Frustrations of a Senior Seminar Student

For the better part of my time at Arcadia, I have  focused  my studies on the Bosnian War and the breakup of Yugoslavia. I’ve written more essays than I can count about the conflict and its effects on the region. I’ve traveled to Bosnia a few times, and last summer I lived in the nation’s capital, Sarajevo. While there, I interned with an NGO called the Post-Conflict Research Center, whose mission is to cultivate an environment for sustainable peace and facilitate the restoration of intergroup relationships in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the greater Balkans region. In short, the experience was life changing, and I returned to the States in August excited to begin working on my thesis on Bosnia.

A few weeks ago I submitted my context essay to my thesis adviser three hours late, after receiving an email asking why the heck I had yet to submit it. I hadn’t even read through the whole thing completely to edit it even once. It was very much unpolished, but I submitted it anyway, already fearing for my grade.

This essay was supposed to be around eight to 10 pages, double spaced, providing the reader with basic background information on the thesis topic. But, my essay was 21 pages, one and a half spaced—one of the longest papers I have written.

I remember my professors in the past stating that they didn’t like students to exceed the page counts requested for an assignment, and how I scoffed at the idea—as if anyone was really going to be so overzealous about an assignment and write more than what was asked of them? Well, that was before I was writing on a topic I was truly passionate about.  However, I worried that my professor would be annoyed that I wrote more than twice as much as he had asked for. I sat for two weeks worrying with my friends in the department over just how horrible our context essays were and what grades we might receive for them.

Then I got an email from my thesis adviser on Sunday night as I was Skyping with my Bosnian girlfriend who lives in Sarajevo. The email stated that he wanted to provide me with some comments about my essay prior to our meeting the next afternoon.

The comments began with my grade. I got an A.

Awesome! I got an A! But wait, there was a sizable paragraph that followed.

My adviser proceeded to pick apart a piece of work that marked a culmination of everything I had been researching for years. I’ve spent months living in this country, seen the faces of the people who lost family members in the conflict, seen firsthand the way in which this conflict tore the nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina apart. Sure it was long, but there wasn’t one bit of information in the essay that wasn’t included for a reason. If I hadn’t included everything, I would be oversimplifying the history of the region, and therefore would be doing an injustice to the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives over the course of the 20th century.

I was pretty frustrated. After texting with a friend and realizing that the professor was equally critical of her piece, I suddenly felt like a brat for complaining so much.

Sure, my professor had some critiques of my work, but I still got the A for the huge effort I had clearly put into my work. He obviously appreciated and was impressed by my knowledge and understanding of the topic but was worried that some of the important points I was attempting to illustrate were being lost in the sheer amount of information I provided.

I took a deep breath and realized, maybe his critiques weren’t so outrageous, and maybe I shouldn’t have taken such offense to them… I proceeded to write up a list of notes, an explanation about why I had done things the way I had. In the end, I actually agreed with most of his points. In addition to some basic issues regarding proper citations and footnote formats, one particular aspect that I need to work on with my writing is distilling ideas and facts down to the most important and relevant to the project. This proves especially difficult given how passionate I am about my topic, but it is a skill I will have to hone with my future work.

Our meeting went really well, and I now feel far more confident that I know what direction I should be moving with my thesis, and I expect my next essay, the dreaded Literature Review, to turn out far better than this last one.

Photo by Logan Campbell

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