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Seniors spend fall break at thesis boot camp

Tori Roeck | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

While some seniors spent fall break at home, on a road trip or in Las Vegas, 29 members of the Class of 2014 got a jump start on their theses in Thesis Camp, sponsored by the Hesburgh Library and the University Writing Center.

Matthew Capdevielle, director of the University Writing Center, said the program, which began in fall 2010, is intended to help students get to know themselves as writers.

“The goal of the camp is to help writers develop a clearer sense of their own best practices and to build a healthy momentum that will see them successfully through the project,” Capdevielle said.

The Writing Center and the Library achieved this goal by offering daily breakfast and lunch to students, making specialist librarians available to them, sponsoring speakers to address them and dedicating a special space for seniors within the library, Capdevielle said.

“We want to create an immersion experience for them … but it’s also an opportunity to develop some really healthy and productive writing habits that will stick with them throughout the duration of this project,” he said.

Laura Bayard, graduate outreach services librarian and a coordinator of Thesis Camp, said the program offers a perfect balance for students through non-mandatory programming and dedicated work time.

“We know it works because the students inevitably say, ‘I had no idea I’d get this much done on my paper,'” Bayard said.

Bayard said departmental librarians met with students to discuss specific resources available to them, and other programming targeted science majors who have more quantitative projects. Seniors also interacted with graduate students who were conducting dissertation research, she said.

For those feeling pressure to complete their theses, a staff member from the University Counseling Center even spoke to the students about stress relief, and a tai chi session was held, Bayard said.

Every day, representatives from the University Writing Center opened and closed the day with guidance, Capdevielle said, and they were also available for one-on-one consultations.

“We do group goal setting sessions in the morning and kind of a writing warm-up and a check-in at the end of the day where we wrap up, we share our accomplishments, we put our list of accomplishments up on the board,” Capdevielle said.

In these sessions, tutors from the University Writing Center presented useful writing strategies, Capdevielle said.

“One of the tools that we invite writers to use during this camp is something we call the thesis log or the project log, and that’s just a process log for writers to capture information about their own process,” he said.

Matt Hayes, a senior Italian and Program of Liberal Studies major, said these writing strategies helped him to be productive during Thesis Camp.

“They were very helpful in teaching us various strategies on how to get things done,” Hayes said. “One is called ‘the pomodoro.’ … It’s Italian for ‘tomato.’ It was working in 25-minute increments and then you give yourself a five-minute break.”

Zach Leonard, a senior classics major, said he most appreciated the special library space.

“The most helpful resource [was] probably dedicated space,” Leonard said. “They put all the seniors in the bottom floor and that was helpful because I could pretty much have the same desk every day and it was quiet down there. The working environment was good.”

Hayes said he is glad he attended Thesis Camp because he knew he would not have written the 10 pages he completed if he had been at home.

“I’m a very easily distracted person, and I know if I went home I would have probably laid in my bed all day and watched Netflix. … Just forcing myself to wake up every morning at 8 a.m. to get there at 8:30 for breakfast, and just that uninterrupted time in the library, was probably the most productive I could’ve been over this break within reason,” he said.

Leonard said his goal was to write 15 pages for his thesis, and he came close to meeting it.

“My thesis is due by Thanksgiving, so I really needed to get a head start on it and finish up a lot of work. … I did not plan to stay in South Bend for my final fall break. It was annoying to see my friends go out and have so much fun, but in the end, it really was worth it to have done this,” Leonard said.

For seniors continuing to write their theses, Capdevielle said the University Writing Center offers programming throughout the year, including “Write First” mini camps that take place from 8 to 10 a.m. from Monday to Friday in the Writing Center, one-on-one consultations with tutors and read-ahead service for thesis writers.

Bayard said all seniors submitting theses should apply for the Undergraduate Library Research Award due Apri. 10 with a $1000 first prize award.

“For senior thesis entries … it’s not given on the strength of the senior thesis,” she said. “It’s given on the essay written about library resources and how the libraries and our resources informed the paper.”

Contact Tori Roeck at vroeck@nd.edu