What watching the ‘bacc’ teaches about doing the thesis
By Bailey Cowden
Editor’s Note: As the academic year ended at New College, Bailey Cowden, a second-year and student writing assistant in our Writing Resource Center, attended several “baccs” — short for baccalaureate exams, a fourth-year student’s defense of the thesis project in front of a committee of professors. Here, she shares what she learned about what makes a strong thesis and bacc.
Being a second-year, until now I’ve only had secondhand accounts of all the work that leads up to this event. My professors encouraged me to start thinking about my thesis and the thesis process now. By closely examining the process that leads up to Baccing, I hope to save myself avoid missteps in this process. Here is my plan, based on what I have gleaned from others’ processes.
Step 1: Choose a topic
It is important to choose a topic that I have encountered on some level in my work at New College. Maybe it is a topic that I did not feel was fully addressed in a class I took, and I would like to know more about. Ideally, it is a topic that I want to spend a year or more researching and thinking about it — because people will ask me about it. Independent Study Projects and Tutorials are a great opportunity to explore different research interests and decide which professors you work well with. Which leads us to …
Step 2: Build a Support Network
Professors at New College, in addition to having different research interests, have different ways of guiding students through the thesis process. Some students prefer a active approach, with tight communication and plenty of deadlines. Others prefer a more relaxed approach with minimal check-ins and flexible deadlines. Finding a professor who is able to provide the style that matches my needs (lots of deadlines and feedback please!) will help in the thesis process. In addition to finding the right sponsor, I will lean on my classmates, other professors in my field, and friends and family when I struggle.
Step 3: Write With People
After finding a support team, I have to prepare for a lot of writing. Writing large amounts of words in short time periods is not a foreign concept to me. Since my first year at New College, I have taken part in writing groups. In my first group here, I wrote a novel (60,000+ words) in a month as my Independent Study Project. After this experience, every semester I have dedicated myself to meeting once a week for two hours with my peers. We all sit together and work on our own writing assignments. This practice has taught me to write even when I do not feel like writing.
I plan to carry on this practice by attending events like Thesis Crunch. The Writing Resource Center has an early morning time block and a late night time block where their hours are extended once a week for thesis students to come, eat some cereal, and get some words on the page (or screen, as the case may be).
Step 4: Public Speaking 101
Once I have written all that is needed, I will move on to preparing my oral defense. Just as you want people to read your writing, it is important to practice a thesis defense in front of real people (and not your stuffed animals). Feedback and constructive criticism is how we improve.
The Writing Resource Center helps thesis student practice their presentation skills and get feedback from fellow thesis students. The bacc-prep workshop offers two different hourlong time slots where three thesis students can sign up for each block. Each student gets 10 minutes to present and then they receive 10 minutes of feedback from other attendees. This seems really useful to have some structure and reduce any pre-presentation anxiety.
This plan should help my thesis and my bacc be the best it can be. I know that even if I follow all these steps, I cannot guarantee that there will be zero problems. But I know I feel better when I am prepared and given the opportunity to learn from others before I pursue something totally new. I developed this plan by watching others and asking many questions, and I am sure I can keep learning by continuing to experience this beautiful process first hand.