a lot of potential but they’re ill formed and not quite professional yet.

On questions he wished he’d asked: I came to the race component really late, which really I don’t understand how because my advisor was poking me towards it basically from the time we met.  I was initially focused on photography which is fruitful, it got about a chapter, but it pales in comparison to the chapters and is hard to incorporate.

Most used word/phrase: I really hate the use of the word America or American to describe the United States so I’ve been U.S., of the U.S., from the U.S., U.S. citizen, an insufferable amount and there’s going to be a page in the front of my thesis apologizing for that and explaining why it happens.

interviews by wilk and fern

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