This past semester I submitted my proposal for an honors thesis. The English department is pretty selective about who gets to do them, and for good reason: you get paired with an advisor, and work on this project for the fall semester, winter study term, AND spring semester of your senior year. So they're not messing around.
I worked closely with one professor, KK, while developing my proposal on Edith Wharton. I am absolutely in love with Edith Wharton and wanted nothing more than to spend my senior year reading all her novels and writing about them. After three drafts and six weeks, we had come up with what I thought was a truly great proposal. I had included direct quotes from the works themselves, ideas of critics that I disagreed with, and a whole lotta passion. I had read Hermoine Lee's biography of her. I had planned trips to the Mount in Lenox, her house that she built, which is about 3o minutes from Williams. Most of all, I had counted my chickens.
We submitted our proposals on April 26 and were told we'd hear by the end of May. I watched as all my other friends in their respective departments got their theses accepted: L. and his Chem thesis, C. and her women's rights thesis in the Poli Sci department. But no word from the English department on mine.
By the beginning of June, I was beginning to worry. And then, on Saturday, I got an email from the head of the department. I have to say I was feeling pretty confident about my proposal's chances, mainly because Prof KK had told me before I submitted it that she would be thrilled to advise it. The secret to getting your proposal passed is to have a professor on board to advise it. You can have the most groundbreaking thesis in the world, but if there isn't a professor available to advise you, bye-bye graduating with honors.
That's why I was so shocked when I read the department chair's email. He said that Prof KK had over committed herself and wasn't available to advise my thesis. What's more, no one in the department had enough Wharton familiarity to advise my proposed project. He asked if I had any other areas of interest, and right now I'm working with another professor to possibly come up with another topic. In a way I guess I'm lucky, since usually if there's no one to advise your thesis, they basically flush it down the toilet and shrug their shoulders apologetically.
But REALLY? I can't believe Prof KK did that to me. As my friend Andrew put it well, "you'd think professors would take time to advise the theses they say they will, considering it's, you know, the zenith of your undergraduate career." No kidding.
I felt pretty silly sitting home on a Saturday night, crying about not getting to spend a year writing about a dead woman that I've never met. But if anything, it let me know that my passions for literature, 19th and early 20th century American literature in particular, are far from dead. And even though it's scary, since virtually no one gets a tenure track afterward, especially in the Humanities, especially in English, and especially especially in American literature, I really do need to go to grad school to pursue my Ph.D. in English. Plus, I'm sure Berkeley has a professor on its staff who knows something about Wharton. But don't worry, Williams. Just keep hiring 15 more Shakespeare specialists and some more Victorian poetry experts. It's not like I actually wanted to pursue my interests during my undergraduate career. I guess that's all $200,000 gets you these days.