THESISCRAZY2018 (Part 13): No Two Theses are Identical

Celina hanging out in the gallery

Welcome back to THESISCRAZY2018! This post is a diamond. So unique. Not one of these thesis writers are doing a thesis in the same department. We have a Studio Art thesis by Celina Bernstein ‘18, an Econ thesis by Aqila Putri ‘18, a COL thesis by Jake Orlin ‘18, a Psych thesis by Ananya Subrahmanian ‘18, a Spanish thesis by Martha Mastrianni ‘18, and a Biology and ENVS thesis by Eric Hagen ‘18.

Check out their theses after the jump!

Celina Bernstein ‘18, ARST and THEA major; Thesis in ARST

Working title: “Personal Conviction.”

On her exhibition: “My topic is about my personal experience with sexual abuse through paintings of photographs that were taken of me and my sister. One thing I want to say is that I want this to be looked at as a thesis. My point isn’t to put it up and then have people be sad or tiptoe around it. I didn’t just want to think about [my thesis] in terms of my experience and whatever I’m sharing and letting that out and processing it. I wanted to think about it in terms of making the most effective art I possibly can.”

On how she came up with her topic: “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time but, for a [while], I was not really willing to go there in terms of my work. [My experience] was something that I always thought about in Painting II when making my work, but was never willing to share or talk about it as being a direct inspiration for my work in any way. And since Painting II, I’ve been thinking, ‘How can I make my thesis about this without it being about this, without knowing it’s about this?’ And I gave up on that because I realized that I don’t know if I’m ever going to have a show in a gallery [again]. I realized that this was  probably the best time to do this.”

On her progress: “It was a pretty defined process in that it started with me coming up with this topic. Then, I brought in photos to Tula, laid them all out on the floor and just played around with layout and figured out what would be the most effective and emotionally powerful show. The layout of the images was decided from day one. The one thing that came in later in the process was the audio. That was something that only came in about two or three months ago, when I started realizing that I needed something to take [this experience] out of this past and and bring it into the present and [into] who I am now.”

On her current mental state: “It’s really awesome, actually. Well, it was a very different process than for a lot of people, but I just feel incredible. This whole year has been incredible and that’s not to say there haven’t been really difficult moments for me, but I feel so much better than I did. And getting to share this and seeing people’s responses and seeing how people have been affected has been a truly unique and special experience that I feel really grateful to have. And this week [of my exhibition] has been a total whirlwind. I’ve been really exhausted both physically and emotionally but it’s been incredible.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Procrastination was so necessary for me in this—or maybe this is just how I justified it for myself. I felt like I really needed time to recharge my batteries. So I spent a lot of time watching dumb Netflix shows and being on the Internet. It had to be really passive procrastination, so something with which I could just lie in bed and not think about.”

Plans for after her exhibition: “I’m not really sure exactly what’s going on, but I think some of my housemates are planning something. I kind of know about it, but I’m not really involved, so hopefully that will be fun. I’m definitely planning on joining the Olin champagne situation.”

Advice for future thesis makers: “I’m going to give the same advice that Tula gave me at the end of Painting II that really pushed me. Tula looked at my work and she said ‘Well this is all fine and nice and you’re talking about fear and you’re talking about pretend fear, but what would happen if you made work that actually terrifies you?’ And I think I really took that to heart. And that’s not to say people should make work that terrifies them. But I think it’s about making work that affects them in some way because, if it doesn’t affect you, even if the effect is bringing you tremendous joy, it’s not going to affect others.”

On her favorite part of the thesis process: “Seeing myself change and my work change in parallel because those were two different tracks. I feel so much stronger and I think my work is so much stronger than it ever has been. It’s just been really wonderful to see both my work affecting me and the way I was changing and opening up affecting my work.”

Aqila Putri ‘18, ECON and COMP major; Thesis in ECON

Working title: “It’s something along the lines of ‘Women’s Education, Fertility, Marriage, and Intergenerational Outcome.”

On her topic: “I am trying to add to the literature of how women’s education affects their choices in terms of fertility and marriage, and how that affects the outcomes [for] for their children. [For example], whether the women experience more or less child mortality and whether their children have more education. There’s this idea that has been championed by the World Bank, the UN, and many other international policymakers saying that, if you educate women, you’re not getting just an increase in wage for the women, but you’re also increasing the probability that the children will be born healthy and will grow to be more educated and have a higher quality of life. However, policy is never one-size-fits-all. There was this huge school construction program in Indonesia in the 1970s, and I’m using that to show that, when indeed the education attainment is increasing for women in Indonesia, what happens to their quality of life.”

On how she came up with her topic: “I’ve been interested in public policy and especially poverty alleviation for a long time. I knew that I wanted to do something on Indonesia because I’m from Indonesia and my advisor—one of the two developmental economists at Wesleyan—he was like ‘Why don’t you take a look at this very famous paper by this very famous economist.’

On her progress: “I just finished my revisions this morning. I sent it to my advisor. I hope that he will send a final revision soon. I’m just preparing myself to be hit by the last minute rush of revisions.”

On her current mental state: “I’m calmer than before. If you contacted me last week, I’d be a lot more snappy than I am right now.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “Oh god, I have a lot. First, it took me a while to figure out how to obtain the data because apparently I had to pay for a particular set of data. I had to find the financial means to get that data and I had to figure out the payment [details] because it was an international purchase. And I had to contact them again because they gave me an incomplete dataset; I couldn’t work with it. The other thing that got me really upset what when my computer crashed. My laptop was just not functional; it couldn’t fire STATA. I was like ‘Ahhhh, well, time to break the bank. It’s time to get a new laptop.’”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Melissa Joskow ‘18 said this, but New York Times crosswords. I would go through the mini ones, and I try to beat my record on how fast I can do them. And then I’ll go do all the sudokus, and then go back to writing.”

Plans for April 17th: “Getting flowers for my best friends who are also thesis writers. And I’m going to go to my TA session that I’m conducting in the evening. Then I’m going to New York right after that and fly off the next morning to Puerto Rico.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Think about the topic that you really want to do. For me, I enjoy my topic but, at the same time, as I go through it, I contemplate whether there are some things that would be more interesting to me. You have to ask yourself, ‘Are you ready to stick with this topic for basically the whole year?’”

On her favorite part of her thesis: “The methodology section because I have a lot of equations and they look beautiful.”

If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I think it would be The Good Place because I came in very excited and then, in the middle, I was like ‘Holy shit! What am I getting myself into?’ But I think, towards the end, I started to feel like I’m in a good place, just like how all The Good Place characters are all enjoying themselves within the company of the other characters.”

Most used word/phrase: “‘In this study’ and ‘the combination of the impact of women’s schooling on blah blah blah’ and ‘the effects of increasing women’s education.’”

On her theses feces: “The frequency of me going to the bathroom and pooping has increased a lot. I texted my sister, who is a doctor, and asked if stress affects the frequency with which you poop. And she, happily answered ‘Of course! It’s the irritable bowel syndrome :)’”

Jake Orlin ‘18, COL major, QAC minor, Writing Certificate; Thesis in COL

Working title: “Well that’s a huge problem for me. Pretty much every title I propose gets shut down because it’s too cheesy, so I’m having trouble. If I were to give you one title, I’ll say right now that it’s called ‘The Hunting Ritual.’”

On his topic: “All my stories are pretty different, I would say. One is a set of three different stories that are intersect in Chicago. One is focusing on a college kid whose doing a home invasion. Another one is about this elderly lady who has to take care of this dog. And the third is about this guy who has hallucinatory migraines. [Those three] are one story. Another story is about this middle schooler who has a very up and down year and I would say that is the thing that’s most closely based on my experience. Then I’m also writing a story about this old aunt who’s writing to her great-nephew about giving him advice about how to live life; she tells him her life story. And the last story is about this guy has a very bad weekend in Spain.”

On how he came up with his topic: “Honestly, I didn’t really know what I would research. At this point, I’ve thought of a bunch of topics I would have liked to research. But at the time, I thought I would be really interested in fiction. There was a whole period of this year where I thought that was a terrible idea. But now I’m back where I’m thinking that it actually wasn’t the worst idea. So that’s that’s a good feeling. I really love creative writing and I’ve done a lot of writing in the writing certificate. And I did a lot of TV writing, so I thought that doing short stories would be a lot like writing a TV episode. Turns out, it’s not.”

On his progress: “I wrote one story first semester and I wrote a story over winter break, and I didn’t work on my thesis until March. Then I deleted the story that I wrote over winter break. And then I wrote three stories in the last month and a half.”

On his current mental state: “Well besides the fact that overslept and seem probably a little delirious, I’m surprisingly calm. Part of [the calm] is that I can’t actually produce anything else in the amount of time I have left. I can’t write another story. I just have to make the best of what I have. I’m getting to the point where I’m proud of [my thesis].”

On his most upsetting thesis experience: “I gave my mom one of my short stories and she actually criticized it and I almost started crying for some reason. She had like four comments, but I just expected her to be like ‘You know, this is so great Jake! I love it.’ I got so upset. It fucked me up for like a whole day. If she ever reads this, that’s going to make her really sad. I love you mom. It was great criticism. It’s helped me a lot. It was really more about my fragile ego.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “I love watching literally any basketball game that has no meaning whatsoever.”

Plans for April 17th: “You know I think I’m going to go, maybe have a glass of champagne. I’m going to tuck myself into bed, go to bed at 8:30, when I usually do, and wake up at 6AM when I usually do and start my day. I’m gonna keep it civil. Everything I do will be legal of course. Maybe I’ll play a card game.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Work during the month of February. Don’t do something that you haven’t thought about more than just like ‘Oh I guess I’ll do this.’ That’s the worst idea to run with for your thesis. It’s also okay to not have a lot of stuff going into crunch time because you will do it and it happens, but it’s painful.”

On his favorite part of his thesis: “Not the writing, but the designs I’ve been doing for the books. There’s  a story I definitely like the most which is the one that has three different stories that intersect in Chicago. It’s the most recent one I wrote. But I did some art for the covers. I went and saw this exhibit in Miami at the Perez museum. It was a bunch of typewriter art, and that inspired me to do some artwork.”

If his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “It would definitely be like an anthology TV show. Honestly, I would say it’s like Black Mirror, but without technology. Just because most of my characters get screwed up in some kind of way. But sometimes it’s happy.”

Most used word/phrase: “I do say the f-word four times in a span of two sentences, which I think is pretty good. But the most used word or phrase…for some reason, there’s a dog in more than half of my stories.”

On his theses feces: “I guess it depends. I think I’m lactose intolerant now. That’s what I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks.”

On if he could write his thesis about something else: “I would have done research on the history behind this guy George Streeter who is this guy who, after the Chicago fire, took all of the rubble and built land out into the lake, and started his own country. And now that land is the most valuable property in the whole city. But he had a decade long war with the Chicago police.”

Ananya Subrahmanian ‘18, PSYCH major; Thesis in PSYCH

Working title: “The American Study Abroad Experience: Cultural immersion, comfort, and race-related experiences.”

On her topic: “It’s a thesis on study abroad, and I interviewed 15 students—some of them go to Wesleyan, some don’t. And they all came from a study abroad in the 2016-2017 school year. Through the interviews, I was trying to understand whether American study abroad allows [for] students’ cultural immersion because it’s a weird concept of study abroad in relation to how people other countries come to the U.S. to study abroad. They usually go permanently seeking full degrees [and] entrance into the labor market, whereas Americans study abroad is really just spending a temporary amount of time in a foreign country. I’m also looking at race related experiences because very few people of color study abroad and I’m trying to understand, for those who do, do they end up having a good experience, and does their race affect their ability to engage meaningfully with local residents?”

On how she came up with the topic: “I’m really interested in study abroad because I have lived abroad my whole life so it’s weird [in that] I’m kind of studying abroad right now. But I’ve also been exposed to American backgrounds my whole life, so I do, in part, consider myself American. I also studied abroad during my time here at Wesleyan. So, there was a lot of layers to me studying abroad in the U.S. versus me studying abroad as an American in South America. They were two completely different experiences, so I wanted to analyze the American study abroad experience a bit more.”

On her progress: “I finished! I submitted today and it feels really good.”

On her current mental state: “I went to Metro an hour after I submitted and I snapchatted people asking if they wanted to start celebrating already. I’m just so ready.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “The beginning was the hardest part because my advisor wanted me to write the introduction first and I just could not get it. I had to send her seven drafts for her to finally [say] ‘This is fine, you can move on with your thesis.’ And I just never felt like I could get out of that initial stage. At the beginning, [I was asking myself] ‘Do I have the skills to write a thesis? Can I do this? Does this topic work?’ But once I got past that, it was pretty smooth sailing.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “Rewatching old TV shows that I’ve already watched more than once. I’m watching TV but nothing that I’ll get addicted to and start binging. Although I did binge a little bit just because I aggressively didn’t want to do work sometimes.”

Plans for April 17th: “Start drinking as soon as my obligations for the day are done. I’m hoping before noon. And just really enjoying my day.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Two things. One, the beginning is the hardest part. Not even in my experience with the intro, but in terms of figuring out how you’re going to approach your topic and even coming up with it is honestly the hardest part for me. I think that shouldn’t discourage people. Another piece of advice is to not to let the thesis culture discourage you just because I know people who complain about their thesis when they really don’t need to. A lot of people will write a thesis because they recognize that this is a project that not everyone has to do and everyone talks about it being so hard, and they really want to play that up. And people shouldn’t let that discourage them because it’s really worth it.”

On her favorite part of her thesis: “My results section is a lot of fun because I had a lot of fun doing the interviews. And the results [section] was where I got to give the people I interviewed a voice, give them names, and show what they said. It was really fun to speak to their experience and represent that.”

If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I guess An Idiot Abroad. I haven’t watched that show but the name works, honestly.”

Most used word/phrase: “I say ‘scholars’ and ‘cultural immersion’ a lot. I say ‘hegemony’ a lot.”

On how she’s used her thesis carrel: “I’ve cried in there a lot, often [about things] unrelated to my thesis. I eat in there a lot. I take naps in there, and I think anyone who is lucky enough to get a thesis carrel should because it’s amazing.”

Martha Mastrianni ‘18, SPAN and ENGL major; Thesis in SPAN

Working title: “It was until yesterday, ‘Crossing Streets, Crossing Borders: Geography and the Intellectual in the Short Stories of Julio Cortazar,’ but I checked with my advisor and he was like ‘You should check if people ever use the present participle in titles. And I looked and they don’t. So I sent him a couple new ideas for titles and I’m waiting for his email.”

On her topic: “It’s still difficult to explain; For the entire year, I’ve been saying that it’s very literary analysis-y. I’m looking at how Cortazar defines being an intellectual or an artist and what that has to do with geography and national origin. The first chapter looks at different types of intellectuals and artists and how that’s different when it’s women, how it’s different when it’s children. The second chapter talks all about the role of cities and cosmopolitanism. And the third is all about peritexts and his use of epigraphs and dedications.”

On how she came up with her topic: “It all started my junior year [during] my semester abroad in Spain. I was in a class there about contemporary literature and we started reading Cortazar, who I’d read a little bit of before in Spanish 221 which is the gateway class to the major. And so I was like ‘Ok! I know who this is.’ And we read two stories, La Senorita Cora and one called Graffiti, and I really latched onto those two stories and to something the professor said about how Cortazar believed that a writer had to set fire to the language. In order to create something, you had to destroy the conventions of writing in order to create something new and in order to not uphold existing structures of power. So I thought that was really fascinating. And when I came back I talked to I talked to Professor Robert Conn, my advisor. I was like ‘Hey I’m interested in this would you potentially be able to be with thesis advisor?’ And he was like ‘Hey! Talk to me again in the fall.’ In this major, the application process in the fall.”

On her progress: “I’m basically done. I definitely have my work cut out for me in the next two days, but I am managing and I’m ok. I’m just finishing up my conclusion now. My advisor’s been absolutely amazing helping me out this past week editing everything. There’s so much grammar stuff too because I’m writing it in Spanish which is my second language.”

On her current mental state: “I’m a little tired but overall pretty okay. I’m pretty happy with this. Stressed but not overwhelmed.”

On her most upsetting thesis experience: “It wasn’t a real thesis experience, but I just had this dream that my advisor was really mad at me. It was like somewhere at the beginning of this semester my advisor was like really upset with me, [saying] that I wasn’t making as much progress as I should have. I was so upset in that dream.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “I’m in an English class where we’re watching The Wire, so I’ve been doing that because it feels like I’m still doing work.”

Plans for April 17th: “I will be on the Olin steps, of course, celebrating. Although, I have a class at 5 so I’m going to go there. I can’t skip choir. Attendance is basically the only thing that matters in choir.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “I mean there’s the obvious advice to pick something that you really like. I was amazed that I found a new story like a month ago. Most of the reading I did in the fall. But then I found a couple new ones recently and I was like ‘Oh wow! I still love this author! I still love short fiction. This is amazing.’ Pick something you love but also just think of your thesis as a project of your own academic and personal growth.”

On her favorite part of her thesis: “Definitely the third chapter, which is all about epigraphs and dedications. I don’t want to say that it’s the only one that’s really saying something new and interesting but I think it’s saying something that’s the most interesting. Once I got into the groove, it just wrote itself. The epigraphs of so many of his short stories are so fascinating and come from all these different sources and it’s been so fun learning about all the works that they come from.”

If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I’ve thought about this question it’s going to be a song, but I have two answers. The first answer is probably some sort of bebop jazz thing because Cortazar wrote a story whose English title is the Pursuer that’s all about Charlie Parker and so, sometimes when I need to get into the mood of my thesis, especially when I’m writing about that story, I’ll listen to that. The other answer is the song Al Final de Este Viaje en La Vida, which is a folk song by Silvio Rodriguez. I usually listen to his version because a little bit of my thesis is about viajes and traveling, but also because the song’s about endings and new beginnings, which is kind of where I feel I am right now. Graduation’s pretty soon.”

Most used word/phrase: “This is not a very exciting answer, but maybe just the word ‘cuento’ or story. I say that a lot. I feel like I’m typing it all the time.”

Eric Hagen ‘18, E&ES and BIOL major; Thesis in both

Working title: “Small leaf bias in the Hell Creek and Fort Union formations using secondary vein scaling.”

On his topic: “In paleobotany we use fossil leaves to study paleoclimate. For example, you can look at the area of a leaf or the fossil of a leaf and you can tell from the average areas of leaves what the mean annual precipitation likely was to a certain degree because we found out that water availability and precipitation scale with leaf area. One of the problems is we don’t know how accurate leaf assemblages are because, for example, you could get a lake where leaves are coming in through wind and it’s mostly going to represent local vegetation. Then say you could get a stream that’s going to transport leaves from many different locations; then you don’t know if you’re getting proper representation. And the additional factor is that in both of these places, but especially in a stream because you have turbulent flow, you could get leaves being broken up and there’s been conceptual and evidential arguments that have argued that small complete leaves are more representative than large complete leaves. Most of these assemblages are fragments. You could argue [that most of those fragments] are larger leaves. We don’t know if that’s true. There’s been one study before mine that has found, using this vein scaling technique, that there is. Vein scaling is a new thing where you can look at the secondary veins of a leaf and figure out approximately what the full leaf area is. So one study used it and found a small leaf bias and I used it and I did not find [that bias]. But there’s even more layers to that because the degree of bias I found in my study was greater than what she found in her study but I concluded that there was not a bias. So it’s just a whole fucking mess of information.”

On how he came up with his topic: “I was working in the Singer lab until about midway last year and I decided to quit. I just wasn’t feeling it. And I really liked this geobiology class I took with Dana Royer, and so I just went back to him and I was like ‘Hey can you do a thesis with you?’ He was like ‘Sure.’ And he asked me if I had a topic and I told him no. And he said ‘Okay, how about you do this. I’ve been really wanting to study this for a while.’ I was like ‘Okay, cool. Let’s do it.’”

On his progress: “It’s pretty good. He gave me like 30 edits yesterday and I’m kind of struggling with them because he’s very picky but he’s an excellent writer. So it’s hard to keep up. But I’m in a good place. I wouldn’t want to be in a bad place on Monday.”

On his current mental state: “You know I’m at peace with everything. My thesis is done. If I don’t do these edits it will be not as good as it could be but it’s done. You feel me?”

On his most upsetting thesis experience: “I measured for this project like over a thousand leaves which took me months. And when I went home over winter break I had to do like 300 leaves before I got back in January. I brought home a flash drive with like 300 leaves and I did maybe 40 or 50 and my flash drive just like disappeared from my computer. It said it didn’t exist. So I took it and put it into another computer and it didn’t exist. And so the flash drive corrupted or something. And I took it to a data management place—I would be a simple fix—and they said take it to this professional place and see if he can fix it. I took it to him. He said it would be twelve hundred dollars to get it fixed because of how flash drives are set up somehow and that it would take a month. So I was like fuck that. And I just bit the bullet and did the whole thing again and it sucked and it was pretty stressful.”

Favorite form of procrastination: “My housemate Rebecca Shteyn ’18 showed me this YouTube channel called ‘cut’ that I’ve never heard of before two or three weeks ago when I was at my worst place in terms of progress and mental state. And I would just watch every fucking video they had. And now I’ve run out of all the good ones but it’s still a good form of procrastination.”

Plans for April 17th: “I’m going to drink all the champagne. All of it.”

Advice for future thesis writers: “Don’t be afraid to say no to people in the sense that if you’re working on your thesis and you need time, but someone asks you if you want to go out tonight, you can say no. And I feel like sometimes I’ve been in situations where I needed to do work. But I said yes to other plans because I didn’t want to be that nerd who is just doing thesis all the time. Not that you should just focus on your thesis and do nothing else and not do what you want to do and take care of yourself, but it’s okay to say no to people.”

On his favorite part of his thesis: “I’d say my favorite part is where I argue with a current article that is like a legit scientific article and that makes me feel really smart.”

If his thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “It would be really fucking boring. I don’t think anybody would watch it. But I guess like Planet Earth or something.”

Most used word/phrase: “’Regression’ or ‘log space.’ Those are used so frequently, it’s just mind boggling.”

interviews by wilk

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