THESISCRAZY 2019 (part 4): Residents of 43B Home

an actual photo of the residents of 43b enjoying each other’s company

With this 4th installment of THESISCRAZY 2019, we bring you 3 out of the 4 residents of 43B Home (this is kind of a crazy coincidence)! These terrific women have been working hard and playing harder (but not too hard @those floorboards…) and then working even harder. If you’re interested in reading interviews from previous years, look here!

Thesising is after the jump!

Michelle Fisher ‘19, Major in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, Certificate in Writing, Thesis in English, open carrel on 3rd floor Olin

Working Title: Transmission

On her topic: I’m writing a collection of poetry. As you can tell from the title, it’s vaguely centered around the theme of transmission; I’m writing a lot of poetry about the body, and disease, and genealogy, and geography. Initially, I was researching a lot about AIDS and AIDS history, and although that still shows up in my work, it’s definitely not the central focus anymore.

On how she thought of her topic: I knew that I wanted to do poetry for a creative writing thesis. In between my sophomore and junior year of high school I got to do this program called the Governor’s Honors Program in Georgia (which is a state-funded nerd camp basically). One of the weeks I took a seminar called AIDS in America where we read Angels in America, we watched stuff and read some critical work and it really stuck with me. Since I got to Wes I’ve known I wanted to do something about that for my culminating project. I didn’t really know what exactly what I wanted to do until I was taking poetry workshops where we read some archival poetry collections, which use primary documents from the archive. Then this summer I got to spend time in New York looking at and using archival documents from ACT UP and other sources, and I’ve been writing the poetry ever since!

On her progress: So I actually think I’ve made really good progress, which I was not expecting! I did get to do all of my research over the summer, which was a huge help. I didn’t write at all during that time; I just let myself read and explore. Then September hit and I started writing! I decided I wanted to be done with the bulk of the writing by the end of winter break because I wanted the opportunity to spend a big chunk of time revising, which is not something I’ve been able to do in my poetry classes. Over winter break I visited some friends in Montana and doubled my page count while I was there, which was why I was able to hit that goal. Since then I’ve really just been revising. Putting the poems in order has been harder than expected, and doing the little tweaks have been the most stressful parts of this whole thing.

On her current mental state: I’m actually pretty good right now! Yesterday was not so good because I had a thesis meeting where all my advisor and I talked about was this one poem that wasn’t working. I’ve felt pretty done since right after spring break, so I’ve had three weeks to just chill and let the poems breathe, which has been nice. Way back in January I scheduled myself to go to a conference on Friday, which is tomorrow, and I knew it wouldn’t be fun if I were still working on my thesis, so I’m glad I’m done.

On her most upsetting thesis experience: Mine actually happened before I started the process of writing. In the English department, you aren’t guaranteed to be able to write a thesis, because there’s such a shortage of professors that can advise. There was only one poetry professor that was available for advising as of last spring, and I had asked her, but she had already taken on advisees. I had a whole project laid out and I had all my research funding, but I didn’t have an advisor. I was really freaking out. I joke that the two things that sold me on Wesleyan were senior houses and doing a thesis, and I had gotten my senior house, so now all I had to do was write my thesis. I wrote a panicked email to the English Department, and they said they were hiring a new poetry professor over the summer (John Murillo) and he would be willing to advise my thesis. I internet stalked him and read some of his poems and was like, “this is cool, I can do this” but I didn’t actually meet him until our first advising meeting. I went in blind but luckily it turned out amazing. He’s been a great mentor.

On her favorite form of procrastination: Kind of everything? I’m partially enrolled this semester, which is really lovely because I don’t have to take any classes, but it also means I have no structure to my day unless I give myself structure. I work two jobs on campus, so I’ve just been kind of picking up a ton of hours at work, which is good for the paycheck but bad for my thesis progress. The other big thing I’ve done is dye my hair! Over spring break, I came back to campus for the second week to do work, and all of my housemates were gone. I’d bought a box-dye kit a while back and had it sitting on my bookshelf all year. One afternoon, I woke up and was like, ‘I need a break from these poems or bad things will happen!’ So I dyed my hair blonde, and it’s honestly been the best decision. When everyone came back from break, I got so many compliments on it, and you know what they say: blondes have more fun!

On her plans for April 16: I have my Andre in the fridge, I’m ready for that. I’ll be on the Olin steps. Then honestly I’m just really excited to go sit on Foss and read all the books I checked out of the library, ostensibly for my thesis, but didn’t actually read. And reapply sunscreen because last time I sat on Foss I got sunburned.

Her advice for future thesis writers: Specifically for creative thesis writers, something that people don’t realize is that you can’t really teach someone how to do creative writing at a certain point, so you’re going to have to rely a lot on your instincts. Really read other people’s work and get a feel for the subject you’re working on. Something my advisor says that I really believe in is ‘you owe yourself nothing, you owe your audience nothing, you owe the poem everything.’ I think that’s really great advice for life, but also great for creative thesis writing because the work is what matters. Also, don’t make your entire life your thesis. Enjoy your senior year!

On her favorite part of her thesis: I said I went to Montana and wrote for a while, which I think was a really great experience for me, because during the days I would sit and write for seven hours and then at night I would hang out with my friends and have a good time. I was really great to have nothing else going on but writing. That’s the closest thing to a retreat I’ve ever been on, and I think a lot of my best writing happened at that time. Also Professor Murillo went to AWP a couple weeks back, and I was telling him before I went that like ‘Dawn Lundy Martin (a poet) has been such a big influence on my writing and I really love her work.’ And when he comes back from AWP he tells me ‘So Dawn Lundy Martin says hi,’ which was the coolest thing ever for me.

If her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: I’m gonna expand this to a play, because I have to say Angels in America. It was what sparked my interest in this and it’s been with me through a lot and I have a poem based on a scene from it. Even though what I’m writing about is like 90% not about that it still feels like the spirit is the same.
Her most used word/phrase: “Oh so I actually did a word cloud today to check and –it’s funny because I try not to reuse notable works in my poetry — but I say ‘body’ and ‘bodies’ a ton.’

Anything else? “Two of my housemates (also in this post) are also writing theses, which is fun! I love all my housemates (Jaime Marvin ’19, Alexa Strauss ’19, and Emma Leuchten ’19) dearly, and it’s been so nice to have their support, encouragement, and cozy nights of procrastinating and watching Say Yes to the Dress in our living room! Plus Emma makes us lots of vegan baked goods! 

Jaime Marvin ‘19, English and Italian

Working Title: “Somewhere Between Earth and Heaven”.

On her topic: My thesis is a novella-length piece of historical fiction about this Southern Italian hysteria called Tarantismoor Tarantism in English. It was present in this region of Southern Italy called Salento. The earliest recorded cases were the in early Middle Ages and the last recorded cases were in the 1970’s. It’s caused by the bite of a spider, the taranta.It manifests in pretty standard hysteria symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations, fainting spells, vomiting, fever. There’s not a medical cure. Later on in history, sometimes women – because it was usually women- would get sent to psychiatric facilities. But for most of history, you would call a band of musicians, and they would play this style of music called the pizzica, or the tarantella is what you also call it. The person in question who has the hysteria would basically dance for days on end, usually without sleeping or eating, only stopping because the musicians needed rest. Sometimes she can go for days until she’s cured, but eventually she does come out of it. But not always. Sometimes it doesn’t work and she dies. I say “she” because it was usually young, unmarried, peasant women, but sometimes it was younger girls, older people, or sometimes it was men. As history went on it increasingly became more female and more lower class in terms of who was afflicted. My thesis is specifically about a fictional tarantata, which is a person who has tarantismo, living in 1794 who is about to get married. There are a variety of familial, societal, and psychic pressures on her. In the course of that she is bitten by a spider and falls into tarantismo.A lot of my writing in this was based on my own personal experiences with having an anxiety disorder which I’ve had since I was 7. I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which society enables us to indulge in the messier parts of our psyche. I live in a time where we have psychology and psychiatry and there is a word for this. I’ve been thinking about how we culturally contextualize disease. We tend to think of disease as very concrete and scientific. Mid-20thcentury psychologists who are trying to diagnose these women with schizophrenia were doing a very similar thing. If I, for example, with my same brain chemistry, had been born in Puglia in 1509, its quite likely that this would have manifested instead of in generalized anxiety disorder, in tarantismobecause that’s what my society created as an outlet.

On how she came up with her topic:  I was studying abroad my junior fall. The month before the semester started I did a language immersion program in Lecce, which is in Salento, which is the region where this happens. One of the week units we did in talking about the culture of Salento was about tarantismo. I was like, “this is the coolest thing ever, why haven’t I heard about this before? I want to write 20 books about this”. Thesis time came around, and still really wanted to write about it.

On her progress/process: My progress is pretty good. I’m basically done right now. I’ve been reading it out loud to myself to find clumsy sentences and changing typos. I have to write my acknowledgements still, but I feel very good about where I’m at right now. That was no true a week ago. I’ve been doing a lot of procrastinating. I won’t work on it for weeks and then I’ll panic, and then I won’t leave my carrel for 4 days. I think I work well that way. When I do write, I’m really good at writing a lot en masse.

On her most upsetting thesis experience: The end of it has been the trickiest part. I realized a couple weeks ago that I didn’t have my thesis in the proper margin formatting, because thesis have really wide particular margins having to do with how it needs to be bound. I put it into the proper formatting and then it went 10 pages over what the English department allows. Then I sat on my kitchen floor and cried. I did a lot of fenagling and tried to get some sentences a couple of words shorter, and I eventually realized that I just had to cut my last 10 pages. In retrospect that worked out really well. Basically, the ritual was pretty standard, from the 1400’s to the 1700’s. IN the late 1700’s the Catholic church got involved, and was like “Hey, this is kind of fucked up that you have all these women that are sexually dancing and saying they got bit by spiders. Maybe we should do something about this”. The church established a tiny chapel in the city of Galatina that was dedicated to Saint Paul, who is the patron saint of poisonous bites. St. Paul apparently had established a well there and blessed it and said whoever drinks from this well could be cured from poisonous bites. So there also started to be an added point at the end of the ritual where on June 29th, tarantewould re-do their dance, drink from the well, and vomit out the poison, sometimes into the well, which was not very hygienic. I went on a very big tangent, but the last 10 pages were basically that trip to the well. I couldn’t include that and I was really panicked about it. It just didn’t fit, so I cut it. I’ll try to fit it in later since I’m probably going to try to turn this into a novel at some point. I cut those pages and it was just a sigh of relief, because the story itself ended up being tighter and neater. It was a lot of nail-biting that I had to release this part that I had done so much research about.

On her fav form of procrastination: The New York Times crossword puzzle. When I was in my deepest thesis panic in mid-winter, I had a 64-day streak. I had to cut myself off.

On her plans for April 16th: I’m going to drink a lot of champagne and lay on Foss until I’m covered in sunburn.

Advice for future thesis writers: I think I went into my thesis thinking that this has to be the greatest work of literature that I’ve ever produced. I did make sure it was as good as it could be, but at the end of the day it’s only an undergraduate thesis. It can be the best it can be in that form but I found a lot of liberation in knowing that I want to expand the story after graduation. I have a lot more things I want to tease out, because I’m not done with these characters or this world.

On her favorite part of her thesis: I really love my main character, like I love her so much. I was not forced to marry a man that I barely knew at 17, but emotionally, I’ve put a lot of my experiences of feeling overwhelmed and helpless in terms of my mental illness and experiences growing up with an anxiety disorder. I’ve put a lot of that into her, and I think through creating her and turning her into a flesh and blood person, I think I had to grapple a lot with how I contextualize my anxiety disorder. I think it’s brought me a good sense of tenderness to myself and to her. It’s been a healing and anxiety producing experience to craft her and get to know her and then see that reflect back on me and what I’ve come through. Where she has been is me at my lowest moments. It’s freeing to look back at that and say I’m not there anymore. I don’t know, I just want to give her a hug. If I could resurrect her from 1774 and the fact that she doesn’t actually exist, I would just give her a very big hug.

Her most used word/phrase: I think I have about 200 em-dashes, so that’s something. Also, “heavy”. Everything in my thesis is “heavy”. Eyes are heavy, her body is heavy, her breath is heavy because it’s June and it’s hot.

If her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: Spider-man. I heard that they’re doing Into the Spiderverse with all female spider people, and I would love if they just added in a tarantata to that bunch.

Anything else?: 2 things. One, I wish people would make more Spider-man jokes about my thesis. The other is: if anyone, for any purpose whatsoever would need to know that my Wesleyan email is, for any reason they would need that, that would be what it is. Have you gotten a lot of Wescam jokes from that question?


Alexa Strauss ‘19, MB&B and Chem Major, Certificate in Molecular Biophysics, Thesis in MB&B, Olin Carrel #424

Working Title: Investigation of relati- Can I pull it up on my computer? Investigation of the Relative Activity of Monomer and Dimer SecYEG Channels

On her topic: So my thesis, and my lab as a whole, works on the bacterial secretory system. That’s the process where proteins that are made in the cytoplasm need to pass through the plasma membrane to go outside of the cell or into the membrane itself. There’s a channel that they have to pass through, and there’s some questions in the field about whether one channel is sufficient or if the proteins need to dimerize, or come together, for the secretion to occur.

[Whose lab do you work in?]: Professor Oliver’s

On how she came up with her topic: So this is actually my third project in this lab; I started sitting in lab meetings the end of my freshman year, and then I started in the lab my sophomore year. With science theses, it’s more that you’re given a project, but it fits perfectly because I had already started working on the microscope we needed for this project and this is sort of a follow-up to a study that a former grad student had done. I know it doesn’t sound that exciting, but there’s kind of a big controversy in the field about this monomer vs. dimer thing! There was a big lab at Harvard that recently said that they had conclusive proof that it was a monomer, but a former grad student in my lab had research saying it wasn’t so conclusive, so that was sort of the genesis of this project. To see if we could go at it a different way to answer this question.

On her progress: Good! I’m really honestly just proofreading for spelling and figures and stuff. My PI wanted a full rough draft by the first week of spring break, so since then, I’ve just been proofreading. I actually just got back from Florida yesterday where I was at a scientific conference talking about this research, so that was a nice way to cap it off.

On her current mental state: Pretty good. A little stressed? Looking forward to it being off my plate definitely. It was worse maybe three weeks ago. That was the height of the stress I would say.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: I’d say the most upsetting thing was not with this project, but with the project I was working on right before,  it was one of those things where everything was failing. Nothing was working like it was supposed to and we didn’t know why. We were very very stuck. As far as science goes, the science for this project has been alright. It was the science that came before it that was really upsetting.
On her favorite form of procrastination? Walking down all the flights of stairs from the fourth floor of Olin where my carrel is all the way to the basement to fill my water bottle from the good water-bottle-filler. And also snacks!

Favorite snacks? I like to mix it up. I like the sundried tomato Wheat Thin knockoffs from Weshop. I like any sort of chocolatey pretzels or pretzels in general. Peanut butter pretzels are very good.
Her plans for April 16: I don’t know. I think just celebrating with my friends, relaxing a little bit. We have a ton of co-op apples we really need to bake something with, so that might be a fun little house event.
On her advice for future thesis writers: I would say certainly for science thesis writing, look at the prior literature and work on your lit review early. Not so much for your thesis, but it makes doing the research more fun. I didn’t really realize how my project fit into the current literature, and after going through it in depth it made doing the project more fun. Start reading your papers early, even if they’re boring.
Favorite part her thesis: Okay I have two favorite parts. Part of my project is on the TIRF microscope, that’s Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence microscope, and we weren’t really sure how our system would work on this microscope. Last summer I was here the whole time working on that part of the project, and not only did it work, but we had really really small error bars, so that’s really exciting. I love my graphs that have the tiny error bars. The other thing is that I made a figure for my intro using ChemDraw, and I had only recently learned that you can do biological membranes and proteins on ChemDraw, so I really like that figure.
If her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: Okay, I’ve been thinking about this because I’m not very good with the pop culture, but I think it would be Love Song by Sara Bareilles. Because, first, we’re talking about things coming together or maybe not coming together with our monomers and dimers, and I think that sort of fits content-wise. But also, I so wanted to write a conclusion for this, but my data is not conclusive, which is very sad. It’s not terrible, because it means there’s more questions and that keeps everyone employed, but I did just have to address all the other questions and possible paths this research can take instead of writing a conclusion.
Most used word/phrase: ‘SecYEG,’ of course. ‘Singly and doubly reconstituted,’ and I guess ‘dimer.’

Theses feces: *shrugs* Yeah, fine.


Interviews by gabs and maury


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