This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Casey Katims '10 at work in his library thesis carrel. Photo credit: Mally Anderson ’10

Mally Anderson ’10: The Senior Thesis Home Stretch

The senior thesis is an important academic rite of passage, and for good reason: it is a chance to conduct independent research, write something longer and more complex than class papers, and produce something that culminates four years of learning. My own thesis in English considers the relationship between poetics, new physics, and consciousness. If this sounds bizarre or made-up, that’s because it kind of is. But that is the beauty of original research. It forces one to form connections between disciplines and ways of thinking, and to test the limits of one’s imagination.

There are times when everything seems to be going right, when pages of text pour from my fingers with astonishing ease. But much of the time, it’s not that easy. I discover sentiments that, early in the semester, I might have called excitement—the feeling of elation at finding a perfect source, or strolling with authority toward a familiar shelf somewhere deep in the library basement—have somewhat soured with time. Looking at a calendar can send me into a blind panic. And trudging back home from the library on a below-freezing night, carrying a pile of books that weighs about as much as a small walrus, weary and bewildered, it’s easy to feel alone.

But I’m definitely not the only one, of course. Hundreds of students from a variety of departments write theses and other kinds of research projects across campus each year. And hearing about other people’s projects has been perhaps the most rewarding aspect of my thesis experience. It’s fun to engage in discussions about, for example, the problem of understanding metaphors while processing English with a computer (Toby Fox ’10) or the finer points of translating the Italian novel Stabat Mater into English (Sarah Cantor ’10). My housemate Casey Katims’s thesis investigates divergent strains of political ideology in the American LGBTQ movement, while Arielle Danziger’s considers dancing bodies as sites of subjectivity and how dancers and choreographers challenge social norms and dominant power structures. Meanwhile, down the hall, Lauren Sherman’s psychology project studies adolescent identity formation and social interaction on the Internet.

Even if I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about, it’s fun to hear people explain subjects that interest them enough to spend months thinking and writing about them. And having others ask me questions or make observations as I babble away about the revolutionary poetic of Andrew Joron or the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics helps me consider my own thesis in a new way. So on those trying nights when my mind goes blank mid-sentence and I’m fighting the urge to hurl my computer out the window, it’s nice to listen for the chorus of laptop keys tapping from the Terrace Apartments to the Town Houses and keep forging onward.

April 2010

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