Thesis is Hell? A Case Against Our Self-Torment

In addition to being the time of year when Coachella is used as an
excuse for everything and is the only thing you see on your Facebook newsfeed (now for two weeks in a row), and the time when SoCal weather goes from warm to warmer, April is also the month when
seniors across the 5Cs become unduly stressed, grumpy, and less talkative than high school seniors being asked where they’re going to college next

April is the month when theses are due. Campus computer labs
spiral into wallowing, self-indulgent pity parties that smell of
burned popcorn; entirely irrational 1 a.m. In-N-Out runs become justified
by some sort of mutual understanding about how miserable we all are and how
many more hours we’ll be awake tonight.

Freshmen don’t catch on until they get sprayed by champagne
when it’s over. Sophomores just know what parts of campus to avoid on turn-in
day, and juniors get a taste of feeling like the oldest people on campus.
Seniors who see each other nod in pitiful understanding, reduced to shells of
their pre-thesis selves.

It really doesn’t have to be this way.

A thesis is just like any other college assignment, only
longer. It doesn’t count any more than any other class does. You have to do it to
graduate (in most cases), but you also have to complete general education requirements to graduate. It
inevitably gets done, like every other college class and every thesis before
it. Although the take rate for fall thesis is much lower than the frenetic
crescendo of the spring thesis masses, there is never the same sense of
imminent doom in December as there is in April.

As with all assignments that generate stress on campus, I have
to pause and ask an earnest, “Why?” We all have these assignments and we all
handle them differently. Seniors assume a privilege that doesn’t entirely
exist—the claim that their stress is mightier than that of their
underclassman peers. 

In reality, stress originates from a less-than-logical
combination of factors. The workload of a thesis spread out
over a semester is commensurate to that of an upper-level class in a similar
field. There is a certain amount of procrastination and back-loading that most
seniors will admit to, but this is equally true in the fall and spring.

Beyond the actual
work is a frivolous self-perpetuating gyre of thesis stress and thesis-as-lifestyle.
Some might argue for the camaraderie that comes from unnecessarily late nights
in fluorescent-lit computer labs and from sitting in front of neighboring computer
screens in sweatpants for three days straight, but I find myself frustrated with
this frothing end to my last semester of college. At the time when I want to
get meals with people who will shortly be much farther than a few blocks away
from me, they are all holing themselves up and responding to requests, pleas,
and bribes for dinner with the dreaded one-word text: “thesis.” I am writing a
thesis too, and one word is not a sufficient answer for why no night this week
will work.

I don’t doubt how busy people are, but I also know that
smart breaks, like an hour spent eating and conversing with no work-related
distractions, actually decrease stress and increase productivity. One of the
ways that I maintain an even keel, regardless of the semester or tasks at hand, is by practicing the skill of being fully present when I am in the company of
other people. There is no reason to stress about something that will get
written in a couple of hours whether I think about it now or not. And those five-minute mindless Internet breaks can easily be consolidated into an hour of
truly restful and rewarding time spent interacting with another human
face to face.

There is nothing wrong with
treating a thesis like a big deal. In a lot of ways, it is. More than anything,
it is about proving that you can handle a project larger than one assignment
with a near-term due date. But in the real world that comes after commencement (which is all anyone will talk about once theses are finally turned in), these
types of projects never relent. How you deal with them will make a lot of
difference, so now is as good a time as any to practice remaining calm and
enjoying the ridiculous freedom that college affords—even with theses due. 

John Montesi CM ’14 is a literature major from Fort Worth, Texas.

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