Welcome to the second post of THESISCRAZY 2021!
You may have thought that THESISCRAZY TM was over, but it’s not! In this installment, we will hear from Dana Kim ’21, Joe Cutler ’21, and Sam Javellana Hill ’21! Read on for their FABulous theses after the break!
Dana Kim ’21 (she/her) Studio Art with architecture concentration thesis in studio art. (interview by fos; post-thesis submission.)
On her thesis title: My thesis title is Woori, which means “we” or “us” in Korean.
On her exhibition composition: There are 48 by 38 inch panels, five of them, so it’s a total of six feet. It’s a very long 2D panel. On the panel, there are rendering plan sections of the building that I’ve designed for this thesis.
On topic and content: The big social issue that I pay attention to is rural flight in the countryside of South Korea. There’s a very low birth rate. The consequence of those two problems is that schools are shutting down because there’s not enough kids. In South Korea in public school, if there’s less than 60 kids in school, they have a couple of extra years to recruit more students. But if they fail, they have to ultimately shut down the school, and the kids who were in that school need to go somewhere else. This leads to younger people eventually having to forcefully leave their hometown because they have to go to a different school. I was thinking that shutting down the school costs more money to operate than maintaining it. So I thought, is there a way we can create a small scale school that can hold like 30 to 40 kids, but also hosts another function? So that the school is more than just a school and was sort of a social home, where everyone in a community thrives. I created a school with a smaller scale and a senior center, so that it can host two types of demographics, children and the elderly, who are probably needing the most support in this rural area.
On her building specifics: My building is a little different because it has a strong reference to traditional architecture. It’s unlike western villas, which is the one giant building that has multiple programs. This is a gated community with different units that are spread throughout the building. The senior center and classrooms houses facilities and courtyards, etc, but they’re not in the same building. They’re different units facing each other and next to each other.
On how she thought of her topic: I think I’ve always been interested in school architecture, just because that’s where I’ve been for my whole life pretty much. But I think I seriously gave more thought to it during COVID when we all sent back home, because all of a sudden, there’s no physical form of school anymore. So I was very interested in what the future of the school would look like. I started to pay attention and think differently, not just because of COVID, but because of other social transformations, about the form of school would change. If there is a problem regarding school architecture in South Korea, is there any way I can create a building that could stop that problem? Or the architecture could complement or support solving the problem.
On her thesis install: Because I wasn’t on campus and am studying remotely, my friends did it for me, which was really nice. For studio art, you have to install it and do a photo documentation, and I obviously wasn’t able to do either of those. But some of my friends who were so, so, so nice helped be through both of those.
On her mental status during the process: My process was really difficult. For the second half of thesis, I didn’t take any classes besides thesis, but first semester I did. That was difficult because everything was at night. Most of my classes were at like midnight, until like four, five in the morning. But I also didn’t want to miss regular daytime here, so I had a full time job and would sometimes hang out with my friends. So I wasn’t totally devastated mentally, besides the fact that no one else in my everyday life was going through thesis. But I was constantly sleep deprived. I guess that kind of harmed my mental state. But because of the fact that my parents and friends were with me during my thesis, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It would have definitely been nicer if I was there on campus, using all those facilities and friends were also going through the same thing, but it was okay, I guess.
On how she procrastinated: I think I slept if I didn’t want to do anything, because I have the excuse of it being late at night, and maybe I’ll wake up the next morning and work, which rarely happened because I had to go to work. But my job was pretty chill, so I was able to do some stuff while I was working. I sold wine, by they way. So there was always wine. Or I met up with friends every once in a while to procrastinate.
On the first thing she did when she finished her thesis: It was weird because even though my deadline was right before my installation, I had to send image files to a local printing store in New Haven. My advisor picked it up for me and my friends helped. I got help from so many people during this time. My deadline was actually a couple weeks earlier because I had to send them that file. After that, I had a bit more sleep I guess, but nothing really changed, because I still had normal life in the daytime. After the installation, I think I actually got busier, because there were a lot of meetings and receptions. Unlike other people who do written theses and are free after submission, I got busier after that time. I’m a bit more free now, because my installation is down. So I’m officially free.
On her favorite part of the finished product: My thesis is like, image, image, image, plan section, some diagrams. But there’s a kinetic wall in my building and there’s a section about how it gets operated. Like what kind of algorithm I use. That kinetic wall changes the shadow and the sunlight that gets ‘into my building. So there’s a whole diagram that illustrates it. I think that’s my favorite section because it’s kind of futuristic, which is what I wanted to go for. My building is more traditional, but I wanted to make something more technological. I think that really shows how I want my building to be.
On her thesis being a song, move, or tv show: It might sound weird but there’s this Netflix series called Kingdom, which is traditional Korean zombie movie. It kind of ties with my thesis, because it’s kind of traditional and kind of not. It’s a good show; I like it. If you like zombie movies you should check it out.
On upsetting thesis experiences: Everything was smooth except that I wish I was there in person, honestly. I regret it so badly for the second half of the thesis. For the first semester, I was applying to a bunch of grad schools so I was very busy. I didn’t have time to process emotions, I guess. But for the second half of the process I had more time to think about what had happened in the past year. Its hard to believe that this is how my whole senior year went. I was really sad, and I wish I was on campus. A bunch of my housemates who promised to live together our senior year are all over the country, so most of us are international students. Maybe I won’t see them for a really long time, and maybe we should have been there together. That was pretty difficult. Also, I was really excited for my senior loft. We all get a space thats in the CFA building. I thought that would be really cool. But I think the fact that most of my classes were at night and I worked on my thesis at night, had one nice aspect which was that it made me feel like it wasn’t my only reality, that I had another daytime reality going on.
On her theses feces: It was normal I think. Is that something fortunate? I don’t know. That’s a weird question, but I guess its fun to read other people’s responses?
On suggestions for future studio art theses makers: I hope there won’t be any remote theses students in the future. I don’t know what next year will look like but hopefully not. For architecture students, be there! Fortunately, I had access to a laser cutter which is very rare. Fortunately, my dad’s workplace had it, and it is essential to architecture thesis students. I was very fortunate to have it, but its not something that’s just lying around. So I highly recommend that you be there in person. Also, talk to a lot of people! I didn’t talk to a lot of people during my thesis. But whenever I had additional conversations, whether it was a professor or friend, or people you just know, it always inspired me. Talk to a lot of people and show them your ideas. They might have great suggestions. Do some socializing, which rarely happened during COVID! And I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped me along the way, and maybe I’ll see you in the future.
Joe Cutler ’21 (He/Him) Computer Science and Math double major. (interview by madame chipwich; post-thesis submission.) P.S. he made the bulk of his thesis in a language he created!!
On the title of his thesis: It’s called “Languages with Potential.” So I changed it at the last moment and it was fluid for like a week. I was trying to come up with a clever thing. The short title is called “Languages with Potential” but the long title is “Languages with Potential: Types and Recurrences for Formal Amortized Analysis.”
On his topic: I work in a part of computer science called “programming languages theory” where basically what we do is we figure out how programming languages work the way they should and how to make them work better. There are a lot of programming languages out there, lots of people in Intro to Programming learn “Python” and you might learn in a data science class or something and there are lots and lots of programming languages out there. The field that I am in basically tries to understand the ones that currently exist and build new ones that are better. So what my thesis is about is a very small direction that you can make a language better in which is making it easier to understand how long your programs are going to run. So when I write a program I don’t know how slow it’s going to be. This is a big problem in practice. Like sometimes your apps on your phone are slow and sometimes they’re fast and it’s very hard for a programmer to know––having written a massive thing––how slow it’s actually going to be (or how fast). It would be nice if the languages that programmers wrote their apps in could tell them beforehand. And that’s what I’m working on.
On how he thought of his topic: I got into it because there was an existing project by my professor––I started working with him freshman year and he had an existing collaboration with another professor in the department and I sort of just jumped on and have been interested in this topic for a while. They’ve been working on it for like a decade, actually.
On his progress throughout writing his thesis: I started this project last summer doing an internship outside of Wesleyan on a related topic. I sort of did a bunch of work over the summer and then I got here and there was a bunch more work to do. So my fall semester was like a bunch of weird technical work. The meat of a computer science thesis ends up just being a lot of math and so I did a lot of math through the fall semester. I had absolutely nothing written. So I guess people who write like humanities and social science thesis write the whole time or something? I hadn’t written anything until like basically February. So I was just doing a lot of work and then it hit February and I realized, “Oh my god, I haven’t written anything.” And all of my friends were like, “Oh, you know, I’m submitting a chapter to my advisor,” and I thought, “I’m so behind.” And so I spent February power writing. If you graphed the number of pages over time it’s sort of like *indicates large slope with hands* I did most of it in a really short burst and then it was like doing stuff from there.
On his favorite or most frequent study spot: For a while it was my room. For like the first five or six weeks of the semester, I just worked at my desk in my room. That became untenable quite quickly. So I started working on the couch in our house but then eventually I just got fed up with working in the same place that I live and started coming to Exley. So I would work on a high-top table. I don’t mind having people buzzing around while I work because it helps me focus. I can’t work in Olin. I can’t even really work in SciLi. Like I need nonsense going on to be able to focus. So these were my study spots.
On his favorite form of procrastination: There were two kinds of procrastination that I did. One was working on other CS or math ideas that weren’t related to my thesis. My advisor calls this procrasti-working and he says it’s like the most useful form of work. You don’t want to think about your thesis project so you come up with other cool ideas and follow them when you really should be working on your thesis. Apparently, you know, this is very common among CS people. That was the biggest concrete thing that I did. But then other than that it was mostly like . . . well, you know, the usual things like watching Netflix or whatever.
On his most upsetting thesis experience: It actually came all the way at the very end. I had a fairly smooth thesis experience because I started it very early. I submitted the thesis and the weekend after I got an email from my advisor and the subject line is just a technical question. Then we went back and forth and I realized there was a fairly large math error that I had made. I had a day to fix it before the revisions were due. So it was the most stressful day of my entire existence trying to make sure that my thesis wasn’t bunk just from this tiny little mistake I had made. And I managed to fix it, it turned out okay. But that was the worst part . . . That was not at all fun.
On his favorite part of the thesis: In the thesis there are two little small technical things that I’m proud of. I mean I could talk about my thesis and say I’m proud of this progress towards this goal but what I’m really most excited about is this little technical thing that I did. If my thesis is a car, I’m most excited about this one little thing on the steering wheel that’s really cool. So it’s this one proof in math that I did that was very, I think, clever and elegant and really cool and I’m very proud of it. And nobody will ever read it because it’s buried in like a hundred pages of nonsense but I’m very proud of it and I know it’s there.
The other is that as part of theorizing about how languages should work better I actually built a language. So I actually wrote a new programming language as part of my thesis. I’m very proud of it, it’s fun to program and I wrote a few programs in my own language. That’s a really fun and rewarding experience. So there’s the one thing in the math that’s cute and that I like a lot and then there is this big artifact project that I made that I’m really proud of as just like a development effort. It felt like doing a class project but like 3x as large.
On his advice for future thesis writers: I have advice for thesis writers who are me, basically. I know what I should have done differently and maybe that will help future people. CS and Math People, if you take a lot of CS and Math classes and you mostly do that––I hadn’t written a paper since my freshman year and so I was very nervous about my writing abilities. I knew that I could write code and do stuff like that but I was very not sure if I could write one hundred pages of stuff. So I ended up writing a bunch and then sending it to my advisor and he sort of okay-ed it. But that was an incredibly nerve racking experience: having written fifty or sixty pages and not knowing if it was good writing.
So, for people who are writing a thesis in STEM who maybe took too many STEM classes and not enough humanities or social science classes and haven’t written anything in forever––engage with your advisor early on about your writing. Because your writing will be a much more important part of the process than the actual technical work will be. If you’re not confident in your writing, it will be very difficult to do the writing bit. Engage with your advisor about how to write technical stuff well so when it comes to the time to do that you don’t feel super overwhelmed and anxious about the fact that you don’t know how to write.
On if his thesis was a song, movie, or TV show: It would have to be the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.” This CS researcher named Jean Yang made this same analogy once, and I really enjoy it — so I’ll borrow it from her. There’s this really famous scene in the movie where Anne Hathaway scoffs at something Meryl Streep says, and Meryl Streep goes on this whole thing about, “you think this doesn’t affect you . . . high fashion is actually important for your wardrobe.” In a lot of ways my field of computer science is like that. It’s very weird and esoteric and high fashion-esque and doesn’t immediately apply to anything that any programmer is doing right now. But in 10 or 20 years the ideas that this academic discipline has filters down to the actual day to day activities of normal programmers. In some way, it’s very “Devil Wears Prada.”
On his most used word or phrase: So the most used word is probably “cost.” When programmers talk about how long it takes to run a program, we have a technical word for that — we call it, “the cost of a program.” So I end up saying the cost of this, the cost of that, the cost of whatever. I almost ended up naming the thesis the cost of something but I couldn’t come up with a good enough thing there to make it work.
On his final thoughts: I’m very proud of the introduction section. I spent a lot of time trying to make it accessible to a general computer science audience. It’s very easy with a physics thesis or a math thesis––and of course for sociology and economic thesis and whatever––you know your thing so well and you just sort of jump into the details. I think I did a really good job of starting from a very high level and having it be at least succinctly explainable and understandable to people that are domain experts. I really tried hard to make that true and I think I did a good job, I hope I did. That’s the one thing I wanted to say about my thesis. I tried to motivate it really well for CS audiences.
Sam Javellana Hill ’21 (they/he), Studio Art and English, thesis in studio art. (Interview by fos; post thesis submission.)
On their thesis title/topic: My thesis is in Studio art and its called “Rending”. I think I chose it because it has multiple meanings. But I like the idea of rending as in tearing clothes or hair in emotional distress and rending one’s heartstrings. So causing deep emotion.
On their exhibition composition: My exhibition is mostly just paper. With some charcoal and ink. It was a series of scrolls with one that extended onto the floor to become more sculptural.
On the install process: Install was a four-part miniseries. (Laughs). The first episode was incredibly fun and relaxing, and felt like I was having a good time with my friends. But then it was increasingly stressful in the last 24 hours which were some of the worst physical experiences I’ve had this year. Physically and mentally just disgusting. So for install, I had to go and hang all of my scrolls from the wall. I could have screwed hooks into the wall and hung them that way, but I wanted them to look like they were floating and not feel like they were attached to the wall. So I actually hung them from a railing that was 25 feet in the air and had to do a lot of work on an industrial lift. I spent most of the four days of my install dangling high in the air.
On their most upsetting thesis experience: I’m trying to think if there was an “oh, shit” moment. There were so many kind of close calls. There was a moment when I was on a lift, the person who was helping me install was on a ladder, and my largest scroll was on another lift and the fuse to the lifts blew. Also it was 6am. 3 hours before I was supposed to have my thesis up. I was stuck on the lift. But thank God the person helping me was on a ladder so he could run and go switch the fuse off and on again. But if he had been on another lift instead of a ladder, we would have both been actually stranded.
On the first thing they did when they finished installing: The first think I did was eat some breakfast. Because it was 10am so I came home and ate breakfast. What I should have done next was go to bed but instead I hung out with my housemates because I felt like I hadn’t been home in two weeks. Wait, actually the first thing I did when I got home was bleach my hair.
On their favorite part of the finished product: I like the scale of it, and that’s something that I couldn’t have possibly anticipated. I’ve never made anything on that scale before. Even the scale of each of the individual pieces. I had never made anything human sized before, like too large for me to carry myself or too large for me to see it one piece. It was an insane experience not only to see the exhibition come together in Zilkha but also to see each piece for the first time in its entirety.
On their thesis being a song, movie, or tv show: Maybe “Dancing with Myself” would be appropriate just because I spent so many hours alone. My studio was so far and it was so dirty and covered in charcoal that no one ever wanted to be there with me. So I would leave in the morning and get back at night with charcoal in every orifice of my body.
On their favorite way to procrastinate: I was procrastinating during install by making the pieces for my thesis. But generally my favorite form of procrastination was to come home and quickly make dinner for four hours. My second favorite form of procrastination was to quickly play Catan with my housemates for a quick two hours. And then quickly nap for 8 hours.
On theses feces: Before thesis, definitely some big dumps. I was eating a lot. Definitely at weird times because I would wake up at 7am to work every day for like four days and then would be really tired and I would start staying up until 5am. So my body didn’t know when trash day was really. During install I was eating… I don’t even know what I ate. I think I ate only saltines and nuts for like four days. I don’t even think I shit for four days. Deeply disturbing.
On regrets: My biggest regret about thesis was that I didn’t get to hang out with Paul more. I would say his last name, but I don’t know it. Paul, King of Zilkha and my heart. Whose job description I suppose is Zilkha art handler. I don’t know when his working hours are and I don’t know what his job really is. All I know is that he was there in my dire time of need. I like him a lot and I wish I could work for him.
On final thoughts: I feel like art theses are so weird. I don’t think people outside of the art studio department know how they even happen. I think most people either don’t look at them at all because they don’t know where the CFA is or they don’t know where Zilkha is, or they see them they’re like, “Wow, cool. I wonder how that happened.” It was just like some guy in a room. I used my charcoal set from Drawing I. There’s not really any extra support for thesis makers in the studio department. You have to teach yourself what you don’t know and work on your own. Most people meet with their advisor for an hour in a week and then the rest is just up to you. I think that’s a funny part of art theses, that they kind of materialize out of nowhere in a way.
On doing it again: Definitely glad I did it. I’d like to think I would do it again, but I would do it differently for sure. Maybe everyone wishes this, but I wish I landed on a process that was important to me sooner, because I spent the entire first semester just experimenting. Not that that wasn’t important, because I think if I had landed on concept sooner and committed sooner and had more time to create stuff for the exhibition itself, I would be doubting whether or not I had chosen the right thing at the time. So maybe there’s no way to win on that. But for me the process was more important than the end result, even if it was exciting to exhibit anything at all in that venue. So if I were to do it again, knowing what I know, it would be more about the exhibition. But I think I needed to do this in order to know how to make anything at all.