April 8, 2005

In the midst of B.A. season, fourth-years frantically work--or not

On Tuesday evening of first week, fourth-year Helen Zubieta had fewer than 10 days to wrap up the product of a year's worth of travail—her senior B.A. paper. So it was understandable when, after shedding her coat and sitting down at a round wooden table at Uncle Joe's, Zubieta politely inquired how long the interview would last.

Though Zubieta has been working on her International Studies B.A. paper since last year, she admitted, "I'm feeling the stress right now." As of last week, Zubieta was putting the last touches on a 45-page paper about the discourse among indigenous leaders in Bolivia. Having an April 8 due date may have made Zubieta's life more hectic over the past few weeks, but she is looking forward to a lighter end of the quarter while students in other concentrations finish their papers. "Then I have more time to focus on other coursework or just relax and enjoy senior year," she said.

While writing her B.A., Zubieta has watched the project evolve. "The more you read, the more you realize what your topic really is." Her analysis of indigenous politics in Latin America originally began as a general comparison, but she said that the angle of the paper has changed as she's done more research.

Zubieta is not sure about the next step after she graduates, but she's mulling over a graduate degree in anthropology, rather than political science, as she had thought before writing her paper. But for the days leading up to the big due date today, Zubieta only had one thing on her mind: "I just want to get it done," she said.

Ambling around the quads on a warm afternoon in a t-shirt and an unbuttoned flannel shirt, Ryan Monarch did not seem like someone rushing to meet an impending deadline. Since Monarch has not one, but two B.A. papers due today, his relaxed demeanor belies months of arduous study.

Rather than synch the two concentrations into one paper, Monarch was determined to create distinct papers: "I really wanted to feel like I did two different majors," he said. In his economics paper, Monarch examined the connection between Civil War soldiers who had had more traumatic experiences and the number of years that it took them to get married after the war. He found that soldiers whose companies had suffered more deaths got married quicker than soldiers whose companies had had lighter losses. "I thought, ‘Maybe this actually is something important and meaningful,'" he said.

On the history side, Monarch researched population movement within Germany after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. He said this topic was unusual in that it is an ongoing phenomenon.

Accomplishing his double B.A. feat took careful planning on Monarch's part. He stayed on track by keeping ahead of his deadlines. Monarch said he remained in Hyde Park over Spring Break not for the purpose of working over-time on his writing but simply because, "I just wanted to spend as much time as I could refining them."

The hard work has paid off. "Now people are stressed out, and I'm really not stressed out," he said.

Abra Pollock is able to breathe a little easier right now, even though most of her International Studies peers have been working frantically to finish their papers for today. Much to the relief of her B.A. advisor, Pollock has decided to graduate in August, giving her all of spring quarter to work on her paper.

Pollock decided that she would use her winter quarter in Paris to do the primary research for her paper. She interviewed workers at anti-racism organizations to evaluate the French approach to racism.

She emphasized that for gathering information, direct interviews were integral to her paper, especially since the international studies concentration is in the social sciences department. Also, had Pollock not been in Paris she "would have been stuck in the Reg all winter," she said.

Though the interviews furnished Pollock's paper with greater depth, the peculiarities of her writing process also forced her to decide to graduate in August. Because Pollock was out of Hyde Park for winter qarter, she did not have the benefit of having classmates in her B.A. seminar making corrections on her paper. Her repeated e-mails requesting paper reviews were often ignored. "It was kind of hit or miss," she said.

Once Pollock finished her primary research in Paris and returned to campus, she had a lot of work to do. "The make-or-break period was Spring Break," she said. But moving back into her apartment, attending a conference at Berkeley, spending time with her family, and enjoying a rare visit with her boyfriend all proved to take up too much time. It soon became clear that Pollock needed the extra time.

Though she said that graduating in August "was a pretty tough emotional issue to come to terms with," Pollock eventually came to terms with the decision and decided that college did not simply culminate in the graduation ceremony, but instead in the process of academic pursuits. "I've always been a serious student, and I've never studied something that doesn't mean something to me," she said.

When Sam Jacobson, a fourth-year concentrating in General Studies in the Humanities, heard that another student was graduating later to allow more time for the B.A. paper, wheels started turning in his head. "So, theoretically, you could just never graduate?" he asked.

Though Jacobson's paper is due sixth week of this quarter, he has not started writing it. This would be impossible for most other students, given the deadlines that are enforced throughout the paper-writing process. Jacobson's B.A. seminar terminated prematurely, however, when a student made a snide comment during the first class, angering the preceptor. "He kicked us all out, and that was the end of the B.A. seminar," Jacobson said. "It was great."

This situation gave Jacobson—who is prone to procrastination—the perfect opportunity to put off writing the paper as long as possible. A professor who is aware of Jacobson's habits has already informed him that the deadline remains firm. "I ask for a lot of extensions from professors," he said. "I've been told that's not available."

Jacobson's plans for commencing the paper remain vague. "It's always my intention to start," he said. "Tonight's the night, I swear."

When Jacobson does write his paper, which he says he is excited to start, he will tackle the role of the Daimonion, a cryptic character who appears in Plato, Plutarch, Montaigne, and Weber. Luckily, his research will include texts that he has read throughout his studies. Jacobson will rely on the notes he has taken from these texts, but he might have some difficulties. "I can't even decipher the notes myself," he said.

The B.A. paper, whose length Jacobson is not sure about, is required for his concentration. Jacobson described the people who chose this concentration: "I think it's a really dysfunctional group," he said. "I mean, who majors in general studies in the humanities? People who don't have their act together."

Jacobson remains enthusiastic about the B.A. paper experience. "I'm really enjoying writing—or not writing, as the case may be," he said.