Hi everyone! So, before I get to the topic at hand, I just wanted to thank my lovely, beautiful, sweet housemates for the amazing spread they made for senior brunch today! There was so much love and so much food…
The lighting wasn’t really great for these photos, but there was an angel food cake, topped with strawberries and homemade whipped cream, a chocolate souffle, scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, pancakes (we each got a personalized pancake! Mine, of course, was a book.), fruit salad, banana muffins, homemade cinnamon rolls…I really hope I’m not forgetting anything! It’s 6:30 pm right now, and I am still so incredibly full!
After such a feast, I’m sure you can imagine that today was mostly a day of idleness and dissipation. But to be honest, I think we’ve all earned it! I know I needed a day like today, after months of school work and thesising. Which brings me to my topic for today!
The Honors Thesis in the English department may seem like a fearsome and mystical beast, but really, it’s not all that bad! Sometime during your junior year, you have to take a course called the Honors Seminar. The English Department usually offers two each semester, one that deals with pre-1800s literature, and one that deals with either 19th or 20th century literature. I took “Engendering Genre in the Romantic Period in England,” and really enjoyed it. I’m working on a page where I will talk about this class and other favorites at length, so stay tuned!
The point of the Seminar is to prepare you for writing an extended work like the Honors Thesis. My final paper was about 20 pages, which seems like a lot, but Professor Chase guided us through the entire process, from the paper proposal to the annotated bibliography (basically a normal bibliography, but with 150-200 words about why you’ve chosen those specific texts for your paper). Maybe your Seminar will give you an idea for your thesis, or maybe it won’t. Either way, you have the entire summer between junior and senior year to mull the question over (although it does help to have read your primary text(s) before your senior year starts). Fall semester senior year, you continue reading criticism/theory that will prepare you for writing your paper, meeting occasionally with your thesis adviser to talk about ideas for the paper and to keep you on track. You probably won’t do a ton of writing fall semester, aside from your proposal and your annotated bibliography. Spring semester is spent actually writing, which in my opinion, is the harder part. It was really hard for me to see how my project would come together, but I did it in the end!
I don’t know how many of my readers are considering writing a thesis, let alone a thesis in the English department, but I thought I would end by talking about some of the tips I picked up along the way.
1) Is this really for you? It’s important to remember that the Honors thesis is completely voluntary and just because you take the Seminar, or choose a topic, or tell your friends that you’re going to do it, doesn’t mean you have to do it. I’m not going to lie: thesising is stressful. I strategically planned my senior year so that I would only be taking two classes this semester besides my thesis, but I know that’s not an option for everyone. If, at the start of the spring semester of your senior year, you simply don’t feel up to it, you can easily switch your thesis to an independent study, or drop it entirely. I have to say, I have heard that it’s hard to do either of those things, however, so I would think very carefully about whether you really want to spend a significant amount of your time senior year reading and writing.
2) Choose something that interests you. Speaking of reading and writing, I, like many of my fellow thesisers, had many moments where I simply didn’t want to work on my thesis. On a Saturday morning, the last thing you want to do is read Judith Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power. But what got me through those slumps and kept me on task was remembering how important my thesis topic was to me. I decided to write about the effect of race and gender on a character’s ability to create his/her own identity in Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim. This topic combined a lot of my interests: race, feminism, colonialism and Victorian literature. Don’t feel pressured to choose a topic just because it seems prestigious or scholarly. For some people, writing about Shakespeare’s use of pathetic fallacy might be fascinating. I personally think it would be a bore, and if you do too, you shouldn’t write about it. The great thing about the Honors thesis is that the sky is really the limit: I have friends who have written about pop culture figures, about allegory in The Faerie Queene. The best work is going to come from writing about a topic that engages you emotionally and intellectually.
3) Balance. As you probably know by now, I am a big fan of leading a balanced life. And I could not have gotten through the thesis without holding to that belief. There will be times when you’re feeling the pressure, and you have no choice but to stay up late or to lock yourself in your room for the weekend. But remember to replenish yourself afterwards. Read a book for pleasure. Go for a run. Talk to a friend. Remember that while your thesis might seem like the center of your world, you’re only going to be working on it for about eight months. So make sure they’re eight wonderful months, and enjoy yourself!