Spring brings with it sunny days, greenery, snowless streets, and thesis deadlines. For juniors submitting thesis proposals, it is only the start. Meanwhile, seniors who have spent the best part of the year pouring blood, sweat and tears (not to mention hours) into writing their theses at last turn them in.
Yet not all theses take the same form. While most students who write theses choose to demonstrate their academic scholarship through critical papers, each year a select group of students opts for a different path: the creative thesis. The work produced by undergraduates who are awarded creative theses varies widely with regard to medium as well as subject matter. Some are original literary works produced by English concentrators; some creative theses produced by students in other departments take the form of films and staged pieces. But these students are united by a belief that creative work is just as valid a way of demonstrating scholarly excellence as critical work.
WRITE OF PASSAGE
For students in the English Department, the process of writing a creative thesis officially begins in February of junior year, when concentrators who wish to do so submit their applications. But in reality, the preparation that culminates in writing a creative thesis begins far before this deadline.
"The fact that I'm not doing a critical thesis in no way suggests that I did not enjoy the more critical English classes that I have taken," Ethan G. Loewi '15 says. "But for me the difference is between something that interests me and something that I am really profoundly passionate about."
In order to be able to even apply, a student must have taken at least one creative writing workshop (many applicants for creative theses will have taken several). Students must also submit a cover letter that details their reasons for wanting to write a creative thesis and the writers who have influenced their style; a list of creative writing workshops taken at Harvard; a resume of relevant courses taken and any creative pieces published; a description of the thesis that includes the subject matter, nature, and approximate length of the proposed work; and a writing sample in the genre of the proposed thesis.
Once students have turned in this lengthy application, they are confronted with a selection process that, depending on the year, can be quite competitive. According to Lauren Bimmler, the undergraduate program administrator in the English Department, the number of students that applies for creative theses varies significantly from year to year. “In the last few years, we’ve had anywhere from 15 applications to…22 applications. [This year] we had 20 applications, which is about a third of our junior class.” The proportion of the applicant pool that is awarded creative theses is equally variable. “A couple of years ago 40 percent of the applicants who applied got a creative thesis. Some years where there are fewer applications, 90 percent who have applied have gotten a creative thesis,” Bimmler says.
Matthew S. Krane ’15, whose application for a creative thesis in poetry was recently approved, has planned on writing a creative thesis since the beginning of his time at Harvard. “By the time I got here, I had already sort of decided that a lot of the critical work that was being done in English didn’t feel as relevant to most people’s lives,” Krane says. “I had also decided that it wasn’t as personally enjoyable to me as writing…creatively.”
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