During intersession, 57 seniors participated in a five-day boot camp that involved no push-ups but lots of thesis writing.
“The basic idea is to create a structured working environment for writers where distractions, like noise and the need to find food or coffee, are limited,” said Leanne Wood, the “sergeant” who oversees the program.
This is the first year that all the residential colleges have offered the sessions, with another round planned for spring break.
The camp required a “motivational deposit” of $20, which students agreed to forfeit if they did not attend each day’s mandatory four and a half hours of writing and a debriefing session.
“I really liked being accountable for waking up in the morning,” said K.C. Wade ’11, a Woodrow Wilson School major whose thesis topic is solar power in India. “I tend to spend lots of time getting ready to the point where I don’t actually start on work until 11 a.m.”
As a member of the women’s track team, Wade said that boot camp had an added bonus: “I didn’t feel anxious at practice or after dinner about how I was progressing on my thesis.”
Other perks were the generous helpings of healthy snacks and the never-ending supply of coffee and tea (“caffeinate” was listed as a pre-writing activity on the schedule).
Luke Yarbrough ’04 was one of the grad students who led the sessions. Recalling his own thesis experience, Yarbrough said his role “brought back memories of the way in which thesis angst becomes a conversational trope for seniors.”
Some students said that the atmosphere of the boot camp was surprisingly relaxed. “I was expecting people to be stressed and frantic, but people just came in and did their work,” said Dion Lehman ’11, an economics major.
But others thought that the boot camp could have been, well, more like boot camp. Four and a half hours of writing per day? Said Nicole Hopkins ’11, a German major and a self-described “thesis nerd”: “That’s nothing!”
By David Walter ’11
Life is unfair: The grass will always be greener on the other side of the fence, and Princeton’s campus will always be nicer after you graduate.
Near-constant renovation guarantees this second point. Every outgoing class must bear the inconveniences of construction so that future students can enjoy the benefits.
Now it’s Firestone Library’s turn.
Phase I of the library’s 10-year renovation launched in late January when workers began constructing a secure shelving area in the southeast corner of Firestone’s bottom floor. By early February, plywood partitions blocked the hallways leading to the work zone.
Posted notices nearby warned students and faculty that “construction noise will be loud and disruptive in this area” between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. until construction ends in June.
“We are taking every step possible to mitigate the impact on our patrons,” Jeffrey Rowlands, Firestone’s fiscal officer, said in an e-mail. Rowlands explained that the heaviest daytime construction had been scheduled to take place during breaks and lower-traffic morning hours.
Signs also announced that the library would offer free earplugs to all library patrons worried about the noise.
Only four people had picked up the freebies during the first week of renovations. And a small survey of students revealed that when it came to beating the noise, some with construction-adjacent carrels preferred plugging in with headphones to plugging up with foam.
Seniors Janice Tiao and Alex Ulyett employed the musical coping method: Tiao used Mozart’s piano concertos to block out the intermittent work noise, while Ulyett preferred Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
Kate Huddleston, another thesis-writing senior, said she chose to avoid the library altogether during construction hours because of “this constant noise that was distracting me from thinking.”
But what about those free earplugs?
“I hate earplugs,” Huddleston said. “They don’t fit in my ears very well.”
Why? Ears too big? Too small?
“They’re just oddly shaped. I can’t wear earbuds either. ... So it’s just unfortunate for me.”
Life is unfair.