By Mary Sprague
“How’s your thesis going?”
Junior year, it starts. The Thesis Questions. At first, innocent: “Started thinking about it yet?” Then, persistent: “What’s your topic?” “Who’s your advisor?” “Should I write about [joke]?” (No.)
Now, the present: “Working on your thesis?” “How’s your thesis going?” “What’s your topic again?” “What does that mean?” “What part are you writing now?” “How many pages do you have?” “When’s it due?” The topic is inescapable.
The Senior Capstone Experience can feel overwhelming. It’s maybe the biggest and most anticipated box to check before graduation. Seniors struggle to get started, struggle to keep going, and struggle to finish it out. These hardships are normal.
In this long and ongoing journey out of the Thesis Swamp, the Writing Center has been instrumental in motivating work and mitigating procrastination. They host “SCE Boot camps” for seniors working on their theses, as an opportunity for students to gather and work.
“We book as many rooms as possible in Goldstein and give students access to them as study spaces for a few hours, putting students with similar disciplines in the same room,” said Saoirse, a senior who has worked in the Writing Center since 2017. “It is basically time and space to dedicate to your thesis project.”
In addition to time and space, SCE Boot camp also offers resources from the Quantitative Skills Center and the Office of Academic Skills.
“And of course,” Saoirse said, “no perfect study session is complete without free food and therapy dogs.”
The Writing Center has created a supportive study space for willing seniors. To sign up for these sessions, access their website, at washcoll.edu/offices/writing-center. The first Boot camp experience was last Saturday, Feb. 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The next will be held on Thursday, March 19, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Seniors can also make appointments with the Writing Center to work one-on-one with peer writing consultants to get special attention on any parts of their thesis that may need a second glance. To schedule an appointment with the Writing Center, log in to their online schedule — the link is available on the Writing Center page of the Washington College website.
As for working outside the Boot camp, the only way to go is forward.
“At this stage of the process, my advice would be to not lose sight of the big picture,” said Saoirse. “With a project of this scope, breaking it down into bite-sized pieces is a good strategy. However, taking a few minutes to lens out and look at the thesis as a whole allows for better understanding of how those pieces fit together and smarter strategizing for each mini-project.”
Another dreaded senior question: “Are you submitting to Sophie Kerr?”
The Prize’s fame — and value — drives relatives, friends, classmates, and more to interrogation: “How much is it?” “Really?” “Will you put in a portfolio?” “What do you have to write?” “How much is it, again?”
Those considering submitting may find themselves stalled by — similarly to the SCE — the reputation and perceived enormity of the task at hand. Creating a cohesive and comprehensive portfolio is a rigorous process. Feeling out of depth is okay. It’s normal.
Struggling to start? Writers’ Union, in collaboration with WC’s student literary and arts magazine, “Collegian,” are hosting workshop sessions at the Sears Publication House for students to work together on their portfolios and pieces. The Sears Publication House is located next to the Hillel House, two down from Minta Martin, at the corner of Washington Ave and Brown St.
“It’s a space for seniors to relax with other seniors who are as invested in the process as they are — to have the space to figure out their portfolio and ask questions about individual pieces, or about the submission process,” said Writers’ Union President, junior MacKenzie Brady, “Any senior, any major, working on any kind of portfolio, come hang out.”
Brady, who has been president of the Writers’ Union for two years, will be present at the workshops to answer or assist with any questions, along with Vice President, junior Justin Nash.
“It is a serious place but it’s also a nice place for the seniors to goof off a little bit,” Brady said. “Just a little bit, though because everyone there is there for Sophie Kerr.”
The atmosphere is collaborative, and the sessions are more open-ended than “workshop” implies.
“It’s basically everyone sitting around at the Pub House, on comfy chairs or at the table, on their laptops writing,” Brady said. “Everyone who went [last year] seemed to get a lot out of it.”
The low-key setting and friendly ambiance are key to the workshops’ success. Provided refreshments — Domino’s pizza, cheesy bread, and more — are determined by committed attendees’ dietary needs.
“Everyone seemed to think it was a really good way to work on their portfolio without the stress,” said Brady. “If you’re nervous about it, this is a good place to start.”
This year, Sophie Kerr Workshops will be held on Feb. 27, March 19, and April 2 at 7 p.m. To sign up for more information, email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on the mailing list.