Welcome to the first post of THESISCRAZY 2021!
Yes, we know, thesis day has come and gone. But that’s not going to stop us from celebrating three super cool thesis writers: Amy Geiger ’21, David Vizgan ’21, and Sarah Lucente ’21! Read their thoughts on disco, debris disks, and horror movies after the break!
Amy Geiger ‘21 (she/her), Sociology major, thesis in sociology. (Interview by hen; pre-submission.)
On her thesis title/topic: Well, the title… I’m saying it’s tentative, but the more days pass, the less tentative it is. It’s called “Autobahn Affair: Transnationalism and Queerness in the music of Donna Summer and Kraftwerk.” And so I’m focusing on doing this transnational and queer analysis of those artists’ music from about 1975 to 1980. So I’m jumping from Germany to LA to Detroit to London and working in theory.
On how she thought of her topic: Well, I knew I wanted to do something about music. That felt like the engine, and I had all these ideas of like, “I’ll write about movie scores, and I’ll write about emotional responses to music, and like the social meaning of music.” [The thesis] is still kind of about the social meaning of music. But I also had this idea, when I first started thinking about writing a thesis, to write about disco, because it’s just the best. There’s such a culture around it. And I had this dream of, or wish that, I had lived in the disco era, like in Germany. And so it was really like a way to relive that I guess. And I knew I wanted to focus on Donna Summer because I just love her. Without being melodramatic, she kind of became like a muse. And then Kraftwerk was another band that I was like, I know that these guys are foundational in music, in techno especially, but their music isn’t super well known on its own. And so I’m like, I want to draw a comparison between these two artists who don’t have a lot ostensibly in common.
On one big takeaway for readers: I think all music, but especially electronic music, is extremely borderless and malleable. That’s something that I haven’t had the chance to go really deep into in my writing yet, but that is what underlies everything that I’m writing, I think. It’s just that all of this is fungible, and can be personal and can be not. Like, I am assigning meaning to things but also, meaning is totally subjective. Yeah, I think disco––and techno––is a really right sight of that knowledge.
On her current mental state: It’s really stressful! I’m partially enrolled, which means that like I’m done with all my other credits. And I’m exhausted. And I have so much to write which I didn’t anticipate considering the partial enrollment. Yeah, I’m stressed but I’m also finding a lot of solidarity in my sociology cohort. And I’m confident enough in what I’m writing that it’s enough to carry me through. [But] it’s like every other day, I’m real down.
On her procrastination habits: I made a list of fun things to do the other day, and on it was baking, and all of these different recipes that I want to make. I think I’m gonna make a Tea Cake later. Otherwise, I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos, and listening to music and making playlists. That’s a big, big thing that I do to distract myself. I have a playlist that I made months ago, when I started my research [that was like], “This is the basis of what I’m studying.” And so I touch back on that sometimes, but not too often, because I don’t want to overexpose myself. Recently, I haven’t been listening to it as much. But I have been watching YouTube videos of people playing their own synths. Like, of the songs that I’m [writing about].
On advice for prospective thesis writers: It’s incredibly rewarding. My advice is to know your department well, and know the process, because your friends in other departments––their processes are fascinating, but they are not yours. The sociology department is wonderfully chill and hands off. And in some ways, that really works for me, because in these end stages, I’m like, whatever it is, it will be fine. But also, I wish I had the full eight months to know what I was doing, to have my research done, and to write, write, write. Whereas I have more like eight weeks that I’ve been writing. So yeah, I think just knowing the process well. And drinking tea. That’s been therapeutic.
On post-thesis plans: Full disclosure: I read a lot of THESISCRAZY interviews just before the [signup] form came out. It wasn’t an act of clairvoyance, I was just like, “Huh, I wonder what other people [were doing].” And people [were] saying champagne showers, I was like, YEAH. I’m also going to spend a lot of time with friends––I don’t know, like close friends, not close friends––I’m just gonna be like the most social animal, because I’m not gonna have anything to do! [So] the fun stuff is just like, lots of champagne. Lots of cooking and baking and seeing friends and all the good stuff that I can do now that I don’t have to do a thesis.
On thesis feces: Roller coaster, in a word. I’m an anxious pooper. Today, great. Tomorrow, who knows.
David Vizgan ‘21 (he/him), Astronomy and Physics. Thesis in Astronomy. (Interview by maury; pre-submission.)
Working Title: I made this title a really long time ago so I actually don’t know but I think it is: “A Dual-Wavelength Study of the Vertical Structure of the AU Mic Debris Disk.”
On his topic: I’m studying what’s called a ‘debris disk.’ When planets and smaller bodies that we call planetesimals form out of gas and dust in a proto-planetary disk this second disk forms called a debris disk. It’s basically all the material that’s left over from planet formation. We have two debris disks in our own solar system. There’s the Kuiper Belt, which has Pluto and stuff like that that goes from the orbit of Neptune to about 50 astronomical units, and there’s also one that’s more local, the zodiacal light, that’s made of small dust grains. If you’ve ever been out at night in the woods and it’s like 3 am and you see some sort of light that’s not the sun rising, that’s a debris disk that’s reflecting light from the sun. These things also exist outside of our solar system. There are assumptions that have been made about how this debris collides with each other that we’ve only tested in the solar system, so my project basically parameterized these collisional models for the first time outside of our solar system.
On how he thought of his topic: I was originally supposed to work on another project, and then I went to Denmark for the summer, and when I came back the project I was going to work on had already been taken. I wasn’t salty or anything, but it meant I had to get a new topic, so my advisor, Meredith Hughes, who’s a wonderful person, gave me a couple of options. I heard about this disk, and when I was a freshman, a senior, Cale Daly ‘18 had already worked on a debris disk, and she explained that this was the next step of his project, and I said ‘sure, okay’ and didn’t think about it that much. What’s funny is that Cale is going to University of Illinois right now as a Phd student, and I’m actually going to be going to the University of Illinois as well, so I’m following him in two ways, which I think is pretty funny. But that was basically how I got it, and I didn’t know all the ramifications of our project until like this summer. I didn’t really understand the significance. We see light from debris disks in other solar systems, and if there was nothing dynamic about these systems the light would just fade away over time because all the dust would get blown away. But there are these processes that revitalize the dust, which makes these systems really active, and it’s really cool to see that even in systems outside of our own, we see that exactly the same thing we see locally. And I think that’s really cool because it shows that these 50 year old models of collisions work.
On his progress: So I’m finished! What I did for this project is I modeled the radial and vertical surface density profiles of the dust, basically how the light would travel from a model debris disk from the star to you. There were a ton of free parameters and every run needed like 2 weeks. I also modeled it at 2 wavelengths, I modeled the millimeter sized dust and the micron sized dust. I combined those 2 datasets together, and I finished. I have really good results, I think, and I’m going to be turning this into a publication over the summer. I’m waiting on some final comments right now but I think I’m in great shape.
On his current mental state: It’s a little nerve-wracking. I think that when you’re doing research in general, if you’re doing a research thesis, it’s very rewarding to do these sorts of projects because y’know, you’re paying so much to go to college and you’re undertaking this project on your own, without much supervision. I’m kind of worried I’m going to have too much free time after this thing. I’m so used to spending time and reading the literature and investing like hundreds of hours over the last year or so on this project, and now it’s done, and for the like next month or so I’m probably not even going to think about it. It does trouble me in a very weird way, when you finish something, what comes after that? That’s a very human thing I think. But it has troubled me more than I expected.
On his most upsetting thesis experience: When I was doing the modelling of the disk, I had this problem for like three months. When you model the disk it’s like this big puffy line, but for some reason when I was subtracting the model from the data the upper corners of the disk had these two puffy side lobes that weren’t going away, and I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t going away. It was infuriating because I thought everything I was doing was good, but I found out right before I came to start senior year that I forgot a minus sign in this one thing, and had to add a minus sign to everything else. So I spent three months doing every sort of check I could’ve possibly done for this, and it was really infuriating to find out I missed a minus here and a plus here. That was three months of time I could’ve saved, like 40-hour weeks! It was really dumb.
On his favorite form of procrastination: Either I’m playing chess online, that’s always been my source of procrastination for the last three years, and when I’m really feeling groovy I’ll play World of Warcraft. I’ve done a good job of avoiding it though because I know if I had spent more time leveling up my characters and stuff I would not get my thesis done.
On his plans for after he turns it in: It’s actually my birthday on the thesis deadline. I don’t know what I’m going to do, maybe have some birthday cake, maybe get some early sleep. Actually I have an exam due on Friday, so I don’t know. Not the best birthday, but whatever.
His advice for future thesis writers: Enjoy the ride. I think it’s easy to say ‘oh, I’m doing a thesis’ and not focus on it, but for me, I want to go into academia, I’m going to graduate school for astrophysics, and this was the first big academic endeavor I’ve ever really taken. I wish I had appreciated that more. Now it’s already towards the end and I’m only really starting to get an appreciation for the whole project I did now that I see it top down. I can see the whole picture and I wasn’t seeing it as I was working on it. You’re a senior too, and I did this stuff during COVID, and it’s very easy to be bitter and say ‘COVID took away our senior year’ but it’s really not that bad. You need to find ways to appreciate things and I think that’s especially true when you’re doing a thesis, no matter what it’s on.
On his favorite part of the thesis: I’ll say two things. Regarding the stuff that I’ve written, I think that the introduction of my thesis is the most up to date source, maybe even better than Wikipedia, on the star I’m studying. I’m really proud of that. It’s just introduction, but I tried to do a lot of background research to flesh out the whole picture, and that’s something I’m proud of. I think from a pure text perspective I really set the stage so that anyone can make sense of what I was trying to do, whether they’re an astronomy major or not. From the actual thesis writing perspective, I was in New York when I started really seriously working on this project right as COVID began. My neighborhood got hit really hard by Corona, and I remember being up at 4:30, 5:00 am not being able to fall asleep because of sirens and just coding for this assignment. I’ll never forget that and every time I think about this project I think about the moment we’re living in. All and all, I’m really thankful I was able to finish it in the circumstances that we’re in. It’s a shame that so many people have suffered, and I’m really grateful that I had the energy to finish this.
If his thesis was a song/movie/tv show: You know that scene in Empire Strikes Back, where they go into that asteroid field and there’s that big monster? I guess that’s the closest thing, because I guess that would be some sort of debris disk, asteroid belts can be thought of as debris disks. So it would be the scene from Episode V where they’re hiding in the asteroid field.
His most used word/phrase: “Collisional cascade”
On any questions he’d wish I’d asked: I forgot to mention that I start every chapter of my thesis, and the thesis itself, with a Lady Gaga quote. I feel like that’s very very important information.
Theses feces: I’m not answering that.
Sarah Lucente ‘21 (she/her), Film and English. Thesis in Film. (Interview by madame chipwich; post-submission.)
Thesis title: The title of my thesis is “Dare to be Scared: Horror in the 2010s.”
On her topic: Yeah, so over the last decade I’ve seen a lot of horror movies come into the public conversation and feeling like more people are talking about them besides horror fans. But there seems to be this really big split between movies that are like elevated and amazing and everyone thinks they’re great and perfect and then other movies that consistently get really bad reviews and are just kind of written off by casual movie-goers and critics. So I decided to write about four movies that came out in the last 10 years that I thought were just really great horror films and kind of led to an exploration about what horror is supposed to do and horror movies that engage with more than just fear––just kind of tackling the critical prejudice against the genre.
The four movies in the thesis: Hereditary, Get Out, The Babadook, and Creep.
On her writing process: So I came into the topic already having my four movies, so then it was kind of just figuring them out, watching them a bunch of times, talking with my advisor, and figuring out what were the most interesting things about them and what aspects of the movies played well with other things I was writing about in the other ones. Basically, I just started with Hereditary because I was the most angry about that one and then I just wrote it. Each chapter is like 15-20 pages and then I went through each of them and went back and revised them and then wrote the intro and conclusion at the end.
On her favorite part about writing the thesis: My favorite part was definitely getting to get on my high horse and tell people why they should respect horror as a genre. Film criticism is really fun because you’re not burdened by this need to fit into a theoretical framework or do a lot of the heavy lifting of explaining their history like you do in other types of thesis. So, you really just get to explain what makes a movie good in your opinion and it was really fun to celebrate these movies.
On her most upsetting thesis experience: Hm, that’s a good question. I feel like the most upsetting part was just realizing that a lot of the stuff that I wanted to say just didn’t really fit into the framework that I had set out for myself––which obviously has to happen, it’s already so long––there’s only so much that is cohesive to read and makes sense. But, yeah, it was hard to cut out stuff that I really liked, it just didn’t fit. I had a really long rant about one of my directors at one point, but it had to go.
On her favorite work spots: I wrote a lot of my thesis, honestly, just sitting in my bed, both at home and here. I also really love Olin. I like the reading room a lot. It’s very peaceful and it also feels very scholarly, which I like. I would watch movies with my housemates in my living room here which was really nice.
On her favorite form of procrastination: Definitely just talking about the movies with my housemates in a very casual way where it felt like I was maybe being productive, but I was more just kind of like ranting and joking and not really actually writing which was the thing that took the most time, obviously, and required the most focus. So, definitely my favorite form of procrastination was just telling people about my thesis without actually writing it.
On turning the thesis in: It felt really good to turn it in. I was in a good spot with it, I turned it in a little bit early, like a day early, which was really nice. But it also feels like there’s no purpose anymore. It took up so much of my time and of my creative energy, so I literally woke up this morning for the first time not having to do it and I was just kind of like “what do I do?” Because I have work, obviously, I have classes, but, I don’t know, when you’re a senior and you’re so close to being done and you’ve been working on this long big thing it’s hard to motivate yourself to do other stuff now.
On advice for future thesis writers: I guess my advice would be to start writing early even if you don’t know if it’s going to end up in the thesis, if it’s bad, if it relates to what you’re ultimately going to turn out to do. It’s just a lot of pages and you just have to do it. It’s so much easier to revise what you already have written then to write something new. So definitely starting early would be my biggest advice.
On the most used word/phrase: I’m pretty sure it was just “horror.” I did “Command F” just to kind of torture myself and I use it 200 times.
On her final thesis length: The total page count was 108 pages.
On questions she wished we had asked: I think I wanted to roast a little bit more some white male directors who I feel like I see a lot of film-bros just really celebrating and being like, “ah, this is the best, this is cinema!” Whereas, I think that some smaller, less pretentious productions are just as good, if not better and deserving of that kind of praise. So I do wish that I had gotten to tackle that aspect of the horror discourse a little bit more, but I also feel like that would have been a little aggressive and I wanted to come at it from a positive standpoint as opposed to a defensive one.
On favorite horror movies: I have a lot of favorites that aren’t on there because I really wanted to focus on movies from the last 10 years to see where the genre is now and where it’s going next. So, one of my favorites is The Shining––which I have a poster of right behind me. I also really love The Blair Witch Project. Creeper really is one of my favorites, that’s like the one that no one has heard of from my thesis. I just think it’s really brilliant and it’s also kind of funny which I love. I would say those are my favorites.
Final thoughts: I guess I would just say, obviously, it is limited to film majors but I would just say that film criticism exists. People don’t know that it’s a really valid option. I feel like people in the film major are either like “oh you make a film or you write a screenplay.” But you can also do a history theory thesis or a criticism thesis and the criticism is really like the best kept secret of the department because it’s really fun, you get to write your opinions, and also you get to work with A.O. Scott, the film critic. He is just really, in addition to being slightly famous, is just really brilliant and a really great advisor.