The Synthesis of a Thesis
by: Eli Nelson
The senior thesis, a requirement for graduation, can strike fear into even the bravest academic hearts. I remember sitting in on a thesis defense when I was a first-year student, and the prospect of some day being the principle participant seemed surreal. Ergo, I didn’t give it much more thought with the exception of a few well-placed, panicked reminders.
Now I am a senior and must give thought to--and actually do work on--my thesis. The process of preparing for my thesis has been much longer than I thought it would be when I sat down this summer to start work on it. It seems that while I was avoiding thinking about that deadline, I filled my time with texts that would later service the research and writing of my thesis.
One of this first things I did at Shimer was read Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard. I was fascinated. It didn’t take me long at Shimer to realize that I wasn’t going to be a Humanities major as I had originally intended. I instantly gravitated toward the Natural Sciences, and Arcadia was a great step in that direction because it allowed me to explore my interest in science while fostering my previous status as an English major.
My junior year was especially formative. Humanities 3 inspired my next thesis-related step. I had left the class dissatisfied with our discussions on the ever-present anxiety about death in largely Christian texts. I wanted to explore that theme in non-Christian religions. I decided to deal with those problems in my semester project by tracing the theme of death in Homer’s The Iliad.
That year, I also discovered my interest in physics while taking Natural Science 3 and 4. Schrödinger’s What is Life? and Plank’s lectures sparked my obsession with the second law of thermodynamics. On my daily commute to and from Shimer, my mind would wander to the relationship between the Humanities and the Natural Sciences.
That brings me back to this year, when my argument has started taking shape. In my thesis, I will be exploring the relationship between Humanities, particularly literature, and the Natural Sciences through an examination of the second law of thermodynamics and its interpretation in Arcadia and The Iliad. Of course, in one way or another, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for almost two years.
It’s amazing to see how my time at Shimer has prepared me for this process. The fact that I’ve found a topic related to my interests in such an organic way makes the process much easier. It’s made me see how well-formed the Shimer curriculum and educational ethos is. If you’ve been doing your job right, in many ways, your thesis will find you.