senior thesis

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Hello again!

I’ve been unfortunately pretty quiet in the blog world so far this semester, but I think it’s for a pretty great reason: I’m currently charging through the last few weeks (T-16 days!) of my senior thesis for Social Studies. This is a project I hinted at in earlier blog posts but that has become an increasingly large part of my life over the past couple of months, and it’s finally due – printed and bound – at 2 pm on March 13. I’ll be sure to write a more detailed post after I’m finished talking more specifically about what I’ve been working on, but in the meantime I thought it would be interesting to give a bit of a peek into the life of a “senior thesis-er.”

We seniors have a made-up word for the last couple of months of writing: “thesising.” Thesis writers can be spotted at all hours of the day (and night) in libraries, dining halls, and cafes around campus, usually surrounded by a stack of books or journal articles and often frantically typing on our overworked laptops. While many of us started thinking about and planning our theses almost a year ago at this point (time flies!), the bulk of the production and polishing happens between January and March, when most theses are due. About 50% of the senior class works on a thesis each year, and it makes for good company during these weeks of intensive writing and editing. Just for perspective, my thesis must be 20,000-30,000 words in total, which works out to about 100 pages.

So many chapters….

Many of us returned early for J-term and lived on campus for three weeks focusing solely on our thesis. During that month, we created an email group – “jtermthesis” – that was shared with many of the seniors on campus and allowed us space to ask questions about chapter formatting or plan outings to the movies as a study break. Some of the best email subject lines from that month included: “something to brighten your thesis adventure,” “late night study buddy?” and “good news for coffee drinkers,” all of which included links or tips for getting through January.

Now that we’re back on campus, thesis-related work has settled into a more regular rhythm because seniors have had to adjust back to class schedules and normal student responsibilities. Social Studies has been a great resource in helping us stay focused on the project deadline, though, largely through workshops and email reminders. I’ve been participating in a thesis writers’ seminar sponsored by Social Studies over the course of the year, and every other week I exchange drafts and feedback with two of my classmates in addition to meeting as a total group of 10 for an hour and a half. Social Studies also organized “presentation workshops,” which allowed me an opportunity to present my whole thesis in 15 minutes to a new group of students; the feedback from a fresh audience was incredibly useful.

Outside of these more formal aspects of thesis writing, there are some more fun additions that have been helping me push through the last couple of weeks. One great tradition maintained by many student groups is “thesis fairies,” where underclassmen volunteer to bring treats to seniors writing theses. Thus far I’ve been generously gifted Nutella, a slice of pie, Oreos, and a Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards – all of which provided an excellent energy boost! There’s also an anonymous Tumblr – seniorthesisproblems.tumblr.com – to which my classmates have been uploading GIFs capturing the sillier side of thesis writing. Definitely worth a visit if you want a funnier angle on the thesis process.

I’m writing this blog post from inside the Graduate School of Education’s Gutman library, which is one of my new favorite spots to study. I’m including a snapshot to give you all a sense of what studying at Harvard looks like!

Live action post from Gutman

And finally, I should clarify that I haven’t spent ALL of my spring semester drafting and editing – I did get a chance to enjoy winter during the blizzard a couple of weeks ago and during a weekend trip to my friend’s house in Vermont. I’m including a couple of photos below!

Dunster courtyard post-Blizzard

“Presidents’ Day Ski & Snow” Crew, as we named ourselves

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Today marks Day 5 (of 8) of Exam Week. Eeek! I wish everyone the best of luck with exams regardless of where you are in your education! It can definitely be more of a high-stress time, but find comfort in the fact that you’ve technically been preparing for these exams for months on months!!

With one more academic semester coming to a close, nothing on campus is normal this time of year. For example, despite my life science concentration (major), I’ve been cranking out almost as many papers as my English counterparts! (Key word: almost) I’m blogging right now in a the most peaceful mindset that I’ve had in almost a week. My two most important papers, culminating everything I’ve learned in half a year (!), were due this past Tuesday/Wednesday. As Reid mentioned in her last blog, a lot of papers/final projects are due during Reading Period – a week when no classes are held so we have unstructured time to prep for examinations! Yet keep in mind that a lot of language classes will still meet. My Spanish class served as a paper-writing break for me!

Here’s how I’ve spent some of my unstructured time:

MCB 145: Neuroperception & Decision Making

Hands down favorite class of the semester. The material is so riveting, the teaching staff is super approachable and admirably knowledgeable! (swoon here) I’ve just really loved this class because like MCB 115 (Cellular Basis of Neuronal Function), it’s done a phenomenal job at fostering our creative thinking juices within a scientific environment. In addition to the standard lectures, all our readings are scientific articles on currently accepted/widely accepted theories. Even I am cognizant of my progress as a scientific thinker: I use to just passively read and accept information and analysis, but now, I’m actively engaged in their methods and interpretations as well as constantly demanding the authors to genuinely win me over with their hypotheses. Ah, my nerd juices are happily fizzling.

Our last class was a miracle berry party! This was my 2nd time going on a “taste-trip” because Annenberg (the freshman dining hall) offered it as a study break when I was a freshman. You ingest this fruit or tablet and it makes everything – from pickles to grapefruit – taste sweeter! There are some videos on YouTube if you’re interested in living vicariously. Not completely suggesting it, but I’m pretty sure my professor bought tablets exactly like this on Amazon. I love food and I love parties, so it was a great way to end my favorite class!

Our final project mirrored a research proposal that would be submitted to the NIH (National Institute of Health). This paper made me a little paranoid for all my other assignments because the suggested page length was 4-5 pages … little did I know they meant singled-spaced! Was hardly aware people still counted that way! But I think my affections for this class stem from the growth of a potential senior thesis idea.

Slight explanatory tangent: I believe every concentration (aka major) either requires a senior thesis or has it as an option. I’m at the very beginning of thinking about pursuing a senior thesis so I’m not super knowledgeable, but from what I imagine, a thesis is essentially your first ever 80 page baby. You hate it because it keeps you up at night and makes you cry. Yet you love it because you’ve invested your mind, heart, and time into the thing! For my neurobiology concentration, it’s not required. However for my Global Health & Health Policy secondary (minor), either a separate mini thesis is required or a chapter in the thesis.

Anyways, during MCB 145, I developed a personal interest in preferences and am sort of on a quest to explain how and why people (or animals like mice) play favorites using neuronal activity. Depending on the feedback I receive, I may want to pursue this topic for my senior thesis. That means, I’ll be looking for a wet lab to start in the spring and most likely dedicate my summer there too! All this future planning, GAH

24 hours after my MCB paper was due, my final paper for Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 50: Literature & Medicine was due. I used 2 books we’ve read in the 2nd half of the semester to show how one’s understanding of the temporality of death results in his/her understanding of one’s self identity. Some pretty deep and depressing material, so I was beyond elated to submit the paper! This class, fulfilling a general education requirement as well as a requirement for my Global Health & Health Policy secondary) was a lot better than I expected! With one 2-hour lecture a week (in addition to a weekly 1-hr discussion section), it wasn’t super time consuming and the synergistic perspective of literature and medicine was a refreshing way to be introduced to a patient’s (and not only a doctor’s) point of view.

As classes end, students are typically bombarded with reminder emails for review sessions from their current TFs (Teaching Fellow, typically graduate student course assistants). However, one of the best surprises from the semester happened when I got an email from my LS1a (Life Sciences 1a, a huge introductory science class) TF. I was enrolled in this course my freshman fall (omg, 2 years ago!) and LS1a still remains one of my favorite classes! Probably because I had the coolest TF! This past semester marks his fourth year TF-ing LS1a and he emailed all his past students for a reunion. He reserved a classroom in the Science Center and brought us snacks! I was so impressed by his memory because he remembered where our section was held and pretty much seems to be aware of everything going on in my life. There’s definitely not only a high correlation, but a causation between how much I like my TFs and how much I like the class overall.

 

Like Scott & Reid who took some time to enjoy RENT, I too wanted to soak up some performing arts and watched Next to Normal. Some of the characters were familiar from last spring’s Legally Blonde student production, but the tone of the musical was completely different. I was basically sobbing which doesn’t really say too much but sniffles were heard throughout the theater!! I applaud and applaud for these kids who are going through pretty stressful finals and a week of performances on top of that! I don’t like giving away too much of the plot, but Next to Normal did get good reviews!

Lastly, before I enter finals mode perpetually, another Congratulations to the Class of 2017 is in order!! You all are major rockstars. Soak in and enjoy these well-deserved, precious times. I’ll certainly remember my moment of acceptance for eternity, but I also remember the wild wave of questions that came soon after. The Admissions Office and us bloggers are all rooting for you! Don’t be too shy and join your class group on Facebook!

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