Thesis invention and writing are pressure on many seniors

by La Tanya Harry | 5/21/98 5:00am

Their desks are lined with coffee cups. Their second homes are narrow rooms in the stacks. They have eye strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. They somehow get by on just a few hours of sleep a day. They are the thesis writers.

Although their health and social lives deteriorate and their stress brings them even to tears, something makes at least a few seniors from each academic department write a thesis each year and keep with it.

Despite it all, most seniors say writing a thesis has many rewards, including learning a whole lot and writing about something that has never been written about before.

Throughout May, the nearly 200 students who are writing theses are presenting the results of their months of toil.

From Igbo culture to mirrors

Samantha Goldberg '98, who will be applying to law school, wrote her senior thesis on litigation, and "how effective the courts are for retaining consumer safety reforms" Goldberg said.

She said she did some research on her topic over the summer, but she really did not get started on her thesis until Fall term.

Unlike other thesis writers who leave Dartmouth to go abroad and do research, Goldberg said all of her research was conducted on campus with her advisor.

Goldberg presented her thesis in "a relaxed atmosphere of 15 people" in front of family members, friends and the department chair, she said.

She added that "after the presentation part, I had to defend my paper in front of my advisor, department chair and a second reader of my thesis."

Once the writing and presentation part of the thesis is complete, Goldberg said a copy remains in the department's archives. She said it "is left on file for students and other people who are interested in writing a thesis to look at."

Goldberg said writing a thesis is a "good experience and tough process. That is why it is important to pick a topic you like -- it gives you personal motivation, and keeps you motivated."

Chinwe Ajene '98, a history major, wrote her senior thesis on Igbo culture and its influence on African families who live in the United States. Ajene said her interest in the topic developed during her sophomore year when she witnessed all the problems her sister had when trying to get married here in the United States.

"My sister and her husband wanted to get married, but they did not go through with the wedding until they received the confirmation of the Igbo society in Nigeria," she said.

Ajene said, "I was amazed how the Igbo society in Nigeria had such a strong and important impact on Nigerians who live in the United States." Ajene began working on her thesis during her junior year.

Ajene applied for several scholarships in order to do research abroad.

She said she applied for grants from the Tucker Foundation and the Office of Residential Life, and using that money she travelled to Dallas, Boston, Chicago and Nigeria to do research.

Ajene said she went "to these different states to see how the Igbo society functioned, and to see what ties they had with the Igbo community in Nigeria."

Meg Hiers '98, a classics major, wrote her senior thesis on bronze mirrors from Greek cities in southern Italy during the Greek Hellenistic period. "I wanted to understand the function of mirrors during this time period," she said.

Hiers submitted her proposal to the classics department during her junior spring, and after it was approved she conducted research over the summer and then for several weeks in Italy in the fall.

Hiers said her research taught her that "mirrors are not just a female object. They have a religious function, and they were used in cults to capture one's reflection."

Hiers said while she was working on her thesis, her advisor and her second reader were very helpful, and they asked questions and gave comments, expertise and direction.

Hiers said "I might publish my work, but I first have to make a lot of changes."

The process

Philosophy Professor Bernard Gert said six students in his department are writing theses this year, and there is no set number of students who are permitted to write them.

But in order to write a thesis in the philosophy department, students must sign up for the junior honors program and have a GPA or 3.3 overall and 3.5 in philosophy. All departments have some sort of GPA requirements for thesis writers.

Gert added that the honors program "is taken along with three other courses. This is the department's way of making sure that students are able to do more work than the average course load. If they can, then they are prepared to write a thesis."

Gert said students work with an advisor during the writing process. "As for myself, I required my students to turn into me 10 pages of their thesis every week so that I can make comments and suggestions," he said.

Once the writing process is finished, students are then required to defend their thesis to before the entire department. He said the defense usually lasts about an hour.

Gert said there are two criteria taken into account when grading a thesis in the philosophy department: "how well they worked on their thesis, and their defense of the finished project. There is more emphasis on this part."

Gert said, "As an advisor, I like to encourage my students to send their thesis to philosophers they may have written about. These philosophers are usually honored to see that someone has taken time out to write about them."

Chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program Marysa Navarro said only one student is writing a thesis in her department this year since it is a new department.

Navarro said students "are free to write on whatever topics they want. They must find an advisor who will help them write the paper."

Throughout all of the departments, students are required to submit proposals to the department heads for approval.