The Thesis That Almost Wasn't

It was about three weeks ago that George Reyes '75 seriously considered dropping his Government thesis. He had written only ten pages, and had just a month to write at least 55 more.

Reyes was sitting at his desk, scribbling away on a yellow legal pad, when he found himself writing a sentence that said, in effect, "And now we come to the important aspects of this issue." But what came next? Reyes thought for a moment. What were the important aspects of his thesis? He wasn't sure.

The next time he called his parents in Riverside, Calif., Reyes said he was dropping his thesis, that it was a final decision, "And the reaction was kind of like, 'Well, how can you throw away everything that you've done?" he remembers. His parents asked how the decision would affect his chances of getting into law school. Reyes wasn't sure.

He went to see his adviser, a graduate student in Government, and said that he wanted to drop the thesis. "I felt guilty," Reyes says, "but I also thought how great it would be not to write this thesis. I could spend time on courses, see friends, spend more time at dinner." But his adviser talked him out of dropping the thesis, and offered suggestions for reorganizing it. The suggestions made sense to Reyes, but after he ripped up his original ten pages and spent the next three weeks writing 31 more, he looked at his work and ... wasn't sure.

The problem is that George Reyes has never written a paper longer than 15 pages. He is having trouble structuring his research, and trouble turning his notes into paragraphs of clear academic prose. So the new 31 pages seem labored at times, wordy in many places. Reyes's adviser read the 31 pages and said he was pleased, but he peppered the margins with comments like "This is confusing," "What does this mean?" and a "K" for "awkward."


"Sometimes I feel as though what I write is really no good," Reyes says. "It's not a hell of a lot of fun. It doesn't come easy at all."

That, of course, is why Reyes considered dropping the thesis. He got bored--"bored as hell," he says--sitting at his desk, struggling with the amorphous mass of research whose official name, come the March 27 deadline for all Government theses, will be "Congressional Reform: The Committee Reform Amendments of 1974."

Friends urged him to pack up the thesis and enjoy his last semester at Harvard. That's what they were doing: most of his friends who were planning to write these changed their minds. These friends are in the History Department, the Economics Department, and the Government Department.

"They all came back from their tutors with figures on how these weren't being done here this year," Reyes said. "I just felt that I was alone, writing this paper."

And then on Wednesday, as the March calendar Reyes had made and hung above his desk showed only 15 more days until the thesis deadline, there appeared a Crimson news story that made Reyes ... wonder, sort of, what was going on.

The story said that seniors in the Social Studies Department--Soc Stud seniors, the elite cream of Harvard--were not especially keen on writing theses this year, Twenty-three of the 55 seniors had decided not to write them. And these were supposed to be scholars, these Soc Stud seniors--at least, they were supposed to be more scholarly than George Reyes, who regularly earns Group III grades; who did not take lecture notes when he first came to Harvard because it seemed unnecessary; and who has not once in four years gone to a professor's office hours (and resents "kiss-ass" students who do go only to win points by asking impressive questions.)

Reyes shook his head when he talked about the Soc Stud seniors on Wednesday. "It makes me feel like I'm the last"--an embarrassed pause--"of a breed." And then he laughed.


He is not the last, of course. In Reyes's department alone, the Government Department, there are about 90 seniors (out of a total of 146) writing a thesis.

But Reyes may be part of a declining breed. "With many more people going to law and medical school, they just don't want to do a big academic project," Katherine Auspitz, head tutor of the Social Studies Department, said in Wednesday's news story, trying to explain her department's dearth of these this year.

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