On theses, keeping it real, and Edgar Allan Poetry
An Honours thesis can bring out strange things in a person. The flight response, manifesting itself in unparalleled procrastination skills, honed at last to sheer perfection. Perhaps a weeping capacity indicating a reservoir of tears you never knew you had. Or maybe a slow but inevitable transformation into a hunchback after nights of typing in the gloom or huddling in a corner, mumbling about referencing systems. The paths to living one’s truth as a thesis-writer are many, and I encourage you to explore them all.
I am presently an English Honours student and – contrary to what the above paragraph might suggest – am enjoying myself considerably. Honours is a wonderful opportunity to explore a subject of one’s choosing in-depth over the course of a year, making it perfect for anyone passionate about reading and writing extensively on an obscure academic obsession. In English, we also have a coursework component making up half of our Honours grade, meaning students experience variety in their studies and research throughout the year. It’s a nice balance.
If you’re considering pursuing Honours, particularly in English or in other Arts subjects, people may try to dissuade you. They’ll bring up fears about jobs, or suggest you skip ahead to Masters. They may also scare you – unintentionally or otherwise – with comments about how arduous a thesis is, considering it is largely self-directed and significantly longer than an undergraduate essay. Everyone has a friend’s cousin who hated it.
Yet you are not everyone’s friend’s cousin, and while well-intentioned comments from friends and family are worth listening to, myths should be dispelled: there is plenty to be said for an Honours qualification. Granted, if you hate writing and require other people to chase you up in order to complete tasks, you should probably swipe left. If you aren’t daunted by writing, however, and wish to sample postgraduate study without committing large amounts of time and money to a Masters or PhD, Honours could suit you. It’s also a relatively quick way of making a Bachelor’s degree more unusual in the job market, and of demonstrating your research skills.
That said, I am not here to sell a degree to others when I haven’t even completed it myself. I also have no desire to patronise by regurgitating counsel I’m potentially ignoring in my daily life. How good an Honours year is depends largely on who is taking it, and what they wish to achieve. Rather, I had hoped to write something small about humour.
Perhaps due to years of hearing repetitive jokes about Arts degrees and unemployment, most English students learn to laugh at themselves as well as the wider world and its dubious shades of grey, especially those beyond our control. This is hardly a trait unique to us; however, it does mean our classes are quite bright. We talk a lot and we laugh a lot. Being part of a supportive community also helps individual research feel less isolating, and gives us reason to emerge regularly from our study caves, blinking owlishly in the natural light.
With this in mind, therefore, I’d suggest (in this optimistic time three months away from my thesis’s due date) that Honours is not as frightening as it may appear on paper and could even be considered fun. You’re probably more resilient than you realise, and even if you’re not, resilience can always be built. Moreover, friends and humour can go a long way in improving experiences like those of writing in a strict rotation of ink, sweat, tears, blood, and caffeine (and alcohol, but it’s only July).
In summary, be kind to yourself, and remember to stop and smell the roses and laugh for no reason other than that it feels good and scares the passerbys.
I leave you with a small attempt to brighten your day, albeit with references to gothic horror. This is what happens when you do an English degree: you begin to find humour in everything.
The Thesis by Rosalind Moran (with the help of Edgar Allan Poe)
Once upon a morning dreary, while I plodded, weak and teary,
Through my various thesis drafts with theorists few and structure poor –
While I plodded, words confounding, suddenly came ping!s resounding,
As of emails gently hounding, hounding me to work some more.
“’Tis my lecturer, requesting drafts I’d said I’d send before –
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember wishing we had ‘til December;
To take theses from dismemberment to something somewhat more.
Putting off jobs ‘til tomorrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for my knowledge poor –
For all rare and relevant knowledge bound in Chifley’s levels four –
I continue to ignore.
Deep into my future peering, long I sat there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams of unemployment we’ve all dreamed before;
But the world gave no suggestions on how best to solve such questions,
And alleviate declensions of my motivation poor,
So I laughed in bitterness and composed this paltry parody poor –
Merely this and nothing more.
And my thesis, never blooming, still is looming, still is looming
Over me and my degree and just above my head so sore;
And its words have all the seeming of a turd that’s never gleaming,
And the laptop blue light streaming shows I’m only on page four;
And the thought I’ll have a full draft by September or before
Is but a dream – forevermore!
…Yet of course, as young TED speaker Adora Svitak said, “In order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first”. And what’s life without a challenge?
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