Sarah Lipson

As a junior at Tufts University, I decided to write a senior honors thesis.  Tufts did not agree with my decision.

I turned in a proposal during the spring of my junior year.  It was rejected, partly because of insufficient faculty specialization in my topic.  My proposal was marked with a large red “NO ENROLL” across its first page, indicating that I could not enroll in the mandatory senior thesis course.  (Unfortunately I do not have a copy of this proposal: I threw it away without realizing that an exciting opportunity to reflect on this rejection would present itself years later!)

After this initial rejection, I spent much of the summer reworking my proposal and courting a faculty member who I knew had expertise in my area of interest.  He had not advised an undergraduate in over a decade.  In September, I went to his office hours and begged for him to be on my committee (though I would like to think my actions could be described with a less pathetic verb).  He told me that my topic was interesting and to “keep in touch” but did not promise to serve on my committee.  At least someone other than my mom thought my concept was interesting.

I submitted my proposal a second time and again I was rejected.  Perhaps I could advise myself, I thought, perhaps this would be my own not-for-credit-amazing-pseudo-thesis.  Realizing that this was not a workable plan, I continued to develop my research questions and returned to this faculty member to share my recent findings.  At this meeting, he agreed to be on my committee.

I submitted my proposal for the third time – and the department gave me a stamp of approval.  There was no time to celebrate; I dove right into my research.

In the months of work I dedicated to my thesis, I developed wonderful relationships with my readers, and leaned on them for support and guidance.  I finally made the connections with faculty members that I had assumed would form on move-in day my freshman year.

In March I was selected to be the primary presenter at the “Tufts Undergraduate Research Symposium.”  In May I was awarded the “Ted Shapiro Award for Best Honors Thesis of the Year.”

As I reflect on the rejections that I faced in this process, I learned two important lessons that I carry with me always:

  1. Do not drop your passions just because other people don’t support them.  Pick your battles and identify a balance between following your dreams and stubbornness.
  2. Put time and effort into cultivating relationships with faculty members.  This is one of the most significant parts of any truly satisfying academic experience.