Thesis Envy

            I wrote my philosophy thesis in three weeks at the end of         

        fall semester.  My breaks consisted of writing five other             

        papers due during the same time span and preparing for two            

        final exams.  I even had a motto: "Thesis is twenty-five              

        percent effort, seventy-five percent keeping your butt in the         

        chair."  I took to belting my legs together to keep me from           

        getting up from the computer.  After three weeks of utter             

        hell, my thesis was finished.  It was fifty-three pages long.         

            Imagine my anguish, then, when I found out that classmate         

        Andy Shriver's thesis was two pages longer than mine.                 

            Obviously, length does not indicate much of anything about        

        the quality of one's thesis.  Ask any senior poet, actor, or          

        painter, and they'll tell you that the digits in your thesis'         

        page count give little evidence of the quality of the material        

        lying on said pages.  What matters is quality, not length.            

        But however often we repeat that mantra, it doesn't free us           

        from thesis envy.                                                     

            Whenever a senior busts through the two-hundred-page              

        barrier in an honors thesis, seniors everywhere wince.  Why?          

        For men, perhaps it's a challenge to their manhood.                   

        Alternatively, it may be because seniors have conceptualized          

        their honors thesis as a child to be born.  After all, the            

        thesis is a great weight bearing down on you, growing heavier         

        every day, conceived approximately nine months ago.  Then, at         

        the end of a desperate final push, something new is created.          

        Thus, when absurdly weighty theses are mentioned, certain             

        painful images spring to mind.                                        

            Honors-thesis students everywhere suffer a secret belief          

        that their thesis experience was the year's worst.  Morbid            

        announcements of inflated page counts are just one symptom of         

        that collective campus belief.  The result is a culture of            

        angst that pervades the campus every March.  That culture is          

        created by seniors sharing horror stories and creating rituals        

        that serve not only to indicate their misery but also their           

        ability to overcome that same trauma.                                 

            Keeping a sense of humor is critical to surviving thesis          

        stress.  Seniors often play games with their thesis, treating         

        it like a real person -- the ultimate pathetic fallacy.  This         

        is a good way of procrastinating while spending quality time          

        with the most important person in your life and staying free          

        to write if the inspiration strikes.  Personifying the thesis         

        gives obsessed seniors and their theses a chance to hang out          


            One favorite game is stacking all the thesis materials to         

        see if the pile is taller than you are.  Another favorite is          

        creating a fictional life for the thesis.  For example, when          

        one thesis reached twenty-one pages, its author noted that it         

        could legally drink.                                                  

            Another honors-thesis ritual is the disaster story.  Real         

        thesis shamans are those who suffer regularly from ridiculous         

        mishaps or undergo moments of horrendous anguish.  A few              

        recent masters:                                                       

            Absolutely everything that could go wrong with classmate          

        Sarah Coulter's honors thesis in physical chemistry did.              

        Coulter and her advisor managed to flood her lab their very           

        first day while "watering the laser."  She cut off a piece of          

        her finger with her Swiss Army knife.  She also managed to            

        solder two pieces of equipment together, a protean feat               

        considering that she managed it without using any welding             

        equipment.  The department's new Pentium computer crashed             

        after two days.  Complaining that the computer room was cold,         

        she wore my winter coat one night as a pair of pants.  With           

        Coulter's thesis, when it rained, it froze.                           

            Last year, Evan Halper '95 managed to get through months          

        of thesis work uneventfully, only to get nailed at the end.  I        

        can still remember Halper printing out the thesis on the last         

        day.  As pages slowly spit out of the printer, Coulter picked         

        up a page.  She turned to him and said urgently, "Evan,               

        there's a grammatical error on the first line!"  This process         

        repeated itself as each page printed out, until Halper begged         

        her to stop reading his thesis.  He also had to face his              

        thesis panel without his advisor, who was sick.  He didn't            

        talk much about that experience.                                      

            Two non-honors thesis students deserve some recognition           

        for the quality of their horror stories.  Two years ago,              

        Christian Gaylord '94 performed an original one-man play about        

        his hometown for his thesis.  Some time after the production          

        was over, his thesis advisor asked him when he could read the         

        script Gaylord had authored.  He responded incredulously, "You        

        mean I have to turn it in?"  He had written it on various             

        scraps of paper whenever inspiration hit.                             

            That same year, another senior suffered through his               

        physics thesis.  He missed two deadlines, receiving extensions        

        both times.  Finally, time ran out and he had to turn it in           

        the next weekend.  He had three days.  He had written nothing.        

        His comment after the weekend was over: "Worst three days of          

        my life."                                                             

            The clothes make the thesis.  Suitable raiment is vital to        

        creating the correct style for your thesis, the summation of          

        your academic career.  A properly attired thesis student can          

        foster one of two impressions about his relationship to the           

        work, and by extension, about the thesis itself.                      

            There is simple, utilitarian fare: a sweatshirt and a pair        

        of sweatpants.  There are a few simple rules to follow to make        

        this fashion statement.  Don't shower. Don't shave --                 

        anywhere.  Don't change your clothes; sleep in them,                  

        preferably on a couch.  This line of apparel says, "The act of        

        writing is such an ordeal that I can't write until I stare at         

        the computer screen so hard that I get a nosebleed."  Warning:        

        This might imply that reading said thesis will be a similar           


            The second thesis ensemble is formal attire.  Dress to            

        kill.  Wear only the slickest threads.  This outfit symbolizes        

        the human struggle for survival and quest for the sublime             

        within a finite paradigm ruled by an uncaring and elusive god.        

        Unfortunately, no one can maintain this sartorial strategy            

        for long.  All these rituals, games, and incantations create          

        an illusion.  Perhaps that illusion is necessary for the              

        realization of the thesis, but it's still an illusion.  We can        

        recognize its beauty while understanding that this idolatry           

        obscures the fundamental force of creation: Will.                     

            David Kociemba '96 is the former features editor for The          

        Bates Student.  This essay first appeared in the March 13,            

        1996, Student and is reprinted here by permission of the              


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