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For Off-Cycle Seniors, Thesis-Writing Concludes

By Julia E. DeBenedictis and Ellen Zhang, Contributing Writers

Most Harvard seniors edit, toil over, and finally turn in their theses in a communal flurry in the weeks leading up to spring break and Housing Day each spring. But for the College’s off-cycle seniors, the affair is less standardized and a bit more lonely, they say.

Though off-cycle deadlines—which affect seniors who take time off and complete their eighth semester during the fall term—vary by department, most fall sometime around November each year.

For Alice W. Zhao ’14-’16, a joint concentrator in Statistics and Mathematics and a former Crimson business associate, the formal thesis-writing process was the same as for her on-cycle counterparts, but she said other aspects were different.

In the spring, many professors assume that the seniors in their classes are writing theses and proactively grant extensions for assignments. But in the fall, professors do not readily assume that students in their classes are facing impending thesis deadlines, Zhao said.

For Zhao, the biggest difference, though, was that “not everyone around you is writing a thesis—that’s a pretty big deal,” she said.

Her thesis adviser, Statistics professor David P. Harrington, said Zhao’s off-cycle writing experience was not to her disadvantage and that during the summer, he and Zhao “probably met as often by phone and over Skype as we would have met during the semester.”

Zhao also benefited because “she got her project in spring term, so she had summer to continue to work on,” Harrington said. “The thesis was better shaped, and she knew where it was headed.”

The advantages of writing off-cycle are even greater because there are fewer students in the final stages of thesis-writing, Yoav B. Schaefer ’15-’16 said.

Schaefer, a Social Studies concentrator with a focus on German philosophy, turned in his thesis a few days before his Nov. 2 deadline. His thesis “focused in particular on a number of German-Jewish philosophers in the 20th century in the period between the World Wars,” he said.

“In some ways, I could not have written the thesis that I wrote had I been writing it over the academic year; I took on a much bigger project than I would have been able to write over two semesters,” Schaefer said.

Because he was writing off-cycle, he said, he had an extra summer, traditionally a crucial time that many seniors set aside to work on major portions of their theses.

“I had two summers—generally you use a summer for research and then write over the academic year. I had two, so I researched last summer,” Schaefer said. “I was in Jerusalem doing research there, and then I had this summer to write.”

The Committee on Social Studies, he said, was also accommodating. “My adviser was very accessible over the summer, which I think is not always the case,” Schafer said.

For her part, Christina A. Nguyen ’15-’16, who also wrote an off-cycle thesis, said there were not major differences between writing a thesis on-cycle and writing one off-cycle since “the project in itself is an independent undertaking.”

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