Loving the bottle of Listerine in Christina Lu ’22’s carrel
And so it begins! Welcome to the first installment of ThesisCrazy 2022! We’ve got a wonderful variety of thesis writers for you today: we have Ben Filio ’22 talking about his work with zebra finches and stretching data to its fullest, Emma Smith ’22 writing about representations of Latin American jungles and colonialist *hot takes,* and Christina Lu ’22 challenging the Chinese government’s idea of feminism. Read on under the cut!!
Interviews by missweazy, maury, and zoomy
Ben Filio ‘22 (he/him/none), Neuroscience and SISP Major, College of East Asian Studies minor. Thesis in Neuroscience. SciLi Carrel F2.
Working Title: “The Will to Sing: Activity of DARP32 HBC NNs During Directed versus Undirected Song.”
On his topic: “It’s to investigate the role of an adult born neuron in behavior and specifically looking at how an adult per neuron might affect a zebra finch’s singing behavior. One thing that we we found really interesting in the field of neuroscience is the thought that once we’re born, we have all the neurons in our brain, and we don’t generate any more neurons. Currently, there’s evidence that animals and organisms do generate new neurons in adulthood. Those neurons have an effect on behavior and have an effect on their brain activity. We’re looking at this adult dopaminergic neuron, in zebra finches’ song systems. Dopamine is implicated in reward and addictive behaviors and pleasurable behaviors. We’re looking at the role of this neuron that receives dopamine inputs. It receives dopamine, and that means that it must be receiving something to do with the pleasure or the motivation to sing their song for mating.
On how he thought of his topic: “This kind of started from the work I was doing in the lab. So I’m currently in combination of John Kirn, who was a former professor here at Wesleyan who passed away in Fall 2019. And then I’m currently doing research in Gloster Aaron’s lab. My first project in that lab was to just look at these dopaminergic neurons and see if they were active during song. Then I started moving towards thinking about how zebra finches actually sing two kinds of songs. They sing a directed song which is directly involved in mating and when a male zebra finch sees a female zebra finch, it will sing that kind of song, which is a lot more diverse, a lot more precise, a lot stronger. They sing a lot more syllables versus undirected song, which we theorize is more practicing and more of the zebra finch maintaining its song so it doesn’t forget. I started conceptualizing it to the point where there might be a difference in directed versus undirected because this is dopamine, it’s probably involved in the mating behavior of zebra finches.”
On his progress: “I am pretty much in the homestretch where I’m interpreting all of my results, which unfortunately, barely tells me anything. I’ve been making the most reaches of my life. I’ve written a lot of papers that just reached for the stars, made the most nonsense, but this really takes the cake. I’m very worried about the fact that my results aren’t really statistically significant. I don’t have enough experimental subjects within a certain condition to make any substantial conclusions. But I’m trying to do my best to stretch that data as much as possible into something I can discuss.”
On his current mental state: “I’m definitely in a huge stress mode. Compared to a lot of other people, I feel like I’m definitely in the right place, if not ahead, but I still feel like I have no control over anything. I’m getting stressed by just even looking at it and thinking about it. So I just put it off, and I procrastinate instead.”
On his most upsetting thesis experience: “Even though I’m a STEM major, sometimes I forget very basic math. For this experiment I had to set up a whole cohort of birds. I would have to do specific injections that will make sure that we’re researching adult born neurons. So we injected a certain kind of protein, or a certain kind of marker, into the birds to make sure those newborn neurons are seen when we later processed the tissue. I made a very bad mistake in my calculations. And I didn’t find out until someone checked and was just like: ‘Oh, you wrote this wrong in your lab notebook right.’ And I was like: ‘Oh, fuck.’ I lost a whole cohort of birds just on that day when I realized I did not do the right injections. I didn’t calculate it right. So these will be labeled so badly. And I just have to let go of these birds.”
On his favorite form of procrastination: “Recently, I’ve been getting back into a lot of Nintendo games that I played as a kid. I brought my DS with me to school and also a lot of games, specifically the Pokemon games. And so when I feel like procrastinating I would just pull out my DS, replaying the Pokemon games. And just going at it. That’s my favorite way of procrastinating and it eats up so much time, but it’s such a guilty pleasure.”
On his plans for after it’s turned in: “I’m actually also in Ecstasy Dance Collective. We’re a hip hop dance crew. We have our show that weekend. So it’s gonna be a very fun week for me trying to finish trying to finish my thesis and trying to get the last ends wrapped up while also being in tech week for that show as well. I don’t know if I can actually take a chill pill just because I still have work for some classes. Even though I took a pretty light course load I still have work for some reason. What the heck is that?”
His advice for future thesis writers: “It doesn’t matter how little writing you do in a day, as long as you’re doing just a little writing each day. A little progress is much better than no progress. Even if you just have a little thought, write it down immediately, just so you don’t lose that thought. And you can say: ‘Oh, I worked on my thesis just a little bit.’”
On his favorite part of his thesis: “My favorite part of my thesis is the fact that I feel like I’m making an original contribution to the science field. A lot of undergraduates don’t really get the chance to do that. I made a new methodology in order to analyze song. Not only is this thesis rewarding me, but in the long term it will help a lot of my lab members present and future with trying to analyze data further. Even though my data has essentially just run off a cliff, I feel like at least I have that.”
If his thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “I don’t know why I thought of Enchanted because the birds can understand Anastasia’s voice. And the pigeons and rats and all those animals can understand Anastasia’s voice… And it kind of represents like… my data was extremely messy. Honestly, subjectively, my data is bad. But right now I’m making the best of it. I’m just trying to do what I can and hopefully where my results are kind of lacking, my interpretation and my review of scientific literature really shines through and really makes it better.”
His most used word or phrase: “Definitely DARP32. That’s the most used phrase in my thesis because that’s a marker of the neuron that I’m studying. So I just type it so many times. I need to put a few more words because that appears too many times.. I should add a few words so they’re a bit more scattered in because if not I feel like it just won’t look good.
A question he’d wished we’d asked: “I initially thought that I was gonna have a thesis carrel like all other seniors and go through this tradition. I never went into my carrel but actually would go into the second floor lab space in the dead of night and just work on my thesis because it’s pretty quiet. Also compared to thesis carrels it’s a lot more spacious. I can spread my arms and not feel like I’m hitting the walls or anything. So I’ve kind of made that into my own personal space, especially because not too much goes on in the second floor as compared to the fourth floor. I’m not really bothering anyone, hopefully. I’d be mortified to learn that my advisor’s like: ‘I’ve been in my office all along and I’ve heard how many times you’ve been playing WAP while writing your thesis.’”
Emma Smith ‘22 (she/her), Hispanic literature and cultures and SISP Major, Thesis in Hispanic Literature, Carrel #421
Working Title: “So I’m writing in Spanish, so there’s a Spanish and an English title and they are slightly different. The English title is ‘Devoured by the jungle: Masculinity and national identity in fictional representations of the Latin American rainforest’”
On her topic: “I am writing, as the title suggests, about the way that the rainforest is narrated in various canonical literary texts written about Latin America and in most cases by Latin American authors. So I took a class with Professor María Ospina my sophomore year that was called Dangerous Plots: Fictions of the Latin American Jungle. And it was just like a pretty broad overview of films and literature dealing with Latin American jungle as natural space, kind of how it’s portrayed, and I loved that class. I got really into using this analytical framework, looking at natural states and like, pretty much writing all my Spanish papers like about that topic or like from that perspective! So I decided to make it into a thesis project focusing on different texts and particularly honing in on the way that the rainforest is feminized and how that feminization interacts with masculinity and machismo of the narrators and main characters.
On how she came up with her topic: “Yeah, I got really into this class and then my mind just kept going to this idea of looking at how natural spaces are constructed and so yeah, I just wanted to dig deeper and hone in on some of these particular texts.”
On her progress: “I am turning in a draft today. I’ve actually had most of it drafted, since like, the beginning of break and then I’ve been going through kind of doing a first round of edits and then I’m sending the draft to my advisor. I’ve been working on it since the summer and certainly like this semester, I really buckled down and tried to be disciplined about getting a lot of writing done.”
On her current mental state: “I’m pretty good. I definitely I feel the second hand stress, like people around me are stressed and that is making me a little bit stressed. But frankly, I feel pretty good about what I have done. And generally I get a little bit stressed about it, and then I kind of sit down with the topic and I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m really into this, I’m proud of what I’ve done.’ And that makes me feel better!”
On her most upsetting thesis experience: “This isn’t that upsetting, but I did recently realize that one of the texts that I had been citing in English, that I read in English, as a secondary source, it turns out it was originally written in Spanish. So now I have to go back and translate all of it into Spanish! That upset me a little bit today.”
On her favorite form of procrastination: “There are so many. I actually thought about keeping a list of the different ways I procrastinated on my thesis. I generally tend to go down very strange internet rabbit holes of like, bizarre topics. One time I went shopping for a giant Schnauzer, which is something that you can buy online actually, and have shipped to you. And I was like, ‘What am I doing!?’ I also like to eat blueberries when I work on my thesis, that’s something I’ve started doing. Usually I go into Olin with a whole carton of blueberries and leave when it’s empty.”
On her plans for after it’s turned in: “I’ll be drinking champagne and probably be taking a huge nap.”
Her advice for future thesis writers: “I would say, maybe a little bit generic, but I would say definitely pick a topic that you are really excited about and that you want to know more about and get into. Truly the fact that I’m so interested in my topic and was interested in analyzing literature in general has been my saving grace. I think I would have abandoned that long ago if I didn’t genuinely enjoy what I was doing and wanted to do it for a long long time.”
On her favorite part of her thesis: “Okay, I thought about this one, actually, I anticipated this question! So there’s this one part in the first chapter I write about Alexander von Humboldt, who’s this German explorer. He’s kind of your like, classic colonialist, imperialist thinker. I’m analyzing his essay on the geography of plants. Basically, how his strategy of mapping and quantifying the rainforest lay the grounds for future colonization and extraction of natural resources. Another side part of that chapter is the way that indigenous words and stories interrupt his colonialist logics. So there’s one part where he is in Colombia. He’s in a town and he’s talking to these indigenous guys who are not named or designated really, but they are talking about this volcano. They tell him that the volcano spews fish when it explodes and the fish come out. And he believes them and includes this in the essay. There’s like a footnote that I cite by Sylvie Romanowski, who translates the text, and she’s like, ‘I don’t know if he actually believed this or if they were just like, totally fucking with him and put it in there’” *laughs*.
If her thesis was a song/movie/TV show: “I mean, it’s very analytical. It definitely could be one of those weird rainforest movies. What’s that movie called? …Oh, Jumanji! I don’t know, like every so often, I’ll see very contemporary jungle representations that are like super random and I’m like ‘maybe I should put this in my thesis?’”
Her most used word/phrase: “I do know that I have used insane amounts of semicolons. So many, like most of my editing is just going through and removing semicolons! As for word or phrase, I say ‘la selva’ a lot, that’s the Spanish word for rainforest. ‘el machismo,’ ‘la feminización’ are used a lot.”
Theses Feces: *laughs* “No comment!”
Zhaorui “Christina” Lü ‘22 (she/her), History and Government double major with a concentration in international politics, thesis in both History and Government, Carrel #412
Working Title “The Paths Forward: the Conceptualizations of Women’s Labor Under the Question of Gender Equality in China, 1949-1984”
On her topic: “I basically examined how the Chinese government conceptualized women’s work from three different periods. The first chapter is from the early period of 1949-1957 which was the early socialist construction, the second chapter focuses on the Revolution period, and the third chapter is on the transition period from 1976 to 1984. Because the Chinese state is a socialist state they are supposed to uphold the gender equality principle, and it is enshrined in the Chinese constitution, but the Chinese economy shifted its model in the first period from the first five year plan to the collectivized model in the revolutionary period and then to the economic reform. The Chinese government really needs to reconfigure how it situates women’s labor into each different economic model while still upholding gender equality. They conceptualize gender equality differently in each period and they come up with different policies and different ways to recognize gender equality. It’s really hard to condense that into a little statement!”
On how she thought of the topic: “The short answer is the current events. Today in China the gender issues are very contentious and especially when it comes to employment women are increasingly being discriminated against when being hired. But they justify gender discrimination at work because they say once women get a job they’ll just get pregnant and leave the work to others. Or they’ll say that you don’t see women working in construction or digging tunnels. But actually, when you look back into China’s recent past in the Cultural Revolution, women actually did do that heavy labor. They were working at construction sites. And as to the pregnancy part, during the collectivized era there were welfare programs taking care of the children, and guaranteeing mothers liberty to work. So I think the contemporary debate really lacks nuance. Current feminists are nostalgic about the socialist period during Mao’s area because Mao said ‘women could hold up half the sky.’ So current feminists are really trying to use this slogan back to appeal to parties by arguing, ‘in the past you’ve said that but currently you’re really not fulfilling your goals.’ But at the same time, the nostalgia is not warranted either because, as we see in that period, the party really had different interpretations for gender equality. And saying ‘women hold up half the sky’ is an overused generalization. But I still think it is important for current feminists to look back to our own pasts and to find the right language and find out what the Chinese state has said and done with gender equality in the past. We can see what paths we’ve taken in the path to know what path we can move forward with.”
On her progress: “Currently writing the intro, and I still need to write the conclusion. I’m supposed to have the introduction done by tomorrow when I meet with my advisor and…well, it’s okay.”
On her current mental state: “I’d say the past two weeks have been hard. I think I’m the more optimistic type usually and I’ve been holding up okay. I wasn’t really stressed out or anything earlier, but I think this last month it’s been getting to me.”
On her most upsetting thesis experience: “I mean he’s [her advisor] super nice, he’s very attentive but he can be very demanding. I have a class in Fisk Hall in the early slot and he has a class at 2:50 right next to my classroom. Whenever my class is over I can always see him in the hallway, so I got to see him like 4 times a week. Sometimes it was very stressful because the door would be open and so when the class is almost over you can see him wandering around the hallways waiting for me. One time I was kind of lacking on the progress for that week and I saw him after class and he was just there waiting for me outside the door and was like ‘you need to give me more.’ So he’s like a very haunting presence in my life. He knows he is a haunting presence for all of his advisees. He is very well aware of that fact.”
On her favorite form of procrastination: “Watching Youtube.”
Do you have a favorite type of video to watch? “I watch a lot of kpop livestage.”
Her plans for April 14/after she hands her thesis in: “I am traveling with my partner to Yosemite. We’re going there first and then LA and exploring a little.”
Her advice for future thesis writers: “Choose a topic you are really passionate about. Be patient. Realize that your content will change all the time and that’s ok. And take advice with a grain of salt because sometimes your advisor is just throwing ideas at you to see what hits and you don’t need to take note of everything, because at the end of the day it’s your thesis and product, so take ownership of it.”
On her favorite part of the thesis process: “I think the feeling of having a purpose. I feel very strongly about my topic, and it’s nice to see that you’re contributing to something that at least you hope can do some good in this world. I also like the comradery of all the thesis writers. Like recently when I run into a fellow thesis writer we insist on asking how the other is doing even though we just look at eachother and know we’re not doing well *laughs*. It’s quite nerdy but it’s fun.”
If her thesis was a song/movie/tv show: “I’ve been listening to a Chinese translated version of ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’ from Les Mis and with the new lyrics it’s been made into a women’s song. So now it’s about women’s rights and anti domestic violence and women’s right to say no.”
Her most used word/phrase: “Equality”
A question she wished we asked: “One thing I want to add is that throughout writing the thesis I’ve continued staying active by running and going to the gym. I think it’s important because writing a thesis can be very distressing. I feel like if i weren’t doing all the physical activities I would have no self esteem left. Outdoor exercises are so important. Don’t just stay in the library and write!”
Theses feces! “I mean…I don’t think the thesis has influenced it. Like I said I was very attentive to my health and paid attention to what I ate so we’re all good. Taking care of yourself no matter what you’re doing is very important.”