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Writing your BA: 94 theses less than Martin Luther

The University of Chicago is renowned for giving its undergrads an education that doesn’t just get you a job, but enhances your intellectual life in a way that will (hopefully) stick with you long after your four years are up. Besides our generally impeccable academic rigor, one of the ways UChicago prepares you for a future outside of the school is the BA thesis many undergrads write in their fourth year. I’m going to give you a little preview of the thesis process that I’m going through right now to demystify the idea and hopefully get you excited for your own scholastic projects now or in the future. 

The BA thesis in idea is pretty simple: it’s like a PhD or Master’s thesis, but shorter! Exactly how much shorter, though, will depend on your department. I’m a Cinema and Media Studies (CMS) major (basically a film major) and our theses tend to be pretty short-- about 25 to 30 pages. I would venture that part of the reason for that is that our theses tend be straight text, without any data or charts to analyze. Theses for Sociology are supposed to be 20-40 pages, for instance, and the guideline for History majors is 40-60.

That probably seems like a lot of writing, but don’t worry, you’ll have help. The CMS BA process tends to split the difference between being very hands-on and directed, versus being more laissez-faire. We have a faculty advisor that we courted to help us based on their expertise in the field that we’re interested in, and a preceptor that sets occasional meeting throughout winter quarter to check on our progress and give us feedback on incremental drafts. Right now, I’ve written about 17 pages of my final product, and have another meeting next week with my preceptor and a small seminar group to go over the next installment.

In case you’re wondering, my thesis is about action movie editing and the theories of french philosopher (and film theorist) Gilles Deleuze (you can find a good explanation of his works here). It can be thorny stuff, but I enjoy it. Not only because I get to do research on things that interest me, but because I feel like I have an opportunity to do real academic work in a rewarding way.

Submitted by Walker K. on Monday, March 7, 2016