Fourth-years down to wire as B.A. thesis deadline draws near

By Tisse Takagi

Catching up with friends, goofing off, enjoying the (relative) lack of homework, avoiding the Reg—for most U of C undergrads, this is how to spend the first week of spring quarter. For thesis-writing fourth-years, however, it’s a different story.

Instead of being able to start fresh, many fourth-years find themselves feeling like they did during finals week of last quarter, with all the stress of an impending B.A. deadline continually hanging over their heads. From massive book fortresses atop tables at the library to Facebook messages warning friends of possible crankiness and sleep-deprivation in the coming weeks, it is apparent that the B.A. crunch is in full swing.

For concentrations requiring a B.A. thesis—such as history, Classics, and International Studies—there is no opting out. But there exists, in fact, a fair number of students who voluntarily bring upon themselves B.A.-induced worry and stress.

For a university that prides itself so much on its intellectually curious student body, this seems fitting, but the question still remains: “Why would anyone want to put oneself through that?”

Lucy Wall, an English Language and Literature concentrator, is working on a paper on the significance of the country house in the context of children’s literature, inspired by a class that she took last spring on the country house in English literature.

Wall said that she finds the experience of writing a B.A. less stressful because in English it is only required for honors, but added that because it is not required, there is more pressure to produce a strong paper.

Regardless of the fact that Wall can graduate without it, the realization that she would have to finish so soon was a little shocking. “It crept up on me,” she said. “I kept thinking ‘it doesn’t matter until after spring break,’ but now break is over, and I have to finish.”

“I’m at that panicky point where you’ve got a lot done, but when you read it over you realize it’s not that great,” Wall said, mentioning that the next couple of weeks will be spent doing a lot of editing and polishing.

Lisa Feiertag, a political science concentrator, is also writing a non-required B.A., but her decision rested on factors other than an honors mention.

“I was interested in the topic, and I like the idea of spending a substantive amount of time focusing on one topic of my choice, something I was interested in and self-motivated to write about,” she said.

Feiertag, who is writing about economic interdependence and democratic peace theory, said that though she had not initially expected it, her decision to undertake a B.A. proved useful in job interviews.

“Prospective employers were very interested in and asked me about it a lot, in particular about the topic and the writing process,” she said.

Successful in the job search, Feiertag has accepted a job at a small social services law firm in downtown Chicago.

Anthropology concentrator Ashley Haywood came up with her B.A. idea when she least expected it, while teaching English in the rural north of Martinique during a year off between her second and third years.

Haywood noticed a disjunction between what she had learned in class and what she actually saw and heard in her day-to-day life.

“Just from living there I’d noticed how alive Creole is, and a lot of people where I lived used it as their main language,” she said. “All the academic research says that it’s dying, but I found that my experience was very different.”

After her third year, Haywood received a Square D grant from the University to return to Martinique for summer research, where she conducted her fieldwork.

Haywood credits her advisors for the smoothness of the writing process, as well as the uniqueness of her topic. “It was something no one had really written about, so it was kind of easy to make a point,” Haywood said. “And both my advisers were really interested in my topic.”

Although the B.A. is officially due fifth week, Haywood finished it over break and is taking leave this quarter to go home to California.

While B.A. writing may still be a somewhat daunting task for students like Haywood, Feiertag, and Wall, the ability to independently explore their intellectual curiosities was enough of a draw to commit to it.

At the same time, Wall takes comfort in knowing what she will have accomplished, even if she does not finish the paper.

“If I don’t finish, I can still know that I’ll be able to graduate,” she said. “But if someone fails their history B.A., what happens?”