It took me several days to actually sit down and write this post because I had a really hard time with the thought of trying to nicely sum up and somehow combat all the frantic thoughts that move through MAPHers minds at the start of thesis work. And, in fact, any comforting or calming advice that we’ve been offering up to this point will probably fall short as soon as we start talking about thesis work. Sure, we’ve done it and we’ve gotten through, but the bottom line is we’re not doing it now, with you at this moment, and, consequently, we’re not feeling the same pressure. It’s always easy to be calm about something in retrospect, right?
So, how can I write a blog post about taking deep breaths and starting your thesis work in a calm, calculated way? How can I sit here and tell you all that it will be okay and you can always come talk to us if you need a break? Will you listen if I tell you not to panic, to give yourself room to breath? How can I get across that your first thesis proposal doesn’t need to be perfect and that if a professor says no to advising your project it actually has nothing to do with you as a person?
Well, I hope this one line will help: You will get through this.
Oh, and I also thought this picture of a kitten getting lost in marshmallows might help.
(More thesis thoughts after the jump)
1. The First Topic Proposal:
Before fall quarter ends, your preceptor will probably ask you to submit a one-paragraph topic proposal for your project. Take advantage of this–it’s still super early in the process and it gives you a chance to work through some of the scattered ideas you’ve generated throughout the quarter. This does not in any way mean that what you turn in now should be a direct reflection of the finished product in May. Take this opportunity to focus some of those scattered thoughts and try to at least pin down EITHER the primary object you’ll be working with (a book, a poem, a film, a piece of art, etc.) or the specific questions you want to ask about that primary object. In other words, there are two major components to a thesis proposal–the object you’ll be using and what you’re going to do with it. Try to make sure that at least one of them feels solid for this first version of your proposal.
2. The 20-Source Bibliography:
I’ll cut to the chase on this one–it is very possible that most of these sources will not actually make it into your final bibliography. That being said, this is another excellent assignment for you to really take advantage of and even if it only ends up being a chance for you to weed out some of the secondary sources you’ve been looking it, it’s still productive because it gives you a chance to start focusing your research. This is also a great chance for you to spend some significant time with your thesis reading while you don’t have a ton of reading for classes. Pick the three or four sources that you know will be really helpful and spend a lot of time reading them carefully. Take notes, make argument outlines, highlight the book like crazy–do whatever you need to do to make sure that you don’t need to spend nearly as much time with the source the next time you pick it up. This will save you so much time in the future, you might even bring me some chocolate for suggesting it to you.
3. Advisor Shopping
Most of the preliminary thesis stress comes from finding an advisor. But, please, do not think that this is something you need to figure out now–the professors will still be here after winter break. In fact, it might be a good idea to meet with several people before you make a final decision about who to ask (i.e., “advisor shopping”). This is why your preceptors force you to come up with a list that has 4 or 5 names on it, rather than just honing in on one person from the start. The bottom line is that your advisor needs to be someone you can work with and feel comfortable talking to at every stage of the process. Sure, it’s nice to have some “superstar’s” name on the finished product, but if the process of working with that person hasn’t been productive for you, you’re not gaining anything substantive by having that person’s name on your cover page. So, use this time and the beginning of winter quarter to collect vibes from a few different people. Visit them in their office and explain a bit about your project, ask them for a few ideas about sources to take an initial look at. The most important thing to get out of these first meetings is a measure of how comfortable you are talking to the person. If anything about the meeting feeling abrupt or uncomfortable, they may not be a good fit down the line.
The real moral of the story here is, don’t worry about starting thesis work. It’s exciting! And, ultimately, it’s the reason you’re here. So, cozy up with a cup of hot chocolate and a stack of possible sources from the library (did you know that the Reg rents lockers if you don’t want to lug all those books home?) and start flipping through. Don’t forget, we’ll be here for guidance and support throughout the entire project. We’ll be posting blogs throughout about how we managed to survive our thesis months, so stay tuned. (There will also be more soothing animal pictures…or maybe just pictures of chocolate next time? Ben and Jerry’s? Whatever it takes.)