caroline working on her thesis in one of her many carrels
Welcome to the 7th installment of thesiscrazy!!!! This post includes interviews with Will Barr ’18, MA ’19, who is doing an MB&B masters thesis, we have Caroline Kravitz ’19, doing a local history thesis, Tomás Rogel ’19, doing a sociology thesis, and Lindsay Zelson ’19, doing a history thesis! Read past the jump to learn more about these wonderful, amazing, accomplished human beings :)
For past installments of thesiscrazy, click here.
Will Barr ’18, MA ’19, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, I’m a BA/MA in MBA in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. As an undergrad, he was a College of Integrative Sciences, MB&B, and SISP triple major.
I don’t have one but I think that if I were to make one up on the spot it would have to be, “Investigating the functional significance of m-RNA/RNA base pairing to the 530 loop of the small subunit ribosomal RNA.”
What is your topic?
So my topic arises out of two past masters theses in my lab. Basically, my lab studies protein translation and the mechanism for protein translation. We use budding yeast as a model organism to study how the ribosome, which is a macro molecular machine composed of over 80 proteins, functions to produce protein in all cells on earth. The ribosome is really conserved, and we’re specifically focused on this universally conserved, meaning the sequence is the same and all forms of life, region of the ribosomal RNA that is broadly complementary to overrepresented sequences in messenger RNA molecules. So messenger RNA molecules are transcribed from genes in the genome, and are read out by the ribosome and translated from RNA sequence into protein sequence. And this complementarity means that there’s likely an interaction between the messenger RNA and the ribosomal RNA during translation. So we’re studying it because it’s really universally conserved and it might be functionally relevant in dictating how efficient the ribosome is at doing its job. And I basically have made a lot of mutations, and done a lot of computational analysis of genome wide translation assays to study this hypothetical mechanism for interaction.
How did you think of your topic?
So I joined the Weir Lab the spring semester of my sophomore year at Wesleyan, and the lab had just come across papers from the 1990s which published this overrepresented sequence in messenger RNA. But this was before any knowledge about ribosome structure on the atomic level, and/or before the yeast genome was published. And this paper noted that there was this complementarity between messenger RNA sequences and the ribosomal RNA. They just didn’t have the toolkit to actually say this could potentially occur, the technology and the atomic resolution just didn’t exist, and so it was kind of lost to the wayside. So a past master student in the lab had discovered this paper, and my lab had also found similar sequence patterns in genome wide computational analysis. So upon rediscovery the lab just started focusing all of its efforts on trying to validate this interaction model, this base pairing m-RNA/RNA base pairing interaction model. And I just sort of I basically just started coming and making mutants. We’re really collaborative lab and we kind of all generate ideas and throw old ideas away if they’re bad. And so it’s just been a process of sort of optimizing what particular direction it makes no sense to address.
What has it been like writing your thesis within the collaborative environment of your lab?
My advisors are really invested in having personal relationships with everybody in the lab. He has his door always open and we kind of share results on a daily basis. So I have like very direct access to my advisor which is more the case for students in the sciences, but less the case for thesis writers in general. So that’s been really awesome. And also on the experimental side of things, molecular biology experiments can take multiple days and/or multiple hours, and so having other hands in the lab you know washing dishes, and you know just being able to say, “Hey I have to leave to go to a meeting real quick, can you just you know take my samples out of the centrifuge and put them in the freezer” is really great. So Jack Kwon ’20 has been really helpful, and past members of the lab have been great as well.
What has your progress been like?
I have done a lot of experiments this year, and I probably had enough to start writing my thesis in the fall, and I did write a little bit in the fall, but then I had a period from about November to February where I didn’t write anything which was really silly and I really wanted to add a lot more data to my thesis but that didn’t end up happening. I still have a lot of data right now, my results section is pretty polished, I just need to do some more editing. I’m finishing up my introduction and I need to start my discussion, which is daunting and scary. As a masters student, you can schedule your defense to happen anytime before May 9th, but I’ve scheduled myself to where I’m turning in my thesis around the same time as the seniors, and so I have a week to write my discussion and basically my whole thesis in two weeks.
Current mental state?
I have gotten better at procrastination as the deadline approaches which seems extremely contradictory. I procrastinate more as I get closer to the deadline. My current mental state is unjustifiably giddy and delusional, but frankly I was not doing ok two weeks ago, but now I’m doing ok. But I think that the reason why I’m doing okay is more of a function of like this sort of inexplicable delusion, like an inexplicable active self-delusion.I think that there’s a little bit of self-delusion because I’m pretty happy right now. And the world after my thesis is due is sort of like fantasy land, so like that happiness is like hard for me to even wrap my head around right now. Whereas like my giddiness right now is like if you’ve ever pulled an all nighter, or just been really exhausted. Like I’ve moved past being resigned to my fate, and more I’m just like in a purgatory that’s like kind of like a party. That’s my current mental state.
Most upsetting or remarkable thesis experience?
My most upsetting thesis experience was probably a week ago or two ago, when I began my introduction and I really wanted to go into a lot of the historical literature that often gets brushed aside or consolidated into a lot of field jargon, and I realized that I wrote 10 pages on papers from the 1950s, which means I was on track to write like a 70 page introduction, and I just had wasted all of that time really. So realizing that I wasted all that time.
Favorite form of procrastination?
Well earlier this semester it was tapping back into a lot of campus discourse that I felt disconnected from as a masters student, and also imagining the Wesleying articles that I would write if I was still involved. Specifically, just to name drop a few big issues on campus, the floors caving in.
The floor is caving in really reminded me of the beginning of my junior year, when I wrote about the anti-jumping campaign out of the Office of Residential Life. A lot of people say that the sort of so-called war on fun rhetoric circulated by student body is basically just a function of each class aging out of Wesleyan, and saying like “Wesleyan isn’t the same as it was when I was a freshman being sloppy as hell.” And while I think there is some merit to that, I really really think that the same people have been in charge of Residential Life, South College, and most people in North College for the better part of twelve years. And so the fact that the seniors tend to recirculate all the same rhetoric just means that they’re here just along just long enough to learn the secrets and then they leave and nobody takes it seriously. But really the fact that we’re all saying the same thing is really just a function of the administration having been a relative constant at Wesleyan.
So what I’m saying is, is that there is a war on fun. But I don’t care about it.
Plans for April 17th?
I’m definitely doing the steps. I have a lot of, like, adult plans which relate to just making sure that my lab continues running after I leave. But yeah, like I said it’s a fantasy land to me right now. And so it’s really hard to think specifically practically about what I’ll do. I don’t think I like will try to re-live a lot of my senior spring because that’s its own animal. If anything I’ll probably go visit a lot of my friends who aren’t on campus but also spend as much time on Foss as I can, and really support my friends who are seniors who are having what I think is probably a more momentous kind of closing experience than I’m having right now.
You’re also gonna join me as I do more dumb things this spring right?
Any advice for future thesis writers?
Read thesiscrazy! There is a diversity of experiences which I think is the first thing that people need to realize, that no one’s process is the same.
If you tend to do a lot of things, realize that your thesis will be better, not just easier to do and accomplish, but your thesis will be better if you sacrifice things that you’ve traditionally done at your time at Wesleyan in favor of your thesis. It’s difficult to do that but I think that the reality is is like most people, including me, like develop a very strong personal attachment to your thesis, and like it stinks on some level that your thesis can be so connected to your self-worth. But what’s really nice is that if you do sacrifice for your thesis it’s almost like you’re sacrificing for you. To rephrase it another way, like go down the rabbit hole. Don’t be afraid to. Because it’s your thing, it’s like what you make of it. And unless you really go hard on it, like what’s the point of doing it.
What’s your favorite part of your thesis?
My favorite part will 100 percent be my acknowledgments, because I think I think I’m gonna throw a lot of anecdotes in them. I’m getting a lot of pushback for being too kind of creative with my writing because you know it’s science, you have to be very direct and clear to the point. So I think my knowledge means I’ll have a lot more freedom to just kind of write in the tongue-in-cheek, irreverent style that I kind of perfected while writing for Wesleying, but also really express like my joy and love for the project and the people who helped me through.
But to talk about my thesis itself and the content of it, what I really really like about my thesis is that from the very beginning of entering this project, all my results have more or less turned out to be the exact opposite of what our hypotheses were. Which doesn’t mean that they’re negative results, to me a negative result is it doesn’t tell us anything. But I think that throughout this year it’s like I’ve gotten consistent results that are statistically significant. They were just the opposite of what we expected. Which means that our interpretations were wrong and too simple. And I think that that’s what keeps science going. A lot of ways and I think that that’s what a lot of scientist romanticize and I think that I was very lucky to have that kind of experience early on. In some ways it’s nice if everything works out as planned, but I think that yeah I’m really happy to have had that experience.
If your thesis were a song or a movie?
I actually really thought about this, so the Stanford Ribosome Dance, I don’t even know if that’s what it’s called, but basically it’s this video on YouTube from the 70s of like hundreds of Stanford students just like pretending to be an MRNA at A and a ribosome, and it’s pretty accurate in terms of the actual molecular events.
But yeah if it was a song, and this is just by virtue of its name, I came across this really weird song by a band called Love Fossil, called Memes and Ribsomes. So this guy has a really throaty voice that sounds kind of like a magnetic fields parody and is like that classic drawl that I think Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born is trying to draw on. Where like, you’re a guy, and you can’t actually hit notes correctly, but if you give a very sort of velvety inflection to your voice, you can pass as being able to sing. But I think just by virtue of it being called Memes and Ribosomes it counts as like representing my thesis.
Any questions you wish that I had asked?
I wish you’d asked me, “What do your friends think your thesis is about?”
I think my friends think that I make potions all day. These are mainly my non-science friends (and family). The only thing that they can seem to remember is that I work with yeast.
Most used word or phrase?
Related to the science itself I think it has to be ribosome. Mechanism is used a lot, complementarity is a big thing. And everywhere like such as.
Thank you to everybody who helped make thesiscrazy happen this year :) <3
Caroline Kravitz ’19, she/her/hers, History
Reforming Expectations: the Institutionalization of Deviancy in 19th Century Middletown
What’s your topic?
So broadly I’m writing about the rise of public institutions in Middletown, but more specifically I’m writing about Long Lane School for Girls in Connecticut and Connecticut Valley Hospital, which both opened at the end of the 1860s within sight of each other. And I’m writing about their relationship and then, on a more theoretical level, the idea of idea of there being multiple institutions and what that means to have them in such close proximity to each other. And I’m also focusing on the fact that Connecticut opened, as they were called, insane asylums much later than most other states in the northeast, and just kind of around the country. Both institutions also survived the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s, which is another question that I’m asking, is both these institutions were being considered more controversial and getting a lot of critical reception very early on, like as early as the end of the 19th century. But they dug through the dancers shoes analyzation movement of the 1970s and one of them still open today and obviously the school closed really late, and so I’m wondering why that ended up being the case. And, oh my goodness, I went on a tour I went on a tour of both institutions for my research, and it’s like obviously a regular sort of office building, but you go upstairs and like all the classrooms are still there, like all the windows are broken, and like the desks are still there and the bathrooms are still broken. Everything’s kind of falling part, but like the boards still have all the writing on them from when they closed early 2000s and it’s crazy.
How did you come up with your topic?
So I think the reason I really came up with this topic in the first place was in the history major you take a seminar called Intro to Historiography junior year, and you have to write up a mock proposal, so I came up with this topic during that class, and I thought I was just gonna leave it at that class. I was planning on definitely not writing a thesis actually. And then I just got really attached to my topic. I basically went to Special Collections, which is the best place at this University, it’s incredible. And I met with the former head archivist there, Leith Johnson, to talk about what I want to write about. At first I wanted to talk about women’s confinement throughout history in Connecticut as it related to mental health. And he was like that’s a really broad topic in every way [laughs]. And he was like, “have you looked at Long Lane School.”
And then I started to do some preliminary primary source research on Long Lane, and the first document it came across was this speech from the opening ceremony. Where the professor who was speaking at the ceremony basically said something along the lines of like, “within sight of this spot, We can see the hospital for the insane, Middletown’s finest institution”, they called it an astrological turret. And I was like, “Huh, that’s bizarre.” I wondered what the relationship was between them, because clearly he was placing them in conversation. And then, when I was doing preliminary secondary source research, I realized nobody had written about them together, which I thought was crazy, considering that they exist in such close proximity, like physically and also just in terms of the times they were erected. And yeah, then I just got very attached my topic, because there’s so much you can talk about with like who was locked up, and why they were locked up, and that sort of thing. And then I ended up writing my thesis.
What has your progress been like?
I’m in a fine place right now. I think it’s just hard to write so much. And yeah, right now I wish I was just revising, but I’m also still writing sections, and that’s hard because I feel all written out. I’m writing my conclusion but I’m revising my other chapters. Which is also hard because you write a chapter and then turn it in, and then by the time you get it back your thesis has taken on totally new form. Like my argument is changing, and I look at what I had turned in before and I’m like, “how could I have ever thought anyone should read this, it’s horrendous” [laughs]. So yeah that’s been hard, just because it’s changed form so many times. So I am constantly rewriting, like revising for me is just rewriting a lot.
And yeah, I also, you know, started a new TV show. And started embroidering at the wrong time, So now I just wanna spend all my time doing that, which has slowed down my progress. I’m watching Jane the Virgin, but I started watching it like right in the time where I suppose be like really writing. And I’ve really struggled with making myself write versus watch, which I wanna watch so badly [laughs]. And then I started embroidering, which has been amazing in terms of keeping me stress free and relaxed during all this ,but also is a big time suck so like if I sit down to finish something, it’ll be like five hours that I should have been writing and instead I’ve been embroidering a bird [laughs a lot]. So that timing wasn’t great in terms of my progress advancing but whatcha gonna do.
Current mental state?
I until this point I have not found the thesis process particularly stressful, and I don’t know if that’s because I like get picked up embroidery and that keeps me really not stressed and I like take a lot of breaks in that way. But yeah, I just feel like the people I live with are really good at relaxing, so I like being in a house where not everyone’s writing a thesis and not everyone’s bugging out all the time has been really helpful and like made me take breaks. I live with Libby Salzman-Fiske ’19, Dan Thaler ’19, and Marcus Kenner ’19. But yeah, now that the deadline is approaching, and I’m someone who gets insanely stressed about citations to be specific, I’m finding like formatting really stressful, and then I don’t have an option of like having more time to revise things, like now I just have to do it. So I definitely feel it getting more stressful right now. But in general, I don’t think the process has been as stressful as I anticipated, which is good and surprising. I think setting the expectation that it’s not gonna be spectacular, and it’s not going to be an incredible piece of writing, and it’s not going to change the world (obviously) has been really helpful.
Any upsetting or remarkable thesis experiences?
I know a lot of people who have had upsetting experiences and have had a hard time with advisors in a lot of ways, or like a lot more people have dropped their theses than I was expecting. I feel really lucky because I really liked my advisor. So I can’t really think of any upsetting ones. But remarkable ones I’ve had, because I’m doing a local history thesis, I’ve just been going to all the local archives, like the Olin Special Collections a lot, and the Historical Society on Main Street, and the Connecticut State Library, and that’s just been so cool to be able to work with primary sources because when you’re working with primary sources, like everything’s remarkable. You’re just like coming across all these cool documents and photographs and piecing them together. And that whole thing has been cool experience. The only upsetting that I can think of is my computer’s like on the verge of breaking and randomly quits all the time. And I haven’t saved all the time and I’ve lost like pages at a time. But it’s been fine. Yeah and most things I talk about in a first draft or even make absolutely no sense and I delete anyways and so I’m like, guess I’m ahead now! [laughs a ton]
Favorite form of procrastination?
Well definitely my embroidery, definitely television, but my new form of procrastination, I realized, is I ask people questions that I already know the answers to about how their days are going. This isn’t gonna make any sense. Like for example I’ll say Libby my housemate, I’ll be like, “Oh so what are you doing like after your class today?” And we will have already discussed it, like she’ll have sent me her agenda for the day, I’ll know the answer, and she’s like, “Caroline, we just talked about this,” and this is just a bizarre form of procrastination that has arisen where I ask people things I know about their days already. It’s completely bizarre and I don’t know where it came from. Oh, also watching old clips of Ellen. It’s been very informative.
Plans for after April 17th?
I actually just made a plan for the morning after to go get lobster rolls with my friend Paul, which is very exciting. I’m planning on spending a lot of time outside, lots more time embroidering, also outside. Just spending a lot of time with friends, I don’t know I feel like I’ve been like not fun to be around these past two weeks because I’ve just like always randomly word vomiting about my argument, or being like, “does this sound like it makes sense?!” So spending a lot more quality time with friends. And I guess I start looking for a job.
So here’s my thing. I, at this stage my life, have never gone through a rebellious phase, or like a crazy wild phase. So ideally, after I hand in my thesis, that’s when my rebellious phase can start. But because I’ve never gone through a rebellious phase, I don’t know what that looks like, so I have no plans of how I’m going to accomplish that.
Ok, so (1) you’re gonna start by getting drunk at odd hours of the day.
Ok excellent, that’s a good start, that’s good.
And then from there, everything else will just happen.[Laughter ensues]
I think yes, once that first move is set in motion, then my rebellious phase can commence, and then who knows where it’s going. Other thesis writers who will also be free can help me cultivate my rebellious phase. And hopefully they’re a little more creative in terms of wild times than I am.
I’ve never been the lead shenanigan-er, but this is my time.
Any advice for future thesis writers?
A technical one is setting deadlines earlier than they actually are has been helpful for me. I think like I’ve had an advisor who’s really flexible with me in terms of like when I turn things in, which works for someone like me because I can set deadlines ahead of time, but I think just making sure that you have some sort of schedule you’re following is helpful way early on.
I also think, like, just not making it your life. I said this earlier, like it doesn’t have to be spectacular, a thesis is just a really cool opportunity to do research with someone and work really closely with a professor and talk about something that’s really interesting to you and then you’re passion about. It doesn’t have to be a spectacular piece of writing. Make sure you’re taking time to do other things. Like I joke about spending time at my house and embroidering all these things as being methods of procrastination, but it’s also actually been really helpful in terms of my mental state. You can’t work on one thing all the time, so that’s been good in terms of breaking it up. Making sure that you have sort of your outlets and relaxing things that you’re doing to balance it all out is important.
Favorite part of your thesis?
My favorite part of my thesis/the process of writing my thesis was getting to like doing a local history thesis itself. I was really lucky to do one, because I actually got to go to the places I was writing about and tour them and that was so cool. Just seeing what you’re writing about, and this I guess is specific to history thesis, if you’re right about something more contemporary I guess it’s not as like exciting to get to see the thing you’re writing about. But that’s been so exciting to me. I also just love Middletown, and think that there’s so much history to be explored here, so getting to be a part of that has been really exciting.
But I think in general like what’s fun about writing a thesis, and I don’t think it’s something for everyone just because like you do have to be excited by your topic and be wanting to do a long term project. You’re working on this for a year, and that’s a long time, which I don’t think is necessarily the way everyone likes to learn. But I think one of the cooler things about writing your thesis is just like, getting to talk to so many different people about your topic, and it just opens you up to conversations you wouldn’t be having otherwise. And everyone’s topics I think extend to so many different places, and everyone’s talking about so many different things, but they all overlap in a lot of ways. So that’s been cool to be part of like a community of people who are also writing them and just hear about like other things that people find interesting that are really cool. Yeah and sort of to dork out with everyone has been really fun and that’s a fun part of the process also.
Most used word or phrase?
The word institution of course. I have used the phrase “as such” or “such as” an obscene amount of times. I think in both configurations together, I’ve used it 300 times. And I use the word reality all the time, and sometimes my adviser will write in the comments, “do you mean fact?”, this doesn’t really make any sense [laughs]. And if you did a word find on my thesis, the word “write about this later” is sprinkled an absurd amount as well. That’s a little more concerning than the such as.
If your thesis were a song/movie/tv show?
Oh my God. Wait this is funny because I went on my friend Ali’s radio show [editor’s note: Ali Gomberoff ’19‘s show on WESU 88.1 is called “Airtime] where she basically takes topics and parts of history that aren’t talked about and puts music to them and uses it as sort of a way to start conversation about them. So we did this with my thesis topic. So we had to come up with a lot of songs related to it. So yeah, I don’t know if the lyrics necessarily adhere to it, but the song that I now associate with my thesis is Expectations by Belle & Sebastian. That song I initially chose just because a lot of my thesis is about expectations about like what these institutions would achieve, and also anticipating would be in them. And sort of tracing like how expectations weren’t met, how they were responded to with a lot of criticism and then, expectations can change. So yeah expectations is just a big theme underlying my whole thesis. So that song’s the one that I attribute it to even though I don’t even remember the words to the song now.
Any questions you wish we’d asked?
It’s kind of hard to give a concise spiel of what my thesis is. So I guess my point is, I think you asked all the right questions, but if you don’t feel like you know what my thesis is about, don’t worry because nor do I.
Well, I’m in Albritton all the time… so do with that what you will.
Tomás Rogel ‘19, Sociology, Data Analysis minor, Social Culture & Critical Theory Certificate
On his topic
I have a lot of small things that come together. The idea is that I’m looking at the current moment with caravans and other issues around the border, asking “why is it that there is a caravan movement going on?” because exoduses like this one don’t just happen out of the blue. There is always a historical precedent for everything, and what I’m doing is going back to El Salvador specifically – I’m Salvadorian – to look at its civil war as the main catalyst for this exodus. Then we look at El Salvador and its post-war economy, but also its post-war social life. So I’m going to talk about the emergence of MS-13 from the United States, and then of course, while I’m talking about 1980 and 1982, we can’t think about these years without looking at the labor movement of the 1970s, and we can’t do that without looking at 1932 and the first socialist insurrection, which we also can’t look out without acknowledging the remnants of colonialism. So, I’m working to make it clear that there should not be a historical discussion of people’s lives.
On how he thought of his topic
It kind of happened randomly. I knew I wanted to look at the Salvadorian Civil War for sure. The more I read, the more I realized, oh, I could start talking about the American caravan right now—so many of these issues are stemming from this time period. Literally the more and more I read the more I got sucked backwards in time. My mind just kept being like –holy shit– there are so many connections I could make, I might as well take advantage of all of them.
On his progress/advice to future thesis writers
For me, the time crunch is real for this last week. If I had to give advice to future thesis writers it’d be that if they have the choice to pick their advisor, pick someone they know they’re going to work well with. For me, I had to do a seminar, and there were definitely some great things about it and there were some things that did not work as well for me. That’s kind of the way it goes for sociology theses are set up. So, I found my work to be very independent. There were weeks when I didn’t want to write at all. I’m also a student of color and involved in a lot of activism on campus that is really important to me, and I definitely try to prioritize it. I work two jobs, because I have to make money to go to school. One of those jobs involves me doing stuff outside of work – I’m a TA for a class and sometimes I will have a student who needs extra help. Also, we all go through every day stuff with friends and family. There’s so many things that happen and get in the way of writing, you’re never going to feel completely satisfied with what you have, but the way that you get to good writing is just by sticking through it. I definitely have a lot of pages that I am not going to use in the final version of my thesis, but they’re there, and I still sometimes find myself coming back to them. I think most of my thesis has been written in the last month. Because so much of the time before was trying to keep up with the news stories that were coming up, and trying to make summaries of everything that I was reading. So for me, it’s working out because I made sure that I studied up on everything I needed to read about, and I care about what I have to study up on, I knew that I was going to stick with it for the long run and that it was going to keep me interested.
On his current mental state
Thank you for reminding me to make an appointment with CAPS. It’s been okay. A lot of my mental energy has been dedicated to worrying about “am I going to finish as much as I needed to get done?” and stressing out about “are there any typos that I’m missing?” But overall, I’m acclimating to the fact that after this thesis is done and turned in, I’m going to have so much weight off my back.
On his plans for April 17th
I’m definitely going to go to the Olin steps. After that, honestly, I may just lay down on Foss and maybe nap there. For several days. I actually have a test like two days later so in reality I’m probably going to be in Olin still. But that’s okay. I can stud for a test. It’s a lot less than a thesis.
On his favorite form of procrastination
Great question. Playing Stardew Valley Farm. That, or just staring at my wall.
On his favorite part of thesis
There’s one part that I got to talk to my mom about the El Salvadorian Civil War for. It sounds really macabre but it was so exciting. In terms of Salvadorian history and Salvadorian trauma, it’s not very common for people to want to talk about what happened in the civil war, what happened in 1975 when students were massacred in the street, what happened in 1932 when a bunch of indigenous and peasant farm workers were massacred in the western side of the country? There’s so much spectacle and repression that is carried in those instances that it’s very rare to hear from people older than you the history of what’s been happening in our country and how important it should be held to us. What was great about this thesis experience is that I knew my mom had been alive for the civil war, she must have been in her late teens when it started. I had a very long phone conversation with her about what it was like, to unintentionally be in the middle of massacre. She saw local college students marching in the street, and suddenly there were military forces – including the army, the national guard and the police – surrounding them, shooting into the crowd. IT sounds messed up that this is my favorite part of my thesis, but I’m fond of it because as messed up as and fear-inducing as it is toward my own government in El Salvador and toward the American support of that authoritarian government, it was really nice to get to see my mom’s perspective. It was refreshing to have a conversation across generations where we could come to an agreement as to what it was we hoped El Salvador would look like in the future, what we right now are seeing, and how our people are being treated in the American media. It was great to come arrive at a mutual understanding and to be able to see her side of her experience.
On if his thesis was a song/movie/TV show
I’m literally going to go back to my thesis every time you ask me a question. There was a very small musical movement during the El Salvadorian civil war of people who came together to play – some not even knowing how to play instruments and taught themselves. There’s one song from that movement called Vamos Ganando La Paz by Cutunay Camones, where four men sing about being in the fight to achieve peace. What’s important about them is that they really drove the point home that the words of the conflict itself – the killing of people itself – is not the revolution, unfortunately that’s just the steps that are necessary to start the revolution in a country that’s deeply controlled by repression. It’s saying: it’s not really about the fight. The fight is what we’re doing to get to revolution. The revolution is what’s gonna come after that, once we take control and work for the people by the people. The lyrics mostly say “we are fighting to win for the peace.”
His most used word/phrase
“Indeed.” I had to go back and edit a whole chapter because I realized how often I was saying “indeed.”
Lindsay Zelson ‘19, Major in History/Psychology, Thesis in History, Carrel 426
Working Title: Who Paid the Piper: Mid-Twentieth Century Science and Psychology in the New York Times
On her topic: It’s about the development of science and psychologies in the New York Times and integrating that history with Cold War applications of psychology and other behavioral science research.
On how she came up with her topic: So in Professor Ronald Schatz’s Labor and Religion class that I took as a sophomore, that was kind of my first experience using newspapers as a source and that paper was on Knights of Labor and religiosity and I really enjoyed doing that research process, and then with newspaper research I loved how it forced you to contextualize everything, or even if you weren’t contextualizing it you had to see how it was presented along with everything else. And then that semester I started thinking of my thesis topic, because I was going to be taking historiography in the fall where the history major sort of helps everyone with their thesis proposal. So I initially wanted to do something that would integrate history and psychology, so I was planning on looking at how the New York Times covered Stanley Milgram. So I went into the New York Times Company archives in the Newark Public Library looking for anything related to Stanley Milgram’s 1963 research — but that was not what was there, and instead what I found was this story of how the TImes’ science section which started in 1978 developed.
And then with that, because I had gone in looking for psychology and didn’t really find it, I was curious what was happening in psychology. And I initially thought I wanted to see Stanley Milgram’s grant proposals, so I had to file a Freedom of Information Act request, but then I realized that that wouldn’t get processed, so — looking at all of the different players and finding psychology research and why wasn’t that making the news when other things were. And then the Cold War part has been more recent.
On her most upsetting parts of the thesis: Not upsetting, per say, but one of the last things that I learned about was the expensive Department of Defense psychology funding, and it was kind of in line with what I had predicted, but because it was one of the last realizations it meant that I was not done revising and I kind of had to make that fit with everything else I had read and learned about.
On her favorite parts of the thesis: I really like my third chapter — the third is kind of when these separate strands of social and behavioral science integrate with the newspaper. Because you saw more newspaper coverage of those topics in the later 70s, but even then I thought it was interesting because there was still a — they still weren’t talking about those existing cold war applications of psychology and research.
On her favorite ways to procrastinate: I’ve really liked podcasts. I doubt that’s the most original answer. My favorite one recently has been an NPR history one called Throughline. I’ve also been doing deep dives on Wikipedia which are really fun because you never really know what you’re going to find. And I also wouldn’t have made it this far without Pi breaks and working at high tables in Exley where everyone stops to talk and kind of relax.
On her plans for April 16: I’m not really good at thinking ahead, so I haven’t thought of it that much. I’ll definitely be on the steps; I’ll tag along with where my friends are. I need to get there before I can celebrate.
On her advice for future thesis writers: I’ve been super lucky — I’ve been working with professor Jennifer Tucker — but even with advisor help, it’s still your project, in that it’s your name on it at the end. And I think it is important to try and figure out your voice that you want to use in writing — like how you’re going to assert yourself early on in the process, so it can be there the whole time, as opposed to figuring it out later, I think my writing style has tended to be more detached in academic analytic papers, so it’s definitely been a bit of a struggle to catch up and revise that for this project that is really about your opinion. So yeah, believing that your project is important.
Most used word: “Science.” “Organization,” definitely. Also, “social and behavioral sciences,” and varying versions of that which use the word psychology, because I can’t always figure out which is most appropriate to use.
On if her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: The disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually seen these… But I want to watch them before theses are due. But I’ve been told so many times that The Post is basically what this is. I think part of the reason that I haven’t gotten to watch them is because the Pentagon Papers hardly came up at all in the archival materials that I was looking at. And then, shout out to Maddie Paull — she suggested Three Identical Strangers, which is about triplets. I’ll leave it there.
Anything else? I also did newspaper research in William Johnston’s Influence of 1918 seminar which was after the summer I went to the New York Times archive, and that solidified for me that there were real qualitative differences between how the newspaper comes together and what the final product is — especially when you get to the higher level editors, because they’re really just so integrated in everything. And one thing that I would suggest everyone read “Is this Affadavit That”– when they were making the Pentagon Papers, one editor wrote this affadavit on how the New York Times and other newspapers get their news and how they talk to the government and how “secret” doesn’t really mean secret, and how there’s this cool complete other world that newspapers and editors and government figures are all in.
On preparing extensive notes for this Wesleying interview: I’ve been reading these interviews for like four years, and it’s kind of a funny time marker; you always know it’s nearing the end of the year. And I like being part of that. And I think research is just all I do — or my favorite part of what I do. To the extent I can research something beforehand, I like to think that I’ll usually be prepared. But that means I’m less good at thinking on my feet.
Theses Feces: Nothing to report.