If Yale is not stressful enough already, it will become even more intense over the next few weeks for seniors.
With deadlines quickly approaching, many members of the Class of 2001 are finishing senior essays, seminar papers and projects, some worth up to two Yale credits. For this group, the spring semester is a time of both anxiety and relief as the projects near completion.
In most majors, students are required to submit a final project or paper, although they vary widely. While some students are able to research topics about which they feel passionate, others are simply challenged to fulfill the requirements by the deadline.
History majors, for example, have a two-semester, two-credit, approximately 50-page senior essay, while theater studies majors, in line with nature of the major, are offered much more flexibility to pursue a project that could be either written or performance-based. But even within each major, the experience of the student is largely defined by the student’s topic or subject matter and his or her enthusiasm for it.
Christine Anthony ’01, a history major, is finishing her senior essay on the development of the Methodist Church in Oklahoma.
After several months of tiresome research, which involved trips to Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the Methodist Archives in Oklahoma, the topic is “getting old.”
“The experience is valuable but exhausting,” Anthony said. “The history senior essay is full year and there are so many early requirements in terms of research that a lot of people get burnt out by the writing phase, when I think the enthusiasm and energy is most needed.”
Anthony chose a topic that was of personal significance not only because she is a Methodist from Oklahoma, but also because there is limited scholarship on the topic.
“The nature of the writing is explaining why people should care,” Anthony said. “What I need to make come across is that Oklahoma has a unique history.”
Anthony’s pressure to finish her paper on time is compounded by the other scholastic and extra-curricular activities that Yale demands. While applying for jobs for next year, she is also attending interviews for her secret society and writing her senior essay.
The same is true for Whiffenpoof David Haskell ’01.
As an ethics, politics and economics major with a concentration in the American city, Haskell is nearing completion on an increasingly popular topic, new urbanism.
Haskell’s research has taken him from Yale’s Art and Architecture Library to Baton Rouge, La., with the help of a Mellon Grant to complete interviews and take photographs as part of a case study. Drawing on Yale resources, most notably the Yale faculty, has granted Haskell the means to complete such an ambitious project.
Many Yale faculty are interested in new urbanism, so Haskell had support from history of art professor Vincent Scully and architecture professors Alexander Garvin and Andres Duaney.
“It is exciting to write about something that has a lot of activity at Yale,” Haskell said. “I have been exploring this topic for a few years, so the essay is a culmination of this work. I feel like there is a lot of personal pressure to write something interesting.”
While Haskell’s ambition has remained high throughout the project, that has not been the experience of history major Shruti Adhar ’01. Despite the two-semester time allotment for the senior essay, Adhar only chose her topic, the Washington Project for the Arts, early in second semester, after abandoning her first topic, which “flopped.”
“The new topic is so amazing but I don’t feel have enough time to be exhaustive,” Adhar said. “There are no secondary sources, so I need to rely on only primary documents, but mine are not archived — they come from people’s wastebaskets. The organization has moved five times and no one has gone through their papers. I guess that these are the problems that a historian faces.”
At this stage, Adhar has only a “sloppy half a draft” and faces an April 11 deadline. But she said she has strong support from her advisor, history professor Jay Gitlin.
“He is my therapist, my father and my best friend,” Adhar said, although she and Gitlin are not actually related.
For theater studies majors, the process is significantly different than that of those writing traditional essays, but Brian Tanen ’01 said the relationship between student and advisor and the amount of work needed to complete the project may be the same.
Tanen decided to write a full-length play for his senior project, “Selfish,” instead of opting to complete either an essay or another creative project in a number of concentrations such as acting, directing or design.
Tanen, who is 50 pages into his full-length play, is defensive about the work involved in the theater studies senior project, especially when it is criticized by those outside the major for being “easier” than the traditional senior essay.
“Being in a play is actually a really big time commitment,” Tanen said. “People might be tempted to think that because it is a creative project it is less academic.”
But professor Cynthia Russett, senior essay director for the history department, said students will have fond memories of the process.
“When they look back they find it to be a valuable experience,” Russett said. “On the whole, they appreciate the depth of the project.”