Do It Right: Research While You Tan

While many Harvard students spent the summer slaving away in musty offices to earn extra money, some seniors relished in the ambiance of exotic foreign countries--and some of them even got a tanned leg up on their thesis research.

Adams House senior Theresa A. Finn '89 spent five weeks in Great Britain and Ireland to research the emigration of the Irish to the West Indies, her thesis topic.

Funded by two Radcliffe grants totalling $1800, Finn examined a manuscript collection of documents from the 17th century in the London British Museum. She was also the first student to make use of some historical papers on medieval Ireland in the Jesuit Archives in Dublin, Ireland. In addition, she utilized Trinity College in Dublin and the National Library of Ireland, and viewed documentaries on the Irish television network RTE (Radio Television Eyre).

And Finn is not the only person to use University money to do thesis research. Several Harvard-Radcliffe departments as well as the Center for International Affairs (CFIA) and Radcliffe College annually sponsor a variety of grants and fellowships for prospective seniors to conduct research on their theses.

The CFIA awarded 13 travelling fellowships in various amounts to deserving Harvard students. Radcliffe College granted 11 women a variety of available funds, including four Josephine L. Murray Travelling Fellowships worth approximately $4000, two Phi Beta Kappa Summer Thesis Research Fellowships and five awards from the Presidential Discretionary Fund.


Summer research can prove invaluable to those students who wish to pursue exotic--and not so exotic--topics for their theses.

Leverett House senior Mark R. Hoffenberg '89, who received $2700 in grants from the CFIA, the Committee on African Studies and the Social Studies Committee, says his trip to South Africa was an invaluable experience.

"It was more than worth the time and energy," Hoffenberg says. "It was a necessity in order to understand the complexities of what the issues and attitudes really are."

Hoffenberg's thesis focuses on a South African reform program that claims to be accommodating black political rights within government structures. The Social Studies concentrator says his thesis will be "an analysis of new government structures with a view to what is motivating them, whose interests are being served, and in what ways they are being used to legitimize a hierarchically-based society."

While in South Africa, Hoffenberg--who emigrated from that country three years ago--interviewed more than 30 prominent South African personalities, including President P.W. Botha's chief political and constitutional advisers, leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement, and members of reactionary white political parties.

"It wouldn't have been possible to present an adequate analysis of this topic without conducting this research [in South Africa]," he says.

Summer research does more than provide an opportunity for personal investigations, thesis advisers from several departments say. Working over the long vacation is most important because it gives students extra time.

"It makes it easier for the student," says A.W. Phinney, the English Department's assistant head tutor for seniors. "They have a head start."

Nonetheless, Phinney says, although it may seem as if students who conduct summer thesis research have an unfair advantage, "it doesn't make a crucial difference" because "the people who will get summas will get them anyway."

Tutors in other departments agree. Associate Head Tutor of Economics Erin Page says that summer research helps improve a student's preparation and makes senior year some-what less traumatic. But, she adds, it does not give the student an "inside track" on a good grade.