Red-Headed Rant - Demistifying Thesis: Slaying the Dragon

Now that it's over I'm not going to mince words: I hated thesis. I had a less than peachy time with it, and I was only halfway satisfied with what I ultimately turned in. As a friend of mine said: it came out like a premature baby, a little underdeveloped from the belly of my brain.Yet I don't want to use this, my last college article, to whine. Instead I want to tell you that, looking back, I know thesis didn't have to be so bad. My premature delivery was ultimately a product of my own procrastination, but the problems I ran into also stemmed from the culture of fear that surrounds the project. At first, the fear seems unjustified because we always knew it was coming. I heard it on my tour of Scripps campus as a high school senior and said it aloud myself when I led those tours sophomore year: "Every Senior Must Write A Thesis." We have four years to get ready, and by all accounts we are. In any given class we may be expected to produce a similar number of written pages or a nearly comparable research project. The challenge of thesis was learning to conceptualize a larger, over-arching idea and how to break down the amount of work. There were moments I wasn't prepared for, though. I did not know what it would be like to ask a faculty member to be my reader and found, that like asking for a prom date, it could be both awkward and exciting. Some girls really clicked with their readers, some didn't, but we all learned the valuable skill of how to specifically ask for what we need. I also wasn't prepared for what it would do to my fellow seniors and me.  Girls who had never asked another student what grade she got on a test were suddenly asking, with an anxious, competitive edge to their voices, about numbers of pages, sources and readers. I often heard people putting each other's topics down. Good friends suddenly disappeared, and flustered, rude replacements arrived. Some of us seemed to forget we were all going through this together. A usually confident friend of mine told me she would avoid going into a certain building in case she saw one of her readers and they asked her where her late chapter was. Some stopped eating or showering regularly or developed bizarre quirks, biting nails or the ends of their hair. At a Career Planning and Resources event, an alumna signed her recently-published book of poetry for me. She wrote, "To my Scripps sister Claire," and I had to excuse myself to the bathroom before I randomly started crying. I was sleep deprived and emotionally whacked, but I also felt that because I wasn't triumphing over thesis, I didn't feel worthy of being called a Scripps sister. Why does thesis have to be a horror? Though perhaps being finished skews my answer, I don't think it has to be a horror. And for some it wasn't. Printing my thesis out among my peers in Steele, the feeling of relief and mutual accomplishment was amazing. I'd like to congratulate all who got through it, and to tell my Scripps sisters yet to embark on the project not to be afraid. For one, this does not have to define your entire college career. We accomplish so much here, one project does not even begin to cover it. Secondly, write about something you care about. The summer before senior year, spend a few of your sunny afternoons in the library or flip back through old work and find something—an idea, an author, a time period, an anthropological theory, an atom structure, whatever—that always intrigued you but that you had to abandon at the time.  Treat thesis like a class and work on it every day, or at least every other day. I'm serious. Most importantly don't let the fear and isolation creep in. Cheer on your peers and form a group to read over drafts. Break down the mysticism and the parts left to be written. Keep in steady contact with—and be honest with—your readers about your progress. I now see the purpose of thesis, and what mine could have been. I probably won't be re-writing it for fun, but I do feel equipped to take on such a project in the future. And there's value in that. Inevitably you're going to be stressed out and you're going to work hard. You didn't think Scripps was going to let you out of those library doors without a fight, did you? Though a little beastly, thesis can also be something close to fun. Take your time, indulge in the process, get dorky, get excited and be armed with this: You're going to graduate, and thesis is just another assignment. So be still, and know that no one in the registrar's office, not even the one guarding those orange slices, is actually God. You can slay the dragon and escape. And you will.