All But Thesis

I sat down to work on my thesis introduction at 1:00pm. Two and a half hours later, I have reviewed the feedback from my last thesis meeting, typed a table of contents, and listed some points I want to make in the intro. My other two hours were spent updating my profile on airbnb.com, coordinating a trip to Chipotle, and finishing an episode of American Dad.

Why can’t I work on this?! Never before has a project felt so daunting that I cannot start. It’s not even a matter of not knowing how or where to begin, but the fear that when I resume, I’ll realize how much work I have left to do.

A professor was telling our class that Ph.D candidates experience something similar – they do not finish because they either feel their work will never be done or…I forget the second reason. When the option is officially available, the standing is ‘Ph.D (ABD)’ – All But Dissertation. Does Haverford have B.A. (ABT) – All But Thesis?

Have you ever felt paralyzed by a project? What strategies do you have for beginning (and persisting)?

*When the introduction revision is due tomorrow, I’ll be back with a more triumphant post, and some strategies, if any, that I use to get me there.

Today I lost my thesis draft

You hear about it happening every year, and each year you think, “That will never happen to me.” You think lots of other things, too, like, “I bet s/he started the draft the night before and conveniently lost it.” Or, “How can you still be stupid enough not to back up your work!” And, when it happens to your friend, you may even tease him for not backing up his draft. Sorry, Bertram…

Then you realize why people sometimes call Karma by that ugly name of hers. You lose your thesis draft the day it is due. You also sit in the library and curse and cry, running from computer to computer trying to find one that will open your document. Each one mocks you with the same message, “Windows is unable to open your file because it is corrupted.” Corrupted? CORRUPTED! You pass from desperation to becoming irate because a computer-generated message is making you feel incompetent. You laugh to keep from crying. You cry anyway. People may begin to stare…

Today, I lost my thesis draft. I saved it every three seconds to my computer, my flash drive, and, when I finished, my email. Only the initial version was saved, and I lost hours of work. My computer didn’t crash; I didn’t forget to save it in several places; I started well in advance I didn’t save it all for the day it was due. And there it went…

After I stopped dry heaving (I kid), I realized that I was most upset that I’d never get back what I wrote. (Um, duh!) The content was still fresh on my brain, but do you know how sometimes when you’re writing there are moments  when you convey the information in a really fine way? Where the words and ideas are perfectly ordered? I lost the product of when mechanical academic writing becomes fun! Playing with ideas, playing with words, making work into play! That is what thesis has been, at least some of the time. (I’ve been learning a lot about this in an aesthetics seminar with Professor Kathleen Wright, rolling my eyes on the inside whenever she tried to get us to see how writing essays can be play. I get it, now.)

Although I am bitter that I lost my work, I am also grateful that I have time to explore a topic that I enjoy. I am also curiously pleased that I have been initiated into the scores of lowly seniors who have lost theses. I may have lost my draft, but I have gained imagined solidarity and a funny story… (Thesis – 1, Candace – 0)

Have any of you ever lost portions of your thesis or other important work?

Setting up for Dakshina and new rites of spring….

I just told a friend that in addition to literary exegesis and the ability to bake a decent scone (thank you, The Cheeseboard Collective Cookbook), I can now add “installing a dance floor” to my skill set: in preparation for Dakshina’s performance this past weekend, the estimable Dom Chacon (a stage manager and tech director who was introduced to the OMA courtesy of Emily Cronin, Associate Director of the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities, who has a deep theater background) oversaw the installation of a dance floor borrowed from Drexel University with labor contributed by Ani Leonhart, Aaron Madow, and yours truly.

It takes a village to prepare for a dance performance: Dom pulled many strings to borrow this floor from Drexel, since the floor that we would usually borrow from Bryn Mawr was already in service for a weekend series of performances there; Joe Hudgins from Housekeeping arranged a pick up of the floor with folks from his staff who delivered the 8 rolls to Marshall Auditorium in Roberts Hall. Following orchestra rehearsal, Aaron and I broke down the stage set up and helped Dom and Ani install the floor, which consisted of us unrolling these huge panels and then sort of shimmying over them (Ani favored a kind of cadenced hop, Aaron did an Electric Slide, and I basically shuffled) to stretch out the panels and smooth over the bubbles as Dom and Ani taped the panels down and covered the seams.  We left Roberts Hall just a little before midnight and left the panels to “breathe” and settle in overnight. From pick up to basic installation, the process took about five hours for something that was literally invisible to the audience’s eye but absolutely necessary for the dancers, given the intricate footwork that is part of the basic idiom of Bharata Natyam dance that informs Daniel Phoenix Singh’s choreography.

On Friday, Kai Xin Chen and Danny Bedrossian from Blast (the student-run tech group that makes magic for student concerts and performances on campus) devoted most of their day to working with Lisa and Todd Mion, the stage manager and lighting director for the company.   How hard can this be?  It is, as I learned, an extraordinary feat of choreography in and of itself:  one part of the process included the activity of sending Dom up in the aptly-named “Genie,” a lift that works when you rub the side of a lantern (no, actually, you have to get the key from Facilities) and enables you — that would be, Dom — to adjust the lights and install the gels that literally as well as figuratively color the atmosphere for the performance. Nancy Merriam, who coordinates performances for the Music department, mentioned that their budget line for lights for the stage is $1,500 a year, which made me very grateful for the instructions that orchestra conductor Heidi Jacobs had given us the night before on how to turn off all of the stage lights, and which newly emboldens me in imparting this message to the resident 7 and 10 year old in my household who believe that lights should be left on in any room that you may enter at some point over the course of any 24 hour period.

All this work for what? A phenomenal performance by an extraordinary dance troupe that includes a computer scientist-turned-choreographer and a world class biochemist. But more on this later….

“Recovering the Sacred: Religion, Faith, and the Land from a Native Perspective”

Greetings, everyone,

Those of you on campus may have seen the posters re. this upcoming series of events with Native American feminist and environmentalist Winona La Duke – folks who are interested in a conversation with her over dinner, or in taking part in a workshop with her, can apply by responding to the series of questions at the end of this blurb, to be sent to the good people in the Women’s Center.

The Women’s Center, CPGC, KINSC, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, Student Activities Office, OMA, and Quaker Affairs Office are proud to present Winona LaDuke’s visit to Haverford’s campus! She will be speaking publically on Friday, March 30th, at 7:30 p.m. in Stokes Auditorium, on the topic “Recovering the Sacred: Religion, Faith and the Land from a Native Perspective.”

Ms. LaDuke is an internationally acclaimed author, orator and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, with advanced degrees in rural economic development, she has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities.

Ms. LaDuke is the founder and co-Director of Honor the Earth, a national advocacy group encouraging public support and funding for Native environmental groups. She is also the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based non-profit organizations in the country. Ms. LaDuke served as Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential running mate on the Green Party ticket in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections. In 2007, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Before Ms. LaDuke’s public talk, we are offering two opportunities to get to meet her in person! Any Haverford student, faculty, or staff member can apply to engage in a workshop or to enjoy a catered meal with Ms. LaDuke. There are twenty spots open for each activity.

The workshop will take place from 4:30-6:00 p.m. at the Multicultural Center in Stokes and will center on the topic of women and leadership, and the potential for women leaders to enact meaningful social change.

The dinner will be held from 6:15-7:15 in the Swarthmore room of the Dining Center, and will provide the opportunity to get to know Ms. LaDuke personally!
Applicants can apply for one or both of the activities. To apply, simply answer the questions below and email your answers to womenctr@haverford.edu. Please make sure to specify the activity or activities for which you are applying. The application deadline is Friday, March 23rd at 11:59 p.m.
1. Why are you interested in meeting Winona LaDuke?

2. If you could discuss any topic with her, what would it be?

We look forward to reading your applications!

Ethics in Medicine

Last night, while I was shadowing in the ICU, I saw a patient who is in a vegetative state for years now due to the brain surgery she had to relieve swelling from an aneurysm. The doctor stopped right in front of her doorway and started telling me her case: she can breathe on her own without the need for a ventilator, she has some simple neurological function like retracting from pain, but she can’tcommunicate. Since everyone in the ICU appeared to be sedated, I was at first concerned that the patient would be uncomfortable because we were talking about her. Even though I knew that she was in a vegetative state, I was aware of her stare,and felt like she was staring at me. However, when I voiced my concerns to the doctor, he said that she couldn’t track anything with her eyes. I still felt aware of her stare, and all I wanted to do was give her a smile or hold her hand, do something small that might ease ten seconds of her existence.

Existence is what it has come to be for her. The life that she led before the surgery is long gone, and there isn’t much waiting for her except death. This was an interesting case to see because it brings up the question of ethics in medicine. Although she’s in this state, there are still some neurological functions that prevent the doctors and family members from “pulling the plug.” The measures for resuscitation have been reduced, so if she were going into cardiac arrest, the doctors would not do multiple tries to bring her back to life. Nonetheless, knowing that she will return to the ICU for another infection is heartbreaking. We do not know what she is thinking or what she wants in this situation, all we know is that we have to keep waiting.

Writer’s Block

Okay, okay! Maybe laziness isn’t quite the same as writer’s block. I’m home in beautiful North Carolina, struggling to pick up my thesis books.

The senior thesis is a capstone project that allows seniors to pursue an original research project under the guidance of a faculty advisor. While it is a semester-long or year-long process, many students use research or coursework from previous summers/semesters. My own essay, on the ethics of resentment, grew out of a short essay from a course with Professor Jill Stauffer.

I sometimes work in Magill Library with a friend who has been translating interviews from Spanish to English for use in her work on street children. Another friend and I chatted over lunch about whether he could secure funding for expensive software for a thesis on the correlation between GPA and physical attractiveness. Another friend finished her thesis on Ghanaian music in December. Me. Jealous? Never.

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed about thesis:

  • I’m re-reading a work for the third time, and I’ve taken something new from it each time. It’s nice to (re)read a work closely.
  • Meeting individually with my advisor reminds me of Oxford’s tutorial system, which I really enjoyed.
  • It’s nice to be self-directed.
  • I’m glad I’ve been forced to write a little each week, because I’m further along than I thought.
  • Subject librarians are INVALUABLE! (Shout out to James Gulick!) He has found more resources in an hour than I could find in a week. He raised questions that I’ll need to grapple with in my work, and also pointed me to sources that may help me tackle them.

The following things are not so great:

  • I don’t usually have the time to read things as closely as I’d like.
  • I hate to write a little each week, because…well, it’s work.
  • I hate to present rushed writing to my thesis advisor each week!

Let’s hope this “writer’s block” let’s up soon!

 

 

The Joy of Medicine

By the middle of the second morning shadowing a doctor, I thought I was getting used to the pace of the hospital, the types of patients that were coming in, and the illnesses they were trying to fight. I started to see how an experienced doctor can get worn down by the cycle of patient treatment because there is a routine. When we entered the room of a patient to discuss discharging him, I, however, was at first surprised by the case, and then humbled by this encounter. Entering the room, I did not know the patient’s history or health status, and once I saw him, I could not believe he was being discharged. This patient was breathing through a ventilator, could not speak, and had a bunch of IVs attached to him. Then, I heard his history. He was admitted to the hospital three months ago, had coronary artery disease, a coronary artery bypass graft and even coded once. I was amazed that he was alive, and I was even more amazed that he was well enough to leave. What struck me the most was how grateful the patient was towards the Attending and residents who take care of him. Even though he couldn’t speak, he signaled “thank you” a couple of times and held their hands. As the Attending was leaving the room, he told me, “That’s why you become a doctor.”

I couldn’t agree more. This attending who has been practicing medicine for so long stated it so clearly: this is why he’s a doctor, and this is why I want to be one. I have heard from those who I have shadowed, that medical school is not easy, and I have witnessed that being a resident can be challenging. There is a constant effort being put in to help these patients and learn more about medicine, but this moment encapsulates the joy of it all. These types of moments define why medicine is so wonderful, how every bit of studying and work is worth it when you can change someone’s life.

This encounter with the patient was very short, but a lot was felt in that length of time. When we walked out of the room, I took a deep breath and said, “Wow.” Before rounds, I started to think that every patient didn’t have great chances. Just yesterday, I saw a patient who doesn’t have great odds of living unless he gets a liver transplant. Seeing all of these patients with heart failures led me to think cynically and forget my previous encounters with doctors. I forgot that doctors help cure patients, and I forgot that patients have lives and loved ones that they miss while at the hospital. Discharging this patient today reminded me that medicine does work. I realized that there is more than just a patient with symptoms; there is a person who feels and struggles through the illness. I hope that, eventually, I can understand how doctors not only diagnose, but also how they manage the strong emotions of sadness or joy that come with the job.

 

As a Haverford Economics Major

As an economics major, math and statistical analysis both have strong applications to my greater academic experience. I began my day by attending my Real Analysis class and learned how to rigorously prove integration. Although it may come across as nerdy and strange, this process brought much excitement to my morning, demonstrating my ability to not only comprehend but, also, reproduce the proof of an advanced mathematical concept. The next class was Econometrics, a course that attempts to test hypothesis about the relationship between two variables. That morning, we derived the appropriate test for a sample of data that an economist would not have the necessary statistics for. The conclusion was that by manipulating results, economists may understand their data relative to confidence levels. Finally, my day ended with a class on Differential Equations, a course on the manipulation of functions that detail the movement of higher order relationships. An example of this would be looking at population growth; economists may create a formula to find population levels by observing the growth rates in population.

What I most valued from this day was learning the dynamic nature of learning at Haverford. When people hear me say that I am an economics major, the usual reaction is always surprise. I think that there definitely exists a negative connotation associated with economics, viewed as something that promotes self-interest, money-making and the antithesis of liberal arts. I think that this snapshot at my day demonstrates that these assumptions are far from the truth. What becomes clear is that my education has been enhanced by my major, combining all of my interests into one direction. I have always been good at mathematical and social analysis. I see economics as the cross roads of these skills, quantifying social phenomena through the observation of markets and services. I truly look forward to the next two years in order to find myself in this field of study.

Leadership Retreat Reflections

The Pendle Hill staff was happy to have hosted Haverford’s leadership retreat because they witnessed the rare occurrence of a group of students smiling as they entered their halls, genuinely asking “how are you” to the hosts and residents. This was one of many reminders throughout the day of what it meant to be a Haverford student. One of the most often repeated ones at the retreat was that only Haverford students would spend their last day of break at a series of workshops on restorative justice, that we would engage with a panel of mediators in order to learn from them and that we would continue the conversations started at Pendle Hill even when we settled into our dorms.

One of the first activities we engaged in was to write about ourselves on strips of paper and link everyone’s strips into a chain. The finished chain was laid down in the middle of the room, serving as the physical manifestation of our thoughts at the beginning of the retreat. Following this brief moment, we transitioned into a panel discussion, concerning the history, challenges and prospects of the fields of restorative justice and mediation. Following a lunch break, we began to discuss conflict mediation techniques and closed the day off with a final question-answer discussion. Throughout this entire process, the chain still lay on the floor, forcing students to reflect on who they were several hours earlier and what condition they were leaving in.

Restorative justice was described as a perspective that looks at crime through an uncommon lens. Instead of categorizing people as victims and offenders, the restorative justice process attempts to engage parties involved in an incident to meet each others needs. Instead of valuing laws and technicalities, restorative justice values trust, community and respect. I soon began to realize why Haverford chose this subject as the topic of its retreat.

I couldn’t help but relate some of the material we were learning about new forms of mediation to what I had been taught about the criminal justice system. I couldn’t help but reflect on how frustrating it must be for reform advocates to have to deal with an apathetic and complacent society. While flaws in our criminal justice system appear well publicized throughout the media, the lack of an advertised alternative seems to pull people towards pessimism. Moreover, I believe the process for getting reform through bureaucracy is not well known; the height of people’s known political action is a vote on a ballot. I can only hope that people stop feeling obliged to simplified and inefficient systems of justice and begin to move towards more effective ones.

 

“Where else could a young man who grew up in an impoverished, low-caste fundamentalist Christian family in India get a degree in computer science and discover dance?”

Throughout the afternoon, I’ve been working on a grant application for the Kessinger Family Fund for Asian Performing Arts to support a performance that we hope to have in the spring by the Dakshina (Sanskrit for “offering”) dance troupe, which is an emerging dance group founded by choreographer Daniel Phoenix Singh. Dakshina is based in DC, and has been attracting a lot of attention for Singh’s fusion of traditional Bharatanatyam and Modern dance vocabularies, and for their productions of work by avant-garde choreographers such as Anna Sokolow and Darla Stanley.

The Kessinger Family Fund “sponsors musical performances and lecture-demonstrations that enrich Haverford’s cross-cultural programs….the Fund supports performances and residencies dedicated to the rich artistic heritage of South Asia, East Asia, and Indonesia, and was started by former Haverford President Tom Kessinger and his wife, Varyam” which is an amazing legacy from which to draw. Singh and his troupe exemplify the vision of the Kessinger Family Fund in some extraordinary ways; in a September 12, 2010 article for the Washington Post about emerging artists in the DC dance world, reporter Sarah Kaufman wrote: “Only in America: Where else could a young man who grew up in an impoverished, low-caste fundamentalist Christian family in India get a degree in computer science and discover dance?”

We’re asking for $5,000 toward the artists’ fees for the performance; Ethan Pan, in his capacity as the OMA liaison to the Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia (where Nancy Chen has been an inspiring force and guiding light) has been working with Jari Rizvi of the South Asian Students affinity group to raise funds for a projected performance and workshop that would take place March 16-17, 2012. Jari and his compatriots in SAS are looking to this residency as an opportunity to connect with sister groups at BMC and Swat, as well as with the South Asian community in the region. James Weissinger from the HHC has been a key figure in bringing these pieces together…which included the key work of literally collaring me in the hallway in Stokes to make sure that I got the proposal in to the office in time for the committee to review it tomorrow. Yes even deans — particularly deans — need someone to keep them on the straight and narrow, particularly if it means that we have the opportunity to bring amazing queer artists to campus.