Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Seven tips for senior thesis survival from a battle-tested adviser

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, in life there are no sure things, aside from death and theses. Writing a thesis is like waiting on death row. We are all doomed. We all have a date with destiny. The least fortunate are those who endure the dull torture the longest. The executioner's ax, if inevitable, should at least come quickly.

I was one of the lucky ones. As a politics major, I was executed first, on April 3. Having been guillotined, I return as a dismembered corpse to offer some pointers:

ADVERTISEMENT

1) Choose a thesis topic that involves travel to exotic locales. Two years ago, I was rejected from the Wilson School. I went home and made a dart board with undergraduate program director Nate Scovronick's mug on it. Through my thesis, I have exacted my revenge. Woody Woo paid for me to go to South Asia twice — once during the summer, and again in January to conduct thesis research. Nate's okay after all.

2) Pick an adviser who pays alimony. I have friends whose advisers didn't know their names. Others didn't do meetings. Still others were in the habit of losing chapters after they had been turned in. Don't be like my friends. Be like me. Pick a guy who knows his material, and is willing to talk to you about yours.

3) Learn to hoard books like sushi at an Asian-American Students Association study break. Papers, monographs, journals, quarterlies, anything and everything your unlimited library account will allow. Even if you don't read a quarter of the volumes you will have strewn about your room, the psychic benefits will be enormous. And unlike the sushi, it won't stink until after you've turned in your opus.

4) Practice staring contests with your computer screen. And practice losing. I spent eight to 10 hours a day, every day for a total of five weeks writing my thesis. Toward the end, there were spells when I stared at the evanescent blue tube for 12 to 13 hours at a stretch. The screen never flinched, even when I threatened to head-butt it in moments of rage. In the end, I'd retire to my bed with the morning sun cackling at me through my window.

5) Practice panicking. Try it out — an hour a day, perhaps instead of working out at Dillon, or praying before bedtime. I know this is not new for most of you overachievers, but my academic world-view has always been rather fatalistic. You win some, you lose some, you lose some more. It's only school. But, having carried this beast within me for countless months of research and writing, sometimes, late at night, I would lie in bed staring at the ceiling, stammering to myself that I would never manage to write chapter five. I would fall asleep and dream that I was tongue-tied in front of a panel of the foremost experts in my field, all shouting at me that I was wrong, all wrong, all wrong. Then I would wake up and start stammering again.

6) Make friends with grammarians. Usually, hanging out with kids who know the difference between "that" and "which" is no more fun than a coed, naked Mathletes competition. But t-minus 12 hours before your thesis is due, when you have more little green squiggles on your screen than there are jug-handles in Jersey, one of those walking Strunk-&-Whites is going to prove to be a life saver.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

7) Finally, practice getting robbed. A few midnight strolls through downtown Trenton in your best country-club attire should do the trick. And ask the nice man who empties your pockets if he would like to gold-stamp your face as a bonus. When you have finally finished writing, and there are three hours left until deadline, the extortionists at Pequod can seem like angels from heaven. But they don't come cheap. I took the least expensive binding plan they had. My thesis cost me $108.02.

As you dash to the finish line with the two bound volumes, the nice secretary lady will give you a T-shirt for your year of toil and trouble. Mine says "Politics department" on the front, and "If it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger," on the back. Ask her if she has a nice pair of "Mauritzio Viroli" soccer shorts to go with it. Both will come in handy when you return to your room and realize that you haven't done laundry since the last millennium.

When all's written and bound, your work will be riddled with typos, bereft of any grammatical order, missing a cogent argument and academically significant only as a secondary fuel source in your adviser's fireplace. Nevertheless, it's nice to know that you have a book with your name on the cover. Besides, after the lethal injection, there is an afterlife. It's called the Annex, and it's on tap every night of the week. Kushanava Choudhury is a politics major from Highland Park, N.J. He can be reached at choudhry@princeton.edu.

Subscribe
Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »