"I can't wait until I'm a real person again. I haven't really slept in three days."
"I've gone a little crazy. Nothing I say makes sense anymore -- everything is gibberish."
"I feel like I'm trapped in a cave of death and sadness."
These are just a few of the comments I've heard from my peers over the past couple of weeks. At first glance they appear to be characterizing some sort of hostage situation (or perhaps an insane asylum), but no, they are in reference to our undergraduate theses, due at various points this month.
I, too, am part of the thesis tribe, and it is a strange, bewildered one. While we are all aware of the stress of completing these daunting documents, all theses are hugely idiosyncratic and often difficult to explain in an elevator pitch to others. We become intimately familiar with our own topics (perhaps too familiar), yet rarely take the time to learn about others, besides perhaps on lolmythesis.com. Instead, we curl up in a coffee-desensitized haze, interrupted only sporadically by others outside of the fog.
"You writing a thesis?"
Pauses, sighs. "Yeah." Takes sip of coffee.
Employing both self-deprecation and the "humble-brag," these conversations revolving around theses are rarely uplifting. At best they engage two people in an interesting conversation about a topic of supreme importance; at worst they involve one person giving you-just-wouldn't-understand vibes but end up fishing for sympathy, nonetheless.
At the beginning of the fall I vowed not to complain about my thesis, feeling excited about my topic and eager to write about it. However, I broke this rule as soon as I realized I was 10,000 words (or around 30 pages) over my limit. Suddenly, I started bringing this fact up in conversations, lamenting over the fact that I would have to start chopping apart my "baby." I received console from random acquaintances, merely for having the task of completing a voluntary assignment. I, too, began wallowing in self-pity and employing the humble-brag.
I am empathetic towards all thesis writers; writing up to 30,000 words is no small feat, especially on top of job applications, extracurriculars, and the remainder of our academic commitments. However, even as I am in the midst of revisions and a certain degree of nuttiness, re-reading my own words dozens of times, I feel it is important to remember that our ability to exert so much energy on an academic subject is a privilege, not a burden.
The ability to dedicate one's time to an intellectual pursuit, merely for the sake of furthering our own personal knowledge, is a privilege. These theses will likely only be seen by a handful of eyeballs, but we are allowed to spend months becoming an amateur specialist in one subject. The status of our schools and our brains have afforded us the opportunity to dive into something that may not have any greater relevance to others, rather than diving into a trade out of necessity. I know people writing about eco-cities, Americana music, and jellyfish, to name a few (you know who you are), which may lead to greater understanding of the human experience but may also just be really interesting thought experiments.
Our current educational system, for all its faults, affords us the tremendous advantage of thinking for ourselves. Yes, our surrounding academic environments shape our modes of thought, and thus certain ways of solving problems. We might draw upon other authors that have become authorities (e.g. Foucault, Weber, de Certeau) or use certain equations that are accepted in our respective fields (wish I could give an example here...). But ultimately the conclusions we draw are our own, beholden to no one. What an awesome kind of freedom amidst other hegemonic norms.
In short, while I will be happy to give my brain a rest after Thursday, I am grateful for what the process of writing a thesis has taught me. Regardless of how my actual document fares, I recognize that its greatest beneficiary will be myself, and that selfishness is a huge privilege.