Just around the time that squirrels stock up and retreat for the winter, seniors claim http://wesleyanargus.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=53627&action=edittheir carrels, gather their books, and begin working on their thesis projects. The Argus sat down with six seniors from various departments to gain a closer look at their ideas and where they’re headed.
“As kids, everything we had said ‘Made in China’ on it,” said Peter Chu ’14. “For the past 30 years, China has used investment and exports to fuel growth and enter into the first world.”
Chu is taking a close look at China’s quest to become a consumption-based economy and the factors that may be preventing it from achieving this goal. In 75 to 125 pages, he will examine this economic transformation, produce his own analyses, and possibly propose a solution for the country. China’s comparatively high household savings rate and low consumption rate are the issues at the forefront of Chu’s focus.
“In the mid-2000s, the average American household saved just one percent [of the GDP],” Chu said. “Contrast that to the Chinese, who continue to save around 30 percent. There are around 350 million United States consumers and over one billion Chinese consumers. In order to have a consumption-based economy, China needs to start spending.”
The way that Chu—and the experts whose research he’s in the process of combing through—sees it, China’s economic transformation (which is, in fact, the name of the class that sparked Chu’s interest in the subject) has two parts: the first is to lower the average household savings rate in that country, and the second is to encourage its people to spend more of their money, in effect creating a consumption culture.
Chu plans not only to run his own regressions (an analysis technique), but also to examine the work that has already been done on China. He hopes that his end product will propose a solution for China, but recognizes that he may determine that he cannot find such a solution, especially because of the unreliability of the data that China releases.
“If I can’t offer a solution, I could offer a proposal for the end of this Five-Year Plan and then one for the next five years,” Chu said, referencing the planning model China has adopted to set goals for and measure its economic growth. “It all depends on the world economy, though. Extension beyond 5 or 10 years would be difficult.”
Majors: Mathematics & Computer Science
For his thesis, Elliot Meyerson ’14 is working on the teamwork of agents, both human and robotic, in unpredictable environments.
“This could be…in some unstable zone, like an unstable military zone or network where you don’t trust where every avenue is always available,” he said. “There are different models for representing this sort of phenomenon, and there’s a growing need for algorithms and techniques operating on these maps and networks.”
Although Meyerson double majors in mathematics and computer science, he hopes that his computer-based thesis will involve minimal computer work.
“Hopefully I won’t have to do any programming,” Meyerson said. “I love not looking at computers—doing computer science, but not looking at computers. So most of it is literature searches and then proofs on characteristics of these types of dynamic networks and developing algorithms for performing tasks.”
Meyerson pointed out that his topic extends to more practical applications, such as for satellites, software, and hardware.
“It has these very theoretical aspects, good for building foundations, which is where we’re starting out now, but then hopefully there will be some more experimental results, too: doing simulations, developing algorithms to be used in the real world,” he said. “You have to develop certain heuristics based off these models. It’s all about approximation, and how sure of your approximations you can be.”
Major: Neuroscience and Behavior
Rachel Olfson ’14 is studying social cognition deficits in patients with schizophrenia. Her eventual goal is to explore a novel method of psychological cognitive remediation.
A member of the Schizophrenia Cognition Lab, led by Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Behavior Matthew Kurtz, Olfson explained that lesser-known symptoms of schizophrenia—more specifically those related to social awareness—can be debilitating for those struggling with the disorder.
“When you think of schizophrenia, you might think of different symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions,” she said. “Those are things called ‘positive symptoms.’ They’re things that drugs like anti-psychotics can treat. But there are other deficits that cause a lot of functional problems for people with schizophrenia, including taking care of themselves or maintaining a job.”
Olfson, whose lab is interested in those cognitive deficits, such as being able to plan, pay attention, process information, and accomplish tasks quickly, is particularly concerned with social cognition.
“When you look at someone, and have a conversation, you’re sort of able to intuit what they’re thinking based on their facial expressions; you can kind of infer their intentions,” she said. “People with schizophrenia can have difficulties with this, or deficits in Theory of Mind (ToM). I’m interested in exploring strategies for people to improve that.”
This research is not new to Olfson, who has been working on her thesis since the beginning of her junior year. During that time, she familiarized herself with current literature in the field and developed the protocol with Kurtz.
“It’s been hands-on work ever since last spring,” Olfson said. “Our lab has a relationship with Hartford Hospital, and we’re able to go in and work with the Institute of Living, which treats psychiatric outpatients. I’ve also collected data from a group of healthy controls.”
Olfson emphasized the need for practical and effective therapies for people with schizophrenia suffering from social cognition deficits.
“I came across different effective psychological treatments, which can span 18 weeks, but the unfortunate truth is that people with schizophrenia are a vulnerable and ill population. They often have other medical diagnoses—substance abuse, hypertension, diabetes, who knows—that makes long-term treatment difficult sometimes. I hope to contribute in some way to incorporate a shorter, yet effective, psychological remediation.”
Olfson expressed enormous gratitude to Kurtz, as well as her fellow lab participants, including Rachel Rosengard ’14, Lauren Seo ’14, Sam Rispaud ’15, and Simone Hyman ’15.
Majors: English and Art History
Nell Schwed ’14 has been writing for as long as she can remember, so choosing a creative writing thesis seemed only fitting for her English and art history majors.
Tentatively titled “The Quiets and the Louds,” Schwed’s narrative collection will explore the elements of story that are loud and the ones that are quiet. Though she’s undecided about the chronology of the pieces, Schwed plans to break up longer-form pieces with shorter pieces of micro-fiction, or “nuggets,” as she and her advisor, Visiting Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies Sarah Mahurin, call them.
Schwed draws inspiration from a saying in her family about being split between “louds” and “quiets.”
“It’s a name my parents and my siblings have used to describe us as a family,” she said. “My dad and I are the ‘quiets,’ and my two older siblings and my mom are the ‘louds.’ I’m trying to examine what makes a story louder than another, and what makes a story quiet. It’s hard, because my style is definitely geared more towards a quiet story, sort of slow, and maybe patterned. I’ve been trying to think of what makes a story louder: is it more plot driven? Is there more dialogue?”
Schwed explained that she was attracted to both disciplines in which she’s majoring because of their focus on analysis, be it textual or visual.
“I’m a very visual person, and I think that should come through in my writing,” she said.
Schwed said that Mahurin has been a constant source of support and validation.
“She’s making me read at the open mic on Friday,” Schwed said, laughing. “It’s a little terrifying, but I’m sure it will be very helpful.”
Major: German Studies
For Oscar Takabvirwa ’14, the idea of identity has always been a personal area of interest.
“I am a Zimbabwean who lives in South Africa, studies in the United States, and has studied in Germany,” he said. “So my education has been different. I’m writing a translation thesis from German to English of books written by lots of third-culture Germans—the term is ‘migrationshintergrund.’ It’s people whose parents were German, or they’re German but born outside the country, but they’re writing in German.”
Takabvirwa will not only translate, but also recreate, stringing together many stories into one.
“The reason I’m doing that is because I’m sort of far into this place [Wesleyan], and the common themes like movement, and identity, and the search for home, are very interesting,” he said.
Takabvirwa hopes to use the process of translation to make both a personal and a universally genuine piece; in doing so, he must juggle his own voice with those of the authors.
“It’s a nice dynamic of precision and creativity, because English is very flexible,” he said. “I want to stay true to what [the authors] wrote. My own voice will be in the selection of the text—I’ll bring out my message in showing what they have to say and how it agrees with how I view it. I don’t have a very specific argument, but more of a view of how life looks for someone who is in a different place—what they gravitate towards, what they see and view in life.”
Takabvirwa explained the difference between translating, a literal process, and transplanting, a more holistic approach and one that he hopes to adopt.
“Transplanting is getting the same sort of the impression, but it should sound like it was written in English,” he said. “It should be as honest to the situation as possible. If it’s a place, it should look the same in English as it does in German. I’ll try to keep it as precise as I can, but not awkwardly precise.”
Major: College of Letters
“I didn’t want to write the conventional analytical thesis,” said Evan Williams ’14. “I’ve written a lot of textual analysis in the past few years, and I’d like to challenge myself with a different form of writing.”
Williams is primarily interested in how works of art in mechanical reproductions, such as film and photography, relate to forms such as painting and sculpture. To this end, he will explore the idea of authenticity in artwork through forgery. His thesis will take the form of a creative writing piece; it will be either a series of short stories or one long narrative.
“I think this question is more about people than it is talking about art simply for the sake of art,” Williams said. “It’s not art history, but art as an object in itself: art as a cultural product. I’m exploring what art says about the people who make it, and what it says about the people who lived during the time it was made.”
Williams’ interest in forgery was initially inspired by the story of the prodigious Dutch forger Han van Meegeren, who sold convincing imitations of famous paintings for enormous sums to the Nazis during World War II. Charged in court for these shady dealings, van Meegeren was forced to reveal himself as a forger, explaining to the court the intricate details of his imitation in order to absolve himself.
“Forgery is a niche position,” Williams said. “It can provoke that discussion of whether forging a Matisse makes you a legitimate artist. It all comes back to that same question about how humans relate to culture. I can’t answer it for everyone, but I hope to answer it for myself.”
Williams admits that his project has begun to occupy an ever-increasing place in his life.
“At a party one weekend, I was staring off into space because I couldn’t figure out what my character’s father should have done,” Williams said. “The longest story I’ve ever written before was 20 pages. This is a huge commitment, and I’ll agonize until I know what I want to do.”
This meticulousness and attention to detail manifests itself not as obsessive plotting—Williams calls himself a jotter and rejects the idea of mapping out each detail in the form of a timeline—but as an ongoing brainstorm session.
“You need to live it, not just do it when it’s convenient for you,” he said.