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August 14, 2007

Update on the bachelor thesis situation Part 2

Read Part 1 first.

It's the first day of school for new university students, and the first day of what will probably (hopefully?) be my last semester at the University of Oslo. I almost didn't come back this fall. When I was at my most stressed about the bachelor thesis I applied to journalism school, and got in. It sounded so very tempting to just start over. After all, it seems like everyone does. Being 20 and writing a thesis made me feel very small, very young and inexperienced and suddenly grown up. I felt like I had no idea what I was really doing. I suppose it didn't help that after nearly two years at the university, I still hadn't figured out what made my grades good and what made them bad. My grades were usually pretty good, but I was never able to predict what they were going to be, even after each exam. University wasn't like high school, where I excelled if I did my best and slipped a little if I was lazy. I knew how to go to high school. I still don't know how to go to college.

I know how to get up in the morning (usually), walk to campus, get my books and read for hours. I know how to take notes, and I know how to remember things. But I'm not all that good with exams. And I didn't feel like the bachelor thesis was going so well either. I read a lot, but whenever anyone would ask me what I was writing about, I had to admit I didn't really know. How was I supposed to choose one single question to answer in twenty pages, when every single dilemma seemed to have an answer only two pages long?

Less than a month before deadline, I returned to my original idea. I read everything I could find about offshoring (thank whatever one should thank for Google Scholar) and worked my notes and references into some form of semi-logical order. My thesis - title, hypothesis, conclusion - changed drastically every single day. I moved my enormous stacks of books into my parents' house and sat at their kitchen table nearly every waking minute, looking like in the picture above (which is completely candid, not posed). About a week and a half before deadline, I sent my advisor a long e-mail, detailing all my questions about the thesis and my difficulties with finding one central idea with which to tie all my new knowledge together - a yes or no question I could answer or a well-known thinker I could prove wrong. My advisor told me: "This looks ok to me." I kept writing until just before deadline, then I added a conclusion, printed three copies and handed it in, shivering. I finished my other exams in a sort of daze, ate a lot of chocolate and bought shoes and tried not to think scary thoughts like: "You just did a really bad job. How could you postpone starting on the most important project in your bachelor's degree until the last minute? You've had two years to think about this, not to mention twenty years. You better get used to the idea of doing this one over."

Then I got an A.

I checked and rechecked the grade about 15 times. Then I started wondering why. Was my writing so good that I had fooled them into thinking I was actually writing about something? Had they taken one look at the front page and thought: "Oh, my God. Economics and technology? I'm a political scientist, I don't get that stuff. And it's in English. Scary... I'll just stamp it with an A and hope no one notices that I didn't actually read it." I kept waiting for an apologetic e-mail saying: "Due to technical difficulties, you seem to have gotten an A. This is of course a mistake. We have changed your grade to a D. Have a nice day!"

After all, I broke every rule in the book. I only worked on the thesis for a couple weeks. I used "creative" language and unnecessary quotes. I didn't have one central idea, but just a wealth of information. I forgot to explain words that I should have explained, and I introduced new ideas in the conclusion. Everything my advisor told me not to do, I did. And after I had floated around, feeling slightly drunk with relief for about a week, I thought: "So that's it, huh? THAT was brilliant and insightful? But I didn't do anything!"

Now that it all over, I can at least say that I learned a lot. Much of it didn't make it into the finished thesis, but there are plenty of subjects about which I can say: "I almost wrote a thesis about this, so I do know something about it." I also learned how much information really is available to anyone with an Internet connection and a library card, and how quickly this information can be processed if you don't have to memorize the details for an exam. But if the university thinks this is the best I can do, if this is all they expect, then I'm a little disapointed in them. 

Read the thesis here.

Posted by Julie at August 14, 2007 2:51 PM

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An A?! Congratulations! But you forgot a link to the PDF :P

Posted by: Bubble Boy at September 9, 2007 2:17 AM