THESISCRAZY 2018 (Part 5): Los Angeles vs. Middletown? LMK

Emily looking super hyped while telling us about how she had to go to LA for her thesis. Are we jealous? N…..yes. yes we are.

Welcome back to ThesisCrazy! In this installment, we have a thesiswriter who got to go to LA on Wesleyan’s dime, another writing about extragalactic teenagers and intermediate mass, and the last writer’s thesis is about human coping mechanisms.

Check out Part 4 here!

Thesising after the jump.

Emily Furnival ‘18 COL Major

Working title: Modernist Medieval Revivalism In Modernism In the Met Cloisters.

On her topic: I knew I wanted to write about museums because I am interested in museums and have always liked museums, and so I was going to compare two museums that both have this revival thing where they’re based on models of the past, like the architecture is based on the past. Then I was writing about one and it was too long so now I’m only writing about one.  The one I’m writing about is the Met Cloisters, which is a museum that’s run by the Met but is in northern Manhattan. It’s a museum of medieval art, sculpture, and architecture, and it’s kind of cool because in some ways it’s really like the big gothic revival movement that was just ending in the U.S. at the time. You can see examples of that movement in the chapel on Wesleyan campus.  All the features are kind of ornamental and gothic-looking, trying to look very Medieval. So in some ways the Cloisters are kind of based on that, they have fragments of medieval architecture in them, but in the other hand they’re being built in the 1930s when modernist architecture is taking off. So what I’m looking at is how, in the Cloisters, these two opposite trends in architecture and museums; like so in old museums where you’d put a painting and then you would have the whole rich room around it to show you how the painting would have been displayed originally, and how there was then a transition to the modern MoMA style where art is displayed on a blank, white, wall and that’s all you’re seeing.  So I’m looking at how these things that are very opposing are actually kind of working within one museum, and how you can have a building that’s based on opposite sides.

On her progress: On how she thought of her topic: I thought of it junior year, I think.  I had gone to the Cloisters with my friend, and I had really liked the Cloisters while I was there and I found myself thinking about why the Cloisters and then another museum, the Getty Villa, were the ones that stuck in my head.  I had been to five or six museums in five days and the rest kind of blurred together but the Cloisters really stuck so I was thinking what is it about the Cloisters that makes it so effective. I was thinking about it in terms of atmospheric museums; like in the cloisters there’s a garden in central cloister where you can just sit and smell the flowers and there’s not much there, the only art there is really the architecture.  You’re not looking at art and you’re kind of having this restful moment, so I was really interested in places of not active art looking in a museum. I was also going to look at the Getty Villa and kind of compare it because it’s supposed to be a recreation of a Roman Villa in Malibu, the big difference is that the Cloisters are really serious while the villa is very “Disney”, it’s this recreation that looks really ridiculous, but I really liked it because it has these really beautiful gardens and atmospheric experiences and that’s what I was thinking about.

On her current mental state: Of today… it’s good.  Yesterday was pretty good.  This week? Pretty bad. I think it’s really just a day by day thing.  This whole week I couldn’t start working on my thesis without crying and yesterday I was like oh! I’m writing and not crying, this is such a nice miracle! So yeah, today I’m fine, but I definitely have a lot to do.  However, this moment is good.

On her most upsetting thesis experience: I haven’t had any “oh no my computer crashed” (god willing) moments.  So there haven’t been any big moments. There have just been personal moments of despair which it feels like this combination of like I’m going to have to do this thing I hate forever (writing my thesis) and also I don’t have enough time to do this thing I hate, and so the coexistence of those is really miserable.  I think they specifically happen when I’m in my carrel on at my table and haven’t started my thesis yet and I’m in this paralyzing state of “I don’t want to do my thesis” and I’m sitting there and I’m wasting time, but I can’t because it’s too stressful to open my thesis. That segment of time is really unpleasant and on a good day it’s like 20 minutes and I check twitter, but there are some days when that moment lasts 4 hours.

On her favorite form of procrastination: The best form of procrastination for me is writing cover letters and job apps because it’s the only one I don’t feel guilty about. It’s the only thing I can do and be like okay this is better than my thesis. But in terms of the one I do the most it would have to be resentfully refreshing websites that I hate and reading whatever’s there.   So, for example I’ll refresh twitter a thousand times, and at points I’ve had to delete my twitter, or at least log out of my account and forget my password and then create a new twitter where I’m only allowed to follow 5 people. So yeah, that’s probably the one I’ve invested the most time in, and then any interesting long form about literally anything I will happily read.

On her plans for April 17th: I am so excited to be on the steps. Sometimes I visualize it as a way to remind myself why I’m doing it.  So definitely steps. I’m also so excited to sit in the sunshine, god willing it’ll be warm by then. So really I’m just planning to be in my backyard, be on Foss, just never be inside or sit at a desk again, and drink a lot of mimosas.  That’s the dream.

Her advice for future thesis writers: All of the things are like love what you do and write, but I hate my thesis right now and I think that’s okay.  The thing I am most greatful of is that I had a thesis that required me to travel to Los Angeles and do some really nice stuff in LA as well as research my thesis. Wesleyan paid for me to fly out to LA a few times which was really nice. So when I was researching at the Getty Villa, it’s right across the street from the pacific ocean, afterwards I’d cross the street and swim in the ocean.  So if you can, there is a fair amount of money for thesis researching. So if you can find something you like and care about that also happens to be in someplace you’d like to be that a great thing. Because then when you’re in this mental state you can be like the reason I did this is that I got to swim in the ocean so it’s important to build in those nice things.

On her favorite part of her thesis: Yeah, going to LA was a really nice part. I think my favorite part though is that I’ve done a couple of thesis presentation and I have liked them a lot because I really do like talking about it and getting really smart questions from people and being able to engage with them. So, for example, I did an art history presentation and the art history professors were asking me questions it was like oh I’m dialoguing with you with something I know a lot about, this is kind of cool!  So yeah, I’d happily give 100 thesis presentations not to have to write my thesis.

On if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: I think it would be an electronic keyboard version of a medieval organist. Are there organs in the medieval era? Or a Gregorian chant or a sort of medieval hymnal-church-song, but on an eclectic keyboard.  That’s kind of the vibe of it.

On questions she wished she had asked to herself: It would have been helpful to know that, and I think this is true for most people, it definitely was for me, the major topic you start writing about will expand and it might become your whole thesis.  So if you have two chapters planned start writing the one you’re most interested in first because you might not get to the second one. My Getty Villa chapter has become five pages at the end where I’m like here’s another idea I didn’t have a chance to write about.

Most used word/phrase: Modernism and original. Cloisters! Cloisters is a big one but I don’t know if that counts.

Hannah Frtize ‘18Physics and Astronomy Double Major, Minor in German Studies

On the Department of her Thesis: Definitely astronomy. Don’t have to write one for German, and I don’t want to write one for physics.

Working Title: I don’t know if it’s going to change between now and two weeks from now, we’ll see. At the moment, it’s called “Extragalactic Teenagers Searching for Intermediate Mass Black Holes in the Nearby Universe.”

On her topic: Well, I’m searching for intermediate mass black holes in the nearby universe, which for me means 15 megaparsecs, which is really not a useful measurement. And I always forget what that means in lightyears…” *goes on Google* “4 billion lightyears, 40 million lightyears, and it’s 0.01% of the observable universe. So it’s pretty nearby. Depending on other black hole people you talk to, they define intermediate mass very differently, so they may talk about stellar mass black holes. For my purpose, it’s around 100-1000x the mass of the sun. If you talk to people who study supermassive black holes, which are, like, millions of times the mass of the sun, they will adjust that to be higher. For my purposes, it’s right above the Eddington limit of a stellar mass black hole. There’s this interaction between how bright a black hole can be versus how massive it can be because its brightness is this outward radiation, and if there’s too much pressure outwards and not enough gravity to pull it back in, then it will just blow that material away. If we can see it, then we know it’s massive enough to make up for how much energy it’s pushing away. So, I’m looking for really bright things with a space telescope called Chandra, which does X-Ray observations. Basically, I looked for anything that was bright enough that it was unlikely to be what’s continued stellar mass. What it means is that it probably, didn’t form from a star; it formed in some other way we don’t really know, or it formed a really long time ago and has been able to grow for a long period. They’re interesting because they form a different way, so it may give us a hint about how supermassive black holes form, because we don’t know how those work yet. If you take a stellar mass black holes, and you start it from the largest mass it can have in the beginning of its life, and you stick it in the very beginning of the universe, and you let it take on as much mass as it possibly can, while remaining at that limit for the entirety of the 14 billion years the universe has been around, it won’t have grown enough to be as big as the black holes we see in the centers of galaxies, which is a problem, because we can’t explain why the ones in the middle of the galaxies are so big. So, in addition to studying the large ones, we try to see things that are smaller to explain how we got there. So that’s what I’m doing.

On how she came up with this topic: I mostly knew which of the professors in the department I wanted to work with. I read up on what everyone did on the astronomy website, and all the stuff that Roy [Kilgard] did was cool, and I sent him an email while I was abroad. I said, “Hi your research seems cool, can I do that?” and he said, yeah sure. He tossed a bunch of different projects, but this one seemed fun and cool, and it builds off of a previous thesis, and I’ve narrowed it down to 30 sources that are potentially interesting.

On how she’s ~doin’~: It really varies. Some days I’m like, “I’m killing it! I’m doing great!” and other days I’m like, “Wow, I’m so behind, I’m going to die.” Every time I go to my advisor, he says that I’m on track, which kind of stresses me out a bit more, because I think he’s lying to me. I’m really excited at the moment because I just found a black hole that was previously studied, but I don’t agree with them. I think it’s doing one of two really cool things and would merit further study in the future. I was a little worried that I was going to write this thesis, and in the conclusion, I would have to say that I didn’t find anything, so at least I have one cool thing to talk about.

On her current mental state: My mental state is about the same, but it varies. I’m slightly stressed because I have a lot of work to do, and I keep getting emails about thesis. I don’t know if it’s true for all science theses, but at least for astronomy, we don’t really have a draft until maybe a month out. I only have a draft of 4 out of the six chapters. Over winter break, they sent an email saying, “you’re probably on your draft,” and I was like, “I’m writing my first chapter.” They also like letting you know how much you have left, and I’m like, “shut up, I’m not ready.” I just question really simple things at this point and not the complex models of what I’m writing.

Where do you write your thesis: Van Vleck Observatory Basement, because I get to relax by looking at pictures of pretty galaxies, and this desktop is large. And I need to zoom and see the grand scheme at things. I write both here and at home, where I can lay in bed and hang out with my house’s dog, which is great for my mental state. Plus, when I’m down here, I can ask questions when I forget some pretty baseline information about astro. I requestion this one code I wrote, so I always have to ask, “I’m doing this right, right?”

On what she procrastinates with:  Endless Netflix and having breakfast with two of my housemates. We have coffee together and usually some sort of egg thing. I usually spend 40 minutes post shower just being vaguely relaxed. The dog is also very soft. I binged Queer Eye and Jane the Virgin over break, and season 2 of Jessica Jones came out, which is terrible for my productivity.

Her advice to future STEM thesis writers: It just feels like writing an extended lab report, which is good because you’ve done it already. I had to give a presentation on my research at an Astronomy Conference in January, but it gave me an outline on the introduction of my thesis. It’s helpful to have to present it to people who don’t know your work. Also, ignore the emails that tell you that you need a draft. And drinking lots of coffee. And picking a topic that you like. Organize your data correctly. Put things in sensible places. I have a file called “desktop stuff,” and it’s just random garbage and I don’t know what to do with it. It’s realistically all the screenshots of things I’ll never send to anyone. I did something wrong [data] once, and now I have one folder that says “spectral fits” that I haven’t deleted, that has incorrect stuff. I also have a folder called “correct spectral fits,” and I sometimes open the wrong folder and I realize after doing some work that I’m in the wrong file.

On her favorite thesis moment: Working with Jessica, who doesn’t work on my project. *conversation with Jessica* Each stage of analyzing data, even when I didn’t know if I was going to make a meaningful discovery, was really fun. After my first round of analysis, I had very basic spectra, but it gave me really nice graphs. They were good markers of progress; I was able to slim down my sources from 1200 to 173. Even if the answer is “I didn’t find any of these things,” it still means something. It’s really satisfying to have something interesting to talk about.

On last things to share: So, I was trying to code something, and I ended up accidentally coding 1200 nesting folders. [Which means that she coded a folder within a folder within a folder, 1200 times] And I tried to write some code to delete it, but the computer won’t let me get rid of it. The person who can help me delete this is my advisor, so I’m going to wait until theses are submitted to have him help me because I don’t want him to be lose faith in me.

On her plans for April 17th: Getting trashed.

On thesis feces: Mostly in this building, because I don’t ever leave. And my house.

Rebecca Shteyn ‘18, PSYC Major

Working Title: “I don’t know, I have a text edit thing with a bunch of different titles that all sound really bad so far. I don’t even know which one of these sounds good… ‘Coping with Tuberculosis in Moldova’s Vulnerable Populations.’”

On her topic: “I’m from Moldova, so I went there this summer to see my family, but also to work with this NGO that does work in disease intervention with marginalized populations in Moldova. So I kind of piggybacked onto the work I was doing with them, and conducted interviews with these people. In my thesis specifically, I used interviews from prisoners, drug users, and rural villagers, and also people with HIV. I talked to them about how they deal with both their marginalized status within Moldova, which is already a really poor country so that makes it a million times worse, and also how they deal with tuberculosis both on a day-to-day basis and on a long term basis. My thesis is analyzing their coping mechanisms. Going into it, I knew that because I belong to this culture, I know that the people in it are really resilient, and I just wanted to show that they are indeed resilient, even though they are faced with a lot of adversity and physical and psychological challenges.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I used to be a Studio Art major, and in my junior year I knew I was gonna have to do a photo thesis, so I was trying to think of a topic that I’d like to do for a year. I was looking through my old photos that I took for previous photography classes, and I saw a theme of my culture being reflected in that, and they were good photos. Just basically I took photos of people I was comfortable around, whether that was my family or friends or people who have a similar background to me. So I have that aspect to it, but also I previously did other research on tuberculosis in Moldova, and it was really cool and fun and I wanted to learn more about it. I also talked to this Wesleyan alum who is Russian, and she is currently doing research in Eastern European prisons on people with HIV, and I just wanted to talk to her about future career prospects and this topic in particular, because I like Eastern European prisoners. They’re cool. And then she told me she was doing research under this guy at Yale, and he told me he was doing this project in Moldova. And I said I have the Russian speaking skill set and I’m interested in the topic, and so I’d like to help you.”

On her progress: “I feel like I don’t work on it for like a week at a time, and then I have a day where I just only do that, and very aggressively, and somehow it works, and it has been working. I stayed here over winter break specifically to work on it but the same thing kept happening, like, I would just do nothing for a few days and then hardcore work on it for like 24 hours. That’s been good.”

On her current mental state: “I’m honestly okay. I’m like basically done, I’m just waiting to make a few edits. It feels really weird because with seniors a really common topic of discussion is freaking out about theses, and my housemates will come up to me in the kitchen and be like, ‘Oh my god, I have so much to do, I’m screwed. How are you?’ And I’m just like, ‘I’m good!’ And they’re like, ‘What the fuck?!’ I think it’s just a matter of how you structure your time. And also it’s important to know that it will never be perfect, and like people try to make it perfect and stress themselves out about it. But I feel like I’ll be really happy with it and proud of it because it’s mine and it’s my topic of interest and rather than it being perfect, so I’m calm about it.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “One day I microdosed and I was chilling during the day, but then I was inspired to do work, and I wrote the most embellished writing that I’ve ever written in my life, and it was for my thesis. It was analytical, but it was like, flowery and beautiful and it was like a song, and I was so happy with it! But later that night, my housemate and I sat down to watch a movie, and for some reason my computer was glitching. Every time we paused the movie, my screen would also pause, and we had to restart my computer by pressing the power button. And I didn’t save all that I had written and I was just so sad!”

Her favorite form of procrastination: “Sitting with my housemates in our living room and looking through those facebook pages where it’s like ‘Tag yourself’ memes, it’s like 6 different images and short little phrases, and we decide who’s what. And one night we did this for like 4 hours. It was a lot…”

Her plans for April 17: “I have class later that night at 7 pm so some light champagne maybe, and then… maybe I’ll skip the class, but I don’t really want to skip the class… I don’t know, maybe after we’ll have something.”

Her advice for future thesis writers: “Do it on a topic that you genuinely like, because otherwise it will be really hard to write it and get yourself to work on it. I also think the point of a thesis is for you to learn something new. And if it’s on a topic that you’re interested in, then it’ll open a lot of doors for you intellectually, and you’re also offering your own perspective on it, which may be undiscovered or hidden when you start approaching the subject, but then it becomes uncovered and it’s really exciting to see that. Develop a good relationship with your advisor because they share their wisdom with you, and it’s also nice to just talk with them about life and other fun things and it’s fun to get to know them better and meeting with them every week for a year. Like I went to my advisor’s house for Thanksgiving, and it was so nice. I met her family, we had a jolly time.”

Her favorite part of her thesis: “I guess being able to include my own photography as a part of my research. I’ve never seen that done in psych research, like it’s ethnographic research, and that makes sense for those types of studies, but the thing I’m doing is new to me. It’s been fun to unravel it and insert another interest of mine in it and make it work.”

On if her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “[several days later in an email] Finally came up with a song for my thesis (as a form of procrastination lol): Dragostea din tei, aka the numa numa song.”

interviews by fernmeli, and michelle.


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