The Creationists

Theses run the gamut from poetry collections to original dance performances


Mariel Pettee portrait
Creative theses are possible even in disciplines that are not traditionally associated with them. Mariel N. Pettee ’14, a joint concentrator in physics and mathematics, created a dance piece called “Symmetry Breaking” that will be performed in Farkas Hall during Arts First on May 3-4. As both a physicist and one of the Office of the Arts’s “Emerging Choreographers” of 2014, Pettee was first made aware that such a project was possible while interning at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known as CERN), where she interacted with its Arts Department.

Pettee’s thesis aims to explain the Higgs boson particle to the audience in as many ways as is possible—through dance, through interactions between the dancers, through lights, and even through the audience’s own interaction with the piece as they hear noises coming from one room and must trace the noises back to the source in order to discover what is going on.


Like Smith, Pettee’s thesis was made possible by the cooperation of various groups to support her in her endeavor. “I’m so grateful—I’m receiving support from such a diverse group of people at Harvard, which suits the nature of the project,” she says. “My cast is this really eclectic and talented group, and so is my staff, and the people who have supported me are in the Office of the Arts, and in the Physics Department, and in the [Undergraduate Council], and in HRDC, so it’s kind of from all over the place, and it feels cool that I don’t know exactly where to place it, so it’s exciting how collaborations like this can happen.”


A collection of stories, a staged piece, or an original film may lack the surface austerity of 50 to 100 double-spaced pages of analytical writing. But the thoughtfulness and dedication with which students approach these projects, as well as the quality of the work they produce, suggest that in the mind of those who complete them creative theses are just as valid a way of demonstrating scholarship as their critical counterparts.

Smith speaks to this point when she cites affirmation of creativity’s academic worth as the most rewarding part of her thesis. “This confirmed for me that creativity and artistic expression are valid forms of scholarship.”

Staff writer Layla Siraj can be reached at


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