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A Day in the Life of Thesis Hell

By Mary LOUISE Kelly

"Ever seen a Nike ad? Just do it," a friend of mine's dad told him the other day.

Obviously he never wrote a senior thesis.

If he had, he would understand that the true joy and satisfaction of writing a thesis isn't intellectual growth, it isn't whether you earn a summa cum laude, it isn't even the moment when you turn the damn thing in.

It's the complaining you get to do in the meantime. I saw a comedian on TV the other day whose advice was to "Live every day as if it's your last--lots of whining, moaning and general pitifulness." Bingo.

The trick here is to win as much sympathy and be as patronizing as possible to underclass friends who have the gall to believe they actually have a lot to do when their heaviest writing assignment is 10-12 pages with no outside reading required.

Witness a typical day in the life of a thesis-writing senior:

7:30 a.m. Your alarm goes off, since when you went to bed the night before you intended to outline a chapter before your morning classes. Wake up. Reflect on fact that your best friend has won a Rhodes to study at Oxford for two years, your roommate has been accepted to grad school at Dartmouth, your high school boyfriend just signed with Morgan Stanley, and you can't even commit to spring break plans. Moan in despair. Snooze til 8:47 a.m.

8:52 a.m. Get up, flip on computer, and stare bleakly at your thesis outline one more time. Experience fleeting moment of joy at thought that all your friends in Social Studies have dropped their theses, switched to Gov, and are now downing pitchers at the Grill. Realize you already are Gov. Moan in despair.

Waste the next 90 minutes fiddling with various procrastination techniques, such as changing the spacing from 2 to 2.1 lines, moving the page numbers to different positions to see if it will make it longer, and adjusting the left margin to two inches every time you finish a new paragraph to check how long the finished product will be once it's bound.

11:30 a.m. Leave for morning classes. (You are, of course, only enrolled in courses offering a senior honors hourly or no final exam or no class on Friday or all of the above).

12:07 p.m. Lunchtime. Try to grab a table with other seniors who can commiserate on the living hell that is writing a thesis. Wonder whether the conversation will be able to sustain itself for a record 37 seconds before someone utters one of the Taboo Words--"thesis," "interview" or "next year."

Inevitably, an unwitting house tutor pipes up, "So, how's the thesis going?" United, all seniors at table flinch as if in great physical pain and banish tutor from table. Conversation returns to previous night's dinner conversation: gossip about who's asked whom to the senior soiree.

Decide that since your academic life is in a shambles, you will at least make a stab at getting a life next year. (At this point, anything's betting than going back upstairs to face your thesis again).

2:30 p.m. Trudge to OCS, convinced those black job binders somehow hold the secret to a challenging, exotic career with a six-figure starting salary. Realize only too late that you have just violated the cardinal rule of being a senior: Never EVER enter OCS unless you are in a state of blinding, unshakable confidence and goodwill toward humankind.

Your palms begin to sweat as you look around and realize that the hoards of people flipping through binders represent the brightest, most aggressive seniors in the nation and they have all gotten here BEFORE you. They probably have already applied to fellowships, completed final round recruiting, applied to all the top-10 law schools, and printed out versions of their cover letter in four languages.

Leaf through the "Summer Jobs" binder for the 14th time, knowing full well the listings were last updated in 1987 and you will never get a job anyway unless you are a minority and willing to work 90 hours per week in Cincinatti (unpaid, of course).

4:42 p.m. Wander upstairs. Contemplate telling Work Abroad Counselor Bill Klingelhofer that you're interested in working as a pirate in the Caspian Sea, and would a leather thong and scabbard be appropriate dress for the interview?

Contemplate showing up for your Smith-Barney interview in a beige leisure suit, black Reebok high tops and an "American by birth, Southern by the grace of God" cap.

Contemplate how many cardiac arrests you could induce by walking into the main reading room, announcing in a you have already been accepted by both Harvard and Stanford medical schools on full scholarship, and you wish Yale would just hurry up and let you know.

Then contemplate something really wild and crazy, like sprinting past the uptight people guarding the front door and refusing to show your I.D.

Laugh maniacally to yourself as you exit the building.

6:10 p.m. Head to dinner. Turn to another favorite dining hall pastime, the Predict-which-Senior-Couples-will-end-up-getting-married Game.

7:13 p.m. Panic mid-way through dessert, stricken with the realization that you have just watched the sun set on yet another day without making any headway whatsoever on your thesis, and due date now looms only four weeks away. Spring out of the dining hall, charge up to your room, boot up the old Macintosh and...

7:19 p.m. Stare bleakly at your thesis outline one more time. Experience fleeting moment of joy at thought that all your friends in Social Studies have dropped their theses, switched to Gov, and are now downing pitchers at the Grill. Realize you already are Gov. Moan in despair.

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