Earlier this semester, my fellow thesis students and I were corralled into the college’s main lecture hall to listen to the wise words of three professors and our new department Chair. The explicit goal of the session was to discuss the significance of an undergraduate thesis. And, while most of us had already launched headlong into our projects, questions still loomed. What’s the purpose of a design thesis? Is it an exercise in liberation or masochism? What’s the value for ourselves, and for our school?


(an image from my thesis… before I actually knew what I was doing)

The faculty couldn’t make up their mind about thesis, and they passed this uncertainty onto all of us. When the opportunity arose to establish some common ground — to agree on the purpose of thesis at Cornell — we were cautiously optimistic. A loose consensus on the subject could offer us that thread of structure that had been missing from our lives. I had hoped that this discussion would happen before the semester began, but good ideological sparring is better late than never, and we were eager for any guidance we could get.

The discussion, however, couldn’t have been more vague. Thesis at Cornell, it appears, is anarchy; strong opinions abound, but no one has the authority to do anything about them.

The most revealing presentation came from one of my own thesis advisors, who had taken it upon himself some months earlier to gain perspective on the word ‘thesis’ by gathering opinions from throughout the architectural community. He sent an email to colleagues and friends asking them to complete the sentence: ‘thesis is…[blank]’

The responses were wildly diverse, amusing, opinionated, and contradictory. Some were extreme: “Thesis is…the most important project of your life; the start of your career.” Others were blunt: “Thesis is… don’t remind me”  A few were remotely inspirational: “Thesis is… what you make it.

The meeting was decidedly inconclusive, and we continued on our divergent trajectories. The purpose of thesis would remain a mystery at Cornell, but we could strive to make the most of it. The weeks wore on and as we approached our final review emotions ran high. Excitement, depression, and uncontrolled hysteria spread like wildfire. Thesis was a lot of things; for a good portion of the spring semester it was our life.

Expressions of distress and encouragement started shooting between thesis students in a group email chain. In the heat of the moment, we took it upon ourselves to complete the sentence “Thesis is…”

The sentences completed by our class in the days leading up to the final review couldn’t be more revealing of our strange mental state. Here is a sampling:

(5 days to go)

  • Thesis is… lonely, sweaty
  • Thesis is… almost over. 🙂
  • Thesis is… Like the movie Tron…you get sucked into the computer and can’t get out

(4 days to go)

  • Thesis is… like being pregnant: nausea/morning sickness, random food cravings, weight gain, crazy irrational mood swings, and a thesis/baby at the end.
  • Thesis is… A premature baby
  • Thesis is… [frog fail]

(3 days to go)

  • Thesis is… [in braille] bump, bump, no bump, bump, three vertical bumps, four bumps in a square
  • Thesis is… [walking on water]
  • Thesis is…


(2 days to go)

  • Thesis is… Intellectual Bulimia
  • Thesis is… [all by myself]
  • Thesis is… Sleeping Disorder, Eating Disorder, Sex Disorder

(1 day to go)

(This morning)

  • Thesis is… OVER!

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