Thesis Angst Begins its Grip on Seniors
Anthony R. Klein '86 took a book out of the library this summer, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, Volume II, and let it sit on his desk for three months. He wasn't feeling very pressured about writing his senior honors thesis for History and Literature back then.
But now that he has 87 days left to complete his examination of the pro-appeasement policy of The London Times from 1933-1938, Klein is beginning to worry.
"Officially, I'm on target," he says. "My advisor tells me I'm where I should be, but of course no one ever believes that. As far as I can tell, I'm light years behind in research."
For most seniors pursuing honors degrees, sleepless nights and all-out panic haven't struck yet--but deadlines loom largely in the future.
"It's hard to make it seems realistic at this point," Klein says. However, he adds that his March 1 deadline is "close enough to make me stay here for Christmas."
Klein won't be the only one welcoming the New Year from the Widener stacks. Lowell House resident Julia M. Sullivan '86 plans to end her break on December 27, in order to get back to work on her analysis of bildung in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain.
"This has taken over my whole life," Sullivan says. "It's become an obsession. Reading for pleasure has stopped--I look for bildung in everything I read."
"On the bright side," she says, "I'm making great progress. I'm way, way ahead of myself. Right now I'm frantically trying to stay ahead--it's more out of neurosis than any real sense of duty."
Sullivan admits that her progress has earned her "a lot of enmity" among fellow thesis-writers. "People aren't that hostile until I tell them I've written 30 pages," she says. But, she insists, "My situation might be different in February. I'm really not one of those horrible people who do things ahead of time."
Government concentrator Michael F. Melcher '85-'86 is trying to be just that type of horrible person. He hopes to turn in his thesis in January so that he can get a job second semester.
Melcher, who is writing about the evolution of the Viet Nam Communist Party, started his research last February. He says, though, that he didn't work very hard at first--something he's beginning to regret now. "This fall, I'm supposed to be one step ahead of everyone, but it's not quite working out that way," he says.
Melcher adds that, since he began writing about three weeks ago, he has gotten more confident and the process has become more enjoyable. "At least I can see the beginning of the end now," he say. "Until I started writing, it was more a source of anguish than reward. It's been a constant source of guilt since last March."
Most seniors seem to agree that the turning point in the thesis-writing process is the beginning of the actual writing. Winthrop House resident Anne Tobias '86--who says that thesis progress is the often the main topic of conversation among those writing them--adds that the discussion often turns to writing.
"The first thing people ask, usually before they say hello, is 'how is your thesis going?' Then they ask, in a panicked voice, 'have you started writing yet?'"
Tobias, a History and Literature concentrator, is almost done with the first chapter of her analysis of the development of the egoistic female characters in the novels of George Eliot. She stresses, though, that writing is often not an accurate indication of progress, since many theses have a greater emphasis on research than others.
For science and economics concentrators in particular, "the main thing is the research," says Steven D. Chessler '86, a Biochemistry concentrator whose thesis--concerning gene regulation--will rely on experiments he has made with fruit flies.
"It's going more slowly than I thought it would," says Chessler, adding that the writing process could not really begin until he had results from his experiment. "Fruit flies take a while to multiply--but when they're fruitful, I'll get moving."
Economics concentrator Nina A. Mendelsohn '86 of Quincy House explains that an economics thesis is closer to science than to humanities, since it is based largely on a student-designed experiment. Mendelsohn is studying union organizing in open-shop states, and has sent questionnaires to union presidents around the nation.
Mendelsohn, interviewed moments after completing her first page, stressed the importance of the thesis advisor in the process. "A lot of my friends are getting tense now," she says, explaining, "if you find out that your advisor is no good, it really throws a wrench into the whole process."
Mendelsohn, who is working with Economics Lecturer James L. Medoff, has no complaints in that area. "My advisor's great," she says. "He's been really helpful. If I have a crisis, it's his crisis too."
"I'm trying to get myself to work consistently," Mendelsohn says. "Before, I spent about one afternoon a week on it, but I'll have to step that up now."
But--despite the best of planning--experience tells that there will be a run on No-Doz at the beginning of the spring.
Scott R. Sehon '86 of Lowell House says that a friend who graduated last year made him sign a piece of paper vowing that "I wouldn't be writing anything significant on my thesis in the last three days." Sehon adds that, when the time comes, "he's going to send it to me."