In November, The Argus caught up with some seniors who were in the middle of writing their theses. Now, as the April 12 deadline approaches, we sat down one last time with those who have not yet finished their theses to discuss how they are putting the finishing touches on their projects.
Nina Gurak ’16
Majors: Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies (FGSS) and Government
Gurak’s thesis, titled “Why Did the Rapist Cross the Road?: The Case for the Feminist Rape Joke,” looks at the meaning of rape jokes and how feminists can use comedy as a tool for resistance. According to Gurak, feminist rape jokes make rape culture, not the rape victim, the punchline. Originally, her thesis was supposed to be about using comedy as a tool for resistance in general, and one case study was going to be on feminist rape jokes. Later, she realized that there was a lot to be said on that one topic, so she ended up zooming in on it for her entire thesis.
About six weeks ago, she faced a bit of an obstacle.
“I was playing dodgeball at a trampoline park in Hartford and a middle school kid hit me in the face and gave me my fifth concussion,” Gurak said. “It was very slow to heal, so I had to step away from my thesis for four or five weeks. It was really hard to not be working on it, but I think the space was probably for the best because it made my thesis better. I think the moral of the story is don’t go to trampoline parks if you’re working on your thesis. That was a recipe for disaster.”
However, Gurak’s incident has not lessened her passion for her topic.
“I am including some personal creative work, which I am really excited about,” she said. “I wrote a joke for the introduction of the third chapter, some humorous footnotes in the first chapter, and I am attaching one of my essays in the appendix. I think these are good examples of the culture of discourse on rape and really show my version of the feminist rape joke. It’s very cool and exciting.”
While Gurak advised future thesis writers to definitely make sure they have a topic they feel passionate about, she also had a piece of personal advice that really helped her during her writing process.
“Decorate your thesis carrel,” she said. “Mine is really well-decorated. I call it the jungle. It makes writing a lot more fun when you look up and see all of the decorations on your wall.”
Helen Handelman ’16
Majors: Religious Studies and Theater
To recap, Handelman’s thesis is in Religious Studies and focuses on lunar conquest and the moon. She has explored three different sources that all directly reference Christopher Columbus’s study of the new world and discuss how colonial fantasies have been enacted on the moon across centuries.
“I’ve been really excited about it this whole year, and I haven’t been super stressed out about it,” Handelman said. “However, I’m finding this last week to be more of a time crunch than expected. I’m still excited about it, but this last week is a different level of stress.”
Similar to Handelman, most thesis writers are stressed about the upcoming deadline, but their passion for their topic fuels them to keep going. Handelman stressed that this passion is extremely important. Without it, writing a thesis can be an extreme burden.
“You should only do a thesis if you have something that you want to investigate,” she said. “I think you should expect to be surprised by what you can do and what you need to ask for help with. Try to balance it with everything else that you’re doing at Wesleyan and don’t commit to too many things. This is really something that needs a lot of your attention for a really long time. Even though it is stressful, it can be fun if you really care about your topic.”
Nick Murphy ’16
Majors: Government and College of the Environment
Murphy’s thesis is on the policy and political implications of a carbon tax for the United States.
He has been interested in researching carbon taxes for years. However, now that he is so close to the finish line, Murphy realizes that there a few things that he would have done differently.
“I would have been much better about managing a writing schedule,” Murphy said. “Half the battle is figuring out how to tackle the thing rather than putting it together. I ended up making an outline and writing section by section. I found that really helpful, but I came to it kind of late. For a long time, I thought I would just write this thing from beginning to end, but you really just end up writing from all kinds of angles and having to tie it all up in the end.”
Even though the thesis process can be extremely stressful, Murphy is still able to find many reasons to stay positive and focused.
“It is really rewarding to have the distinct sense that you are doing something no one else is doing,” Murphy said. “You put a lot of time into one thing, and months later when it is coming together you can finally see the fruits of it. Now I get excited to write it because I have the fire going, and I love seeing the pieces come together. Having a project that you’re really passionate about can really make a difference. If I hadn’t spent the past three years researching this topic, I wouldn’t have been so inclined to write a thesis about it.”
Murphy also discussed the impact that he hopes his project will have on campus.
“It’s a project of hope,” he said. “I think this campus should be a lot more involved in carbon pricing advocacy, and perhaps once this thing is done, I can be a small part of making that actually happen.”
Zacko Brint ’16
Majors: History and French Studies
For Brint’s thesis, he decided to compare the veteran organizations of foreign Jews who fought in either the army or resistance groups in France. The lack of unity between these organizations reflects the overall lack of unity within in the Jewish community in France after World War II.
“When I came up with the idea I didn’t really know how to place it in historical context,” Brint said. “I wanted to write about the foreign Jews that volunteered to fight in the French army. When I presented that to my advisor, he said yes that is cool, but what are you going to write about? Now it is much more of a conversation about their role in the broader Jewish community in France.”
Throughout this process, Brint has created some unique thesis-writing habits that have helped him tremendously.
“I wrote almost the entire thing on Wesleyan computers,” he said. “I just found that having a writing computer and then having a personal computer made it a lot easier to write this thing. There were fewer distractions. When I sat down in the PAC lab, I knew it was work time.”
Brint also talked about the impact his advisor, Professor of History Oliver Holmes, has had on him and his thesis.
“My writing has improved dramatically because my advisor has been so great at dissecting it,” Brint said. “It’s important to realize that your first draft is going to get torn apart and reconfigured, and having an advisor to help you with that makes a huge difference.”
Zachary Kaufman ’16
Major: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Kaufman has spent the year researching the Antarctic ice sheet during the Pliocene. His advisor, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell, has been doing similar research and has helped him tremendously along the way.
“I am sort of one piece of a puzzle in the research my professor has been doing,” Kaufman said. “We are very close, and she is an awesome mentor. The blueprint has been sort of laid out in a similar way all along, but I think the particular work I am doing has more potential now that I’m getting close to the end.”
Kaufman advised underclassmen who might be interested in thesis writing to start early and make sure they have a topic that really excites them. In the end, that will make a huge difference.
“Starting in the summer is great because it is so much easier to do something when you have nothing else to think about,” he said. “I was working in the lab during the summer, and it was great because I had no other obligations. Now, I’m kind of just learning how it feels to have such a long project be your baby because I’ve never worked on an academic project for this long before. It’s a good feeling.”