Bridging the Joint Thesis

The two-for-one special takes on new meaning in thesis season

Senior combo thesis Ali
Alexa I. Stern

Whether they’ve been shacked up in Lamont, Starbucks, or the back of your dining hall, they’ve undoubtedly been working away, huddled over laptops and poring over sticky-noted library books. With the final thesis deadline fast approaching, many are days away from the time when they’ll print, bind, and send a year’s worth of work, research, and sweat out into the universe (or at least university) for final judgment.

Perhaps the only undergraduate undertaking more challenging than writing a senior thesis for your concentration is writing an interdisciplinary thesis for both of your concentrations. Yet for some passionate thesis writers, this joint-concentration endeavor was just the challenge they’d been waiting for.

SEEKING APPROVAL

As demanding as the challenge of writing the interdisciplinary thesis may be, according to some joint-thesis writers, gaining permission to do so can be just as testing.

Alicia C. Beyer ’10, an Economics and History of Art and Architecture joint concentrator, wrote her senior thesis on the factors motivating corporate giving to the arts. Gaining approval for such a project, however, was no easy feat:

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“It was challenging getting it approved, and a challenge convincing people that it wasn’t just that I had two very disparate interests and wasn’t willing to compromise, but that I was interested in their intersection,” explains Beyer.

Roger C. Batt ’10, a History of Art and Architecture and Neurobiology joint concentrator, experienced a similar challenge in trying to identify a thesis topic that would fit with both his fields of interests.

“The most challenging part was just getting started and really finding a topic that both [departments] could work with because making a topic work for both a science and a humanities department was really difficult,” explains Batt. “At first they tried to encourage me to pursue a secondary in Art History, but I really wanted to do a joint concentration.”

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Even after gaining approval from their departments, for some joint concentrators, one of their greatest challenges is just keeping both concentrations satisfied.

For Sarah A. Hinkfuss ’10, a joint Environmental Science and Public Policy (ESPP) and Economics concentrator writing her senior thesis on equity in informal water markets overseas, one of the greatest struggles was balancing the requirements and expectations of the two departments.

“Constantly, I was going back and forth. I was always writing and then figuring out what I needed to do and just making sure that what I wanted to do fit the stipulations of both departments,” Hinkfuss says. “It was very frustrating when I felt like I was attacked from both sides. Environmental would say I wasn’t being environmental enough, and economics would say I wasn’t being ‘economics-y’ enough...because I tried to mediate between different areas, it was like no area was satisfied.”

For Batt, finding the balance between Neuroscience and Art History has also been a challenge.

“Neuroscience is interested in methodology, the various scientifically rigorous aspects, whereas art history doesn’t care as much about the science. They care more about the theory. So it’s difficult to balance how much I’m going to give to each concentration.”

Of course, the challenges of undertaking such a massive project extend far beyond pleasing department heads.

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