Fourth-years begin lives after B.A. projects

By Sarah Hetherington

For history concentrator Elizabeth Siarny, the hardest part about being a fourth-year is over. She joins a group of students who, having turned in their B.A. papers after months of work, are now breathing a sigh of relief and, more importantly, planning ways to mark the occasion.

“I came home from handing my B.A. in, and my roommate dyed my hair for me,” Siarny said. “Then I watched two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.”

While some departments impose the B.A. paper as a requirement for fourth-year concentrators, others offer the project as an option that could qualify a student for honors distinction provided the student also meets a certain GPA.

Fourth-year art history concentrator Emily Shaw linked her major’s B.A. requirement to the extreme degree to which the department “really does hold your hand, and really trains you to be an art historian.”

The requirement wasn’t all that prompted Shaw to write her B.A. paper on artist Thomas Hirschhorn, an experience that on the whole she called “pretty positive.”

“I found my topic serendipitously,” said Shaw, who reads the French newspaper Le Monde daily and came across an article on Hirschhorn that inspired her to research his work. “The prospect of having to write a B.A. allowed me to apply for a travel grant.”

Traveling in France led Shaw to pursue work as a teaching assistant there after graduation. In the meantime, Shaw celebrated the completion of her B.A. with a bottle-per-person “champagne day” with other friends who had handed in their B.A.s.

While fourth-year biological sciences concentrator Patrick Landback was not required to write a B.A. paper, he did so in order to earn an honors distinction and have a significant piece of research to call his own. Landback focused on the evolution of a specific gene in fruit flies.

“My B.A. was nine months of research,” said Landback, who turned in his rough draft last Saturday. “It was slow and steady, but not intense until the last week, when I wrote my analysis and text.” The intensity at the tail end of Landback’s B.A. stretch ended in his own brand of celebration: two days of sleep.

Landback explained that the science B.A. project, as opposed to papers for humanities majors, is frequently more research-focused than text-focused.

“In general, you spend months collecting data and then the analysis and writing are less of the bulk of the work,” Landback said, adding that he would “absolutely” recommend the experience to others.

Landback also said researching his B.A. helped prepare him for next year, when he will begin the genetics Ph.D. program here.

In contrast to Shaw and Landback’s generally positive and straightforward experiences, Siarny described the experience as “somewhat torturous” and “not entirely positive.”

“I thought it would be tougher than it actually was—what was hardest was sitting down and actually writing it,” said Siarny, whose B.A. on resort towns in 18th-century England spanned 60 pages, including maps and charts.

Siarny, who will be working as a Teaching Fellow in Washington, DC next year, amended her initially negative comments and added that “the research was a positive experience, and in the end, I’m glad they made me do it.”

Friend and fellow fourth-year history concentrator Kabara Korth agreed with Siarny that the process is “built up to be harder than it actually is.”

“The writing is the hard part and the shortest part, particularly if you procrastinate,” said Korth, whose paper discussed pro-choice groups and the rhetoric of Roe v. Wade in Bloomington, IN in the 1970s.

Korth, who plans to get married next year and eventually attend law school, also said her final paper topic had significantly evolved from her original idea.

But with the process finally completed, Korth said she set her mind on another, less intellectual matter of importance.

“I slept,” she said.