A Letter To My Thesis



Publicly fulfilling a concentration requirement.

In the Social Studies department, all juniors are required to take a two-part thesis seminar that outlines the thesis writing process: how to get funding, how to find a thesis advisor, the deadline of our theses, etc. To ensure that we don’t all forget what Anya, our director of undergraduate studies, taught us, the department also requires junior Social Studies concentrators to write thesis journals. These journals are meant to help us keep track of our thesis thoughts and prove to the department that we are remembering to apply for funding and secure thesis advisors.

I’ve decided to do my first journal entry in the Indy as a way to ensure that I 1) actually do the journals and 2) give people a few laughs. Here’s my first entry:

Dear Thesis,

First of all, I am going to be completely honest with you and myself. I am scared sh*tless to embark on this journey with you. Harvard seniors across all concentrations who are in the midst of thesis writing — those people frantically typing and doing last minute research as deadlines approach in less than a month — currently surround me. Looking at their computer-screen-lit faces is like staring into my own future. Though, many of my thesis-writing friends say that they will appreciate the experience once its over.

Even with their senior wisdom, there are many times when I am not sure if I want my future to look that grim. The number of appointments I’ve had with my current concentration advisor that have ended in me having meltdowns about thesis writing is uncomfortable for me (and probably her, too).

I am also not sure how comfortable I am having my first long-term relationship be with a one hundred pages or more paper that determines whether or not I graduate. It’s not that I am afraid of commitment; it’s just that I don’t want to get bored of you halfway into senior year and awkwardly break up with you for another concentration. Though, I think that some of the hesitation from entering into a relationship with you stems from my fear of stress and the fact that being dedicated to you will probably mean forgoing opportunities to have a relationship with a real person. (I’m kidding on that last point!)

Thesis, I know that this is a rough start, but I know there are so many positives to me doing you. I am genuinely excited about some of the topics that I am bouncing around in my head. My focus field in Social Studies is ‘representations of African-American women in the media.’ Not only is this focus very relevant to current events, but it is also something that is deeply personal to me, an African-American woman. Even with this semi-start, I am not entirely sure where I want to take you. There are so many different avenues in which I could take this thesis. I think the one that jumps out at me is one that looks at the changing representations of black women in black women’s magazines over time and medium.

I promise that I will do more work into formalizing my ideas for you, but I think you and I both know that I have more pressing matters at hand — I need to find a thesis advisor. During the thesis info session, the process of finding a thesis advisor was described as being analogous to going on dates.

Knowing myself, I know this “date” will get super awkward. I can envision myself asking a professor out (totally in the thesis-advisor-search-way and not in the new Harvard rule that makes it illegal-to-date-professors-type-way) and spilling my coffee all over them as I fumble through my notes and stumble through my ideas. I am also nervous about finding the right person for the job. Whoever becomes my thesis advisor will have to be patient with me (I stay doing the most).

As I wrap up my thoughts, I just want you to know that this will be a transformational process. Though, I am unclear as to whether or not this will be a transformation for the better. I am still not convinced that thesising won’t leave me a shell of a human.

I’ll close with a quote from The Notebook: ” So, it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day. Will you do something for me, please? Just picture your life for me? Thirty years from now, forty years from now? What’s it look like?” Okay, so I maybe don’t want you forever, just until March 9, 2016 when you’re due. But I do know, that thirty or forty years from now, I don’t want to regret not taking the biggest academic challenge of college.

Shaquilla Harrigan ’16 (sharrigan01@college.harvard.edu) wishes the thesis writers of 2015 good luck as they finish their work! She also hopes the Social Studies department accepts this as part of her thesis journal.