Comps: A Journey
December 5, 2014
Blogger: Aviva Alvarez-Zakson
Hello again, internet! Did you miss me? Today I’m going to talk to you all about a process at Occidental College known as comps—the senior comprehensive thesis most majors on campus require, where students make contributions to the academic field they spent the last four years studying. As a senior history major, I am just starting to wrap up my comps, a 25 page paper and presentation. A lot of senior bloggers have alluded to their comps, and how much work they are. So, I figured I’d actually describe my own experience. Come on this journey won’t you?
Step One: Find your passion within your passion
Ask any of my friends or family members and you will know I was basically born a history major. I often refer to different historical figures by nickname (because we’re best friends, duh), and that whole “If you could pick one person to go back and time and meet, who would it be?” question is really hard (actually it’s not. Anne Boleyn, hands down). But you have to choose what area of history and who you want to study. After much deliberation, I decided to study the experiences of young women in Theresienstadt, and how their circumstances of imprisonment impacted their development as young women.
Step Two: Find your sources
Primary sources are essential for history. History majors at Oxy spend hours in different archives and museums, in front of screens and microfilm projectors, and reading relevant novels, diaries, and other literature. I, myself, listened to well over 30 hours (probably more, math isn’t my strong suit) worth of oral testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation, as well as read up on different literary testimonies.
Secondary sources are also necessary to write the historiography (where you talk about what and how other scholars have written about your subject) of your paper and insert yourself into the existing body of literature. See what other scholars are writing (or not writing). One of the cool things about comps is you attempt to create a publishable article. So, you need to familiarize yourself with those who are already published (I secretly refer to all of my secondary sources by first name and pretend we’re all friends).
Step Three: Caffeinate and Procrastinate.
If you’re one of those people who says “I don’t really do caffein,” congratulations, I commend you, and good luck. Me? Caffein and I are really close. The trick is to find your caffein sweet spot. Unless I’m in for a long day, I save my coffee/tea until about 11:30-12:30. That way, I’m my awake and perky self through the afternoon and into the evening, and ready to work! And by work, I mean procrastinate…then work.
Don’t tell my professors, your parents, or anyone else this, but procrastination is not that bad! You just have to do it right. Don’t let yourself get sucked into mindless vortexes of the weird places of the internet. Do things that inspire you or get you energized—like music, poetry, inspirational speeches, surprise marriage proposals! I also suggest you find a TV show that you enjoy, but won’t feel the need to binge-watch—something goofy or that you’ve already watched 100 times (Shout out to 30 Rock and my girl, Liz Lemon). Only waste the time you actually don’t need. Procrastinate responsibly, kids!
Step Four: WRITE THE DARN THING
I am super thankful that history comps uses mini deadlines where we turn in sections of our paper, go back and edit, and then continue writing. But now, my actual, REAL DEAL paper is due very soon, so I’ve really got to get going on it. When you have a paper to write, the best thing you can do is just write. Make word-vomit outlines, get your thoughts on something, use fun colors and post-its, and just get it down. From there, you’ll probably see that you know WAY more than you thought. You’ve got this, you’re smart, and you’re gonna blow it out of the water! (At least, this is what I try to tell myself)
Comps are a really cool opportunity here at Oxy. They teach you academic independence, research skills, and the ability to be a scholar in your field. Though I don’t see myself becoming historian, I have friends who do, and I really appreciate the chance to see what it’s like.
Well, while I hate to leave you, you were my form of responsible procrastination for the day. See you all soon! Now to get back to writing…