When I was a second-year, I made friends with a thesis student who gave me a word of advice: Never ask me about my thesis. Followed by friendly threats of violence given I break this rule, she made it very clear where she stood in relation to her yearlong project.
While certainly not representative of every New College graduate’s experience, this interaction did fit into a narrative I’ve been hearing since the beginning of first-year orientation, that the thesis will break you.
Now I’m in the thick of it, and this year has been full of surprises. For instance, I didn’t know that, as an English AOC, my thesis only needed to be about 60 pages — three 15-page chapters plus an intro and conclusion. I thought it was going to be closer to 90!
Why do so many students go into this process flying by the seat of our pants? Why is the thesis characterized as some arduous task that will ultimately swallow us and spit us out as lifeless husks? As a tutor in the Writing Resource Center, and as a thesis student myself, I want to try and change the conversation about the thesis and demystify the process.
I learned something from my fourth-year friend that I didn’t fully understand until now: writing a thesis is hard. But that’s the point. It’s not easy to carry a single project from inception to completion over the course of a year, and that’s what makes it worth it.
My experience writing it — especially in these last few weeks as everyone around me seems to be finishing up their drafts — has been a difficult one. Battling procrastination, counterproductive perfectionism, and an impulse to spend most of my time formatting the document, I’ve been pretty stressed for more than a few weeks.
But I can’t underscore enough the pride I feel when I think about it: my thesis. My idea that I get to bring to fruition and defend before a committee that’s probably not half as interested as I am. And that’s OK because it’s my topic. Sure, they ultimately need to sign the paper that will let me graduate, but at no time was this project for anyone but me.
Often referred to as “uniquely brilliant,” New College students are also uniquely privileged with the opportunity to complete such a capstone project at our academically rigorous institution. Just by following through on this process, we have the capacity to gain a wealth of self-directed research experience that can make us competitive applicants to internships, jobs and grad programs across the world.
Sometimes writing a thesis can be tremendously difficult. Sometimes it can be downright painful, and sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning because I know that today will be just a little bit harder than yesterday.
But it’s in those moments that I try to remember: we don’t have to do this; we get to do it. And many students applied to New College just for the opportunity to do so, to pick a topic important to them and follow it through. So in times of distress, I think about everyone who has done this before me, swallow the absurd, and dive back into the research.