Last week, I submitted my senior thesis, and I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on what this journey has meant to me.
As a government concentrator, writing a thesis is optional. The vast majority of seniors in our department choose not to write one, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s certainly no pressure to do so! But I thought I wanted to give it a shot. As a first-generation student, I guess part of my motivation was simply to prove to myself that I could take on the challenge.
Now, when I committed to the idea of writing a thesis, I barely had any direction. All I knew was that I wanted my thesis to cover two things I care about: education and my home state of Mississippi. I could have written on countless topics within those parameters. But when I started this project my junior year, I was totally directionless.
I'm sharing this because I want to stress that you do not have to already be an expert on your research topic. When I started, I was worried I didn’t have a clear enough interest. I feared I wasn’t as prepared as my peers. But in the end, finding my direction was part of the process! As I explored different areas of interest, more questions came up. And as I sought answers to those questions, the process repeated itself. Eventually, I settled on a topic.
A year of research, ups, and downs later and, on March 17th, I finally submitted a behemoth 163-page thesis titled, “‘The Broken Bridge of Literacy’: Assessing Inequitable Responses to Mississippi’s 2013 Literacy-Based Promotion Act.” In my paper, I explore a major educational reform in my home state. Conducting my own independent research, I was fueled by the feeling that I was contributing something substantive to a place I care so much about!
A year ago, when I first began this project, I could have never imagined having a finished product like the one I submitted. In fact, I laughed at my adviser back in October when she tried to convince me that my then 20-page paper would be well over the 80-page minimum for the Government Department. At the time, I literally could not fathom having that much to write. But with the research, along came the words.
Looking back over the past year, this thesis is something I’d just describe as a “wild ride.” On the one hand, this process served as a motivator throughout the pandemic; as I went to school remotely, my thesis kept me feeling connected to Harvard. At the same time, it was stressful! I had so many periods of self-doubt when I needed my adviser’s reliable pep talks to keep me going. There were times when I had been looking at spreadsheets for so long I was ready to rip my laptop in half! (And don't even get me started on my caffeine intake.)
But as I reflect on this process, I’m proud of the growth that came with it. I’m also grateful for the bond I made with my adviser as well as for the love and support I received from my friends and parents. The end product would have never been possible without shoulders to lean on, others willing to listen to yet another rant, and people in my corner encouraging me to power through.
All of this said, I want to reiterate that there’s no pressure to write a thesis. Some departments might require theses, but Government isn’t one of them. I never felt judged one way or another. In fact, I told my adviser at the beginning: I’m not shooting for some award; I just want something which showcases my passions and my learning from the past four years. And despite the complaints, despite the erratic sleep schedule in those last few weeks, I’m proud to have this thesis. Overcoming a lot of self-doubt, I proved to myself I could do it. Even if nobody reads it front-to-back (I haven’t even read it in order in its entirety!) I’m proud to have this proof that I could do it.