Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Thesis day disappoints

With a t-shirt, a cookie and a congratulations, it was all over. After months of working and worrying, I handed in my thesis today. It's hundreds of hours of researching, reading, thinking, writing and revising distilled into 100-plus pages. It's done and I'm not sure what to think.

The senior thesis, the University says, is "quintessentially Princeton." Administrators and professors consider the thesis as the culmination of an undergraduate career. Back in February, I heard President Tilghman say she sees the thesis as a core reason why the University can't accept transfer students. From day one, undergraduates at Princeton are prepared for crafting their theses. When the University did accept transfers, she said, many of these students struggled with their theses just because they did not have the same amount of preparation as their classmates. The writing seminar, the departmentals, the JPs all lead to a senior year of independent work. Psychologically, students are prepared for eventually writing a thesis when they're admitted as high school seniors. My acceptance letter back in December 2003 included Quintessentially Princeton, Dean Malkiel's booklet about the senior thesis. I knew it was coming and had almost four years to plan. My classmates who got in regular decision had a little bit less time to prepare for the thesis once they were accepted in April 2004, but we've all knowingly had the thesis process ahead of us for a long time.

Now it's all over. And I feel the same as I did yesterday, the day before and a month ago. It hasn't set in that I've signed and delivered the capstone of my undergraduate career. I'm too tired to go out and celebrate, but too accustomed to working through my exhaustion to give up writing this blog post.

My classmates and I still have almost two months left at Princeton. Though anthropology majors handed in their theses last Friday and three big departments –– history, politics and English –– had theses due today, with the Wilson School and art and archeology due tomorrow, some seniors still have more time left in Firestone, Friend or Frist. Economics majors still have another week. Science and engineering majors have a few weeks more.

If handing in our theses is the truly the culmination of our time here, wouldn't it be more immediately satisfying than it has been? (I'm sure there are people out there who deeply felt the power of handing in their theses; I just haven't talked to any today.) Shouldn't there be fireworks and balloons and flowing bubbly? Shouldn't we at least be able to calm our over-caffeinated nerves sufficiently enough to be able to fall asleep at 10 p.m. and wake up at 10 a.m. rested and happy? I think all these things will be achieved, just as they have been for generations of Princetonians, but they may take more time than we have left here.

Tomorrow, I'll toast with cheap Champagne and hope to realize just what a great accomplishment a Princeton thesis is.

Jennifer Epstein '08 is a 'Prince' Managing Editor Emerita.


Marvin L Foushee said...

The senior thesis, the University says, is "quintessentially Princeton."

There is an old saying: "The acorn does not fall far from the tree."

Quintessentially is an adverb that should modify an adjective, not the noun "Princeton."

The proper phrase should be: "The senior thesis is quintessentially princetonian."

Ra sun, blue skies.