Crystal Juan ’22
For some of us, senior thesis is still a few years down the road, while for others, it’s already breathing down our necks. Hearing about the seemingly unending deadlines, the fight against procrastination, or just the sheer number of unwritten pages, thesis is an experience that students might find difficult to look forward to. I reached out to current seniors at Scripps who are in the process of writing their theses to find out more.
“This is in response to your post about thesis! I didn’t want to comment on the post because I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to invalidate the other people’s experiences but I think it’s important to have a positive perspective as well! Thesis for me has been not nearly as bad as I had expected. I think at Scripps we have this culture of dreading thesis–we hear from seniors that it’s this awful nightmare and then we come into the process believing that. And when you start out with that attitude, it makes it a lot harder!” -Anonymous
“Really all thesis is is a long paper about something that you are passionate about. You get to become an expert in something, you get to create an original piece of scholarship, and I have found that process incredibly rewarding. Of course it can get stressful because it’s a lot of work, but it’s all about how you’re thinking about it, in my opinion. I think we really need to reframe how we talk about thesis so that rising seniors get excited rather than scared!” -Anonymous
“Didn’t want to post publicly because I’ve had a really positive experience with thesis so far. It’s a really great opportunity to pursue something I’m interested in alongside professors who I truly admire. I also think that there’s so much negative rhetoric surrounding thesis at Scripps that we all tend to make ourselves miserable before we even start.” -Anonymous
For a more extensive look into how current seniors are taking on thesis, I interviewed Hannah Orrahood ’20 about the ups and downs she’s encountered so far.
The Scripps Voice (TSV): Why did you decide to study English and French?
Hannah Orrahood (HO): I knew I wanted to be an English major before I even came to Scripps. I simply loved reading, thinking, and writing about books too much for me not to consider majoring in English. Plus, the English faculty at Scripps are absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t have chosen a better department to call home for the past four years. The French major came as a surprise. I actually hated my French 22 class during my first year; I was convinced I was the worst student in the class. But my professor made a point of making it known to me that she really believed in me as a student. At the end of the semester, she asked me if I had ever thought about studying abroad in France and minoring in French. I was shocked, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I wanted so badly to master the French language, and I knew I would take as many French classes as I possibly could to try and improve my French. After doing the math on how many French courses I would have completed after studying abroad, I realized that that would basically complete the major, so I thought why not just add it as a dual major?
TSV: How did you ultimately decide between a dual and double major?
HO: I knew from the start that I wanted to pursue a dual major. For me, bringing my two majors together for an interdisciplinary project like for my senior thesis was the perfect way for me to draw my studies to a close. I’ve been studying these two majors separately for a long time now, why not try to bring them together for my last year of study? The process has definitely not been easy, but it has been incredibly rewarding, and in the end I know I’m going to produce something that I will be proud [of].
TSV: What is your senior thesis?
HO: The title of my thesis is Then I Opened my Eyes and the Nightmare was Me: Deconstructing the Other in Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly and Guy de Maupassant’s Le Horla. In short, it’s about breaking down the concept of othering that is posited in Edgar Huntly, a 1799 American Gothic novel, and Le Horla, and 1887 French fantastique short story. Basically, I’m bringing together these two stories that were written at different times, in different countries, and by different authors, and showing how they address the issue of the other in similar ways. Both use the notion of the other as a way of projecting fears of interacting with international outsiders who pose a threat to American/French national identity. They use the narrators’ descent into madness as a way of depicting the consequences of coming into contact with the other. However, critics have shown that this descent into madness is not a process of transforming into the other but instead an awakening of the repressed self. This deconstructs the entire notion of the other because it shows that the very traits that once were used as grounds of difference between people are in fact traits that are common to all.
TSV: Describe some obstacles you’ve faced so far and how you overcame them.
HO: The hard part… for me has been the fact that the 5Cs don’t offer any comparative literature classes/guidance, so I’m diving into an area that I have no experience in. The last Scripps English/French major I knew ended up switching to a double major senior year because it was just too complicated to try and bring the two majors together. Lots of people think that dual majoring is easier than double majoring because you only have to write one thesis instead of two. I would say that this is not necessarily true. The time you save by only writing one thesis often gets spent instead on trying to come up with a creative way to tie your two majors together in a way that is clear and makes sense. I chose the two books I wanted to write about back in September, but I honestly only gained a clear sense of the direction I wanna take and the way I want to bring them together as of last week. It was really hard feeling so lost for so long, but honestly these things only get better with time, so you just have to be patient. It’s a lot of extra work on the administrative side too, trying to logistically bring together the two thesis processes. The English thesis is a one semester thesis and the French thesis is two, so I went through a lot of meetings with professors/the registrar’s office to try to figure out how to make this work. It is totally doable though, and in the end your professors really want to be there to help you make it work. The process has not been easy, but I’ve received incredible support from all of the professors I’ve been talking with throughout this process.
TSV: Do you enjoy the process of writing a senior thesis?
HO: For the first two months, not really. The beginning of the process was incredibly difficult for me and there were a lot of times where I was just feeling behind and uninspired. However, these past few weeks have been pretty decent… Every thesis has different writing requirements, so everyone experiences the writing process differently. I think the enjoyability of the writing process is something that ebbs and flows throughout the duration of the semester/year. There are going to be times when you feel really excited and inspired about your thesis, but there are also going to be times when you feel incredibly lost, hopeless, and unmotivated to write. The important thing I’ve learned is that you need to keep writing in both of these kinds of situations. Part of the thesis process is learning how to write when you really don’t want to, and I think that’s just part of the experience for everyone.
TSV: What has been the most rewarding part of thesis so far? Or what is your favorite part?
HO: Seeing it finally start coming together. I spent a lot of time thinking I had made the wrong decision or chosen a topic that was too hard to research or complicated to write about, but things are finally starting to come together and I’m so proud of the growth that I’ve made… One of my favorite parts of the process has probably been the reactions I’ve had with my professors throughout the process, both my readers and other professors I’ve talked to about thesis. They have all been so incredibly supportive. They have believed in me in moments when I haven’t even believed in myself. Their unwavering faith and support in their students is something I find incredibly inspiring, and it’s been so cool to experience it to such a high degree.
TSV: How will you be celebrating completing your senior thesis?
HO: Oh, I haven’t thought about this yet! I’ll probably go to Some Crust or Créme and buy myself a really fancy pastry. When I was studying abroad in France, I celebrated the end of finals week by going out to a pastry shop and buying the fanciest, chocolatiest pastry I could find. I feel like this would be an appropriate way to celebrate the completion of my French/English thesis.
Hearing about the varying experiences of current seniors was comforting to say the least. Through interviewing Orrahood and talking to other seniors, I’ve come to realize that mindset plays a big role in determining one’s senior thesis experience. That’s not to say that it’s everything, but heading into senior year with a positive outlook has the ability to make the process a bit less dreadful. And dare I go so far as to say that senior thesis can be an enjoyable challenge? Who knows… maybe in two years’ time I’ll find out that I spoke too soon.
Image Credit: Williams