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Nightmare on Thesis Street


By Matthew H. Joseph

IT IS an affair of state. Everyone who is anyone is there. The elegant Washington, D.C. ballroom is filled with important dignitaries wearing tuxedoes or fancy dresses. People are exchanging meaningless pleasantries and getting soused. Even the President of the United States is in attendance.

I am there also, underdressed for the occasion. My personal friendship with the President earned me my invitation.

Some time during the course of the evening, President Reagan comes up to me, looking glum and distracted. He places his hand on my shoulder and sighs.

"Matthew," the President of the United States says in a quit, depressed voice, "I really don't want to be here tonight."

"I've got a chapter of my thesis due tomorrow."

THAT'S WHEN I wake up. This thesis is really getting to be a pain, I say to myself before going back to slumberland and more nightmares about thesis writing.

In some ways, writing a thesis is like a continual series of bad dreams from which you wake up, only to find yourself in another nightmare. I am trapped like a character in Nightmare on Elm Street, and my thesis is like Freddy Krueger, chasing me through my dreams. That's why I call my thesis Freddy.

Often I dream about other topics I could have written on, topics which in my dreams would have kept me interested far into the next decade (when I will be completing my thesis).

After one brutal experience in Littauer Hall, I dreamed about writing a thesis on the bureaucracy of the Government Department, where the tutorial office does just about anything short of charging students for giving the time of day. I could analyze to internal workings of department, pinpointing the inefficiencies and making suggestions, i.e. mass firings.

That dream ended abruptly with a vision of my thesis evaluation, written by Gov tutors. There was only one brief comment: "You mess with us; we mess with you. No Distinction." In the background of my dream I hear Freddy laughing.

Another time, I dreamed about writing about the politics of food distribution at Harvard, examining why Adams House gets good lettuce, while Winthrop gets pale colored cardboard. In my dream I discovered an underground network of rats who controlled where food went in the River Houses.

But my investigation made too many waves, and rats began appearing in my common room, screeching loudly in gibberish that sounded suspiciously like, "We know where your family lives." As I awoke in cold sweat, I heard Freddy say, "You'll never escape me!"

BESIDES creating nightmares, thesis writing does an effective job of destroying whatever misconception you had about your own talents. Some of us go through Harvard thinking that we could be brilliant if we really worked hard--something we never actually do. This theory remained pleasantly untested during nearly three and one-half years of my undergraduate education.

Writing a thesis puts an end to this fantasy. You are forced to recognize the possiblity that despite your hard work, the Pulitzer Prize committee will probably pass you up this year, that your thesis will be far from perfect, that as a senior, you've all but wasted a shot for an education.

Perhaps this is all for the best. Perhaps this is one of those trials by fire from which I will emerge a stronger, better person. Perhaps I will be one of those people who roam around campus, looking dweebish, and saying that writing their thesis was the most worthwhile experience of their college life. Or, in an outcome than looms likely whenever I fall off to sleep, I will be one of Freddy's victims.

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