A few years back, a Harvard biology major was procrastinating on her senior thesis. To distract herself, she spontaneously launched a blog called lol my thesis. She gave it this tagline: “Summing up years of work in one sentence.”

Game on.

Soon, thousands of thesis-wracked students threw their ironies into the fire. Take this English major at Haverford College, whose thesis was titled “‘Do thou thy warste, and I defyghe the!’: Mordred’s Rebellion Against Arthur and Malory in Le Morte D’Arthur.

Its summary? “Be nice to your local bastard. He’s a person too.”

A history major at Stony Brook University wrote a thesis called “The Social History of Yellow Fever During the American Civil War.” That summary? “Mosquitoes are scarier than cannons.”

Amherst also played along. One student’s geology thesis got this deadpan shorthand: “Rocks that are next to each other in Massachusetts now were also next to each other 400 million years ago.”

Laughing out loud at theses doesn’t detract from the serious work that goes into them. Each year, about half of Amherst’s seniors steel for this ordeal. They know the rookie mistakes of picking too broad a topic, choosing an initial hypothesis that turns to dandelion fluff, the killer march of deadlines, the weltschmerz of writer’s block.

Against the odds, though, some seniors squeezed out some fun. Robert Kwark ’17 installed a teddy bear, as a semi-satiric gesture, in the physics lab. Cassandra Hradil ’17 got to play thesis-related video games. They’re two of the eight thesis writers, from this year’s graduating class, spotlighted here. We salute each student’s attitude—and the lol summations they wrote for this article—and applaud the biggest academic achievement of their lives. Thus far.

THESIS: “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 in Vietnam: An Anthropology of Epidemiology”

Duck Running
Sheth studied how the Vietnamese cultural practice of “vịt chạy đồng" (duck running) helped spread the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus.

Melissa Sheth ’17

Majors: Anthropology and biology

SIMPLY PUT: “Bird flu is complicated, so wash your hands a lot when you hang with ducks.”

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THESIS: “All Things to All People: Intersections of Theology and Identity in Paul’s Corinthian Epistles”

Painting to Saint Paul writing his epistles
Paul knew he was a better writer than orator, says O'Connor, whose thesis focuses on the saint's letters to the first Christian community in Corinth. "Saint Paul Writing His Epistles" (c. 1618) is attributed to the painter Valentin de Boulogne.

James O’Connor 17

Major: Religion

SIMPLY PUT: “I think I know this guy better than 2,000 years’ worth of smart people who’ve been reading and writing about this same guy.”

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THESIS: “The Invisibility of Identity”

Lauren Horn's Thesis
Lauren Horn (second from front) shed light on questions of race and identity in her dance performance thesis. Photo by Maria Stenzel

Lauren Horn ’17

Majors: Theater and dance and psychology

SIMPLY PUT: “It's very hard to explain why I needed a tree house to talk about identity.”

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THESIS: “A Look into the Future of Compressed Caching in Virtual Memory”

PowerPoint slide about freeing computer memory storage
The wider segments represent decompressed files, the narrow ones the compressed files. FiFO is "first in, first out," as in, the oldest files are processed first. Image credit: Matthew Macoy

Matthew Macoy ’17

Majors: computer science and economics

SIMPLY PUT: “We found a way computers could run way faster.”

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THESIS: “Ottoman Citizenship and National Identity in the Late Ottoman Empire”

Ottoman Constitution
"The Revival of the Ottoman State" shows modern leaders by a female symbol of freedom, and Young Turks breaking the chains of the past. "Viva la constitution," on stone, is written in Greek and Turkish. Dozens of Ottoman ethnicities brighten the crowd.

Yvonne Green ’17


SIMPLY PUT: “Diversity, inclusion, innovation—are we talking a utopian society here? Nope: we're talking the Ottoman Empire, just before it collapsed.”

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THESIS: “Interactions Between Commutative Algebra, Galois Theory and Representation Theory”

This is an excerpt of the formula that inspired Debayle’s thesis, which culminated in a theorem involving the splitting algebra of a separable polynomial.

Felipe Pereira Debayle ’17

Major: Mathematics

SIMPLY PUT: “Splitting algebra is hard to explain. Science can describe itself through science fiction: I wish there was a genre of ‘math fiction.’”

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THESIS: “Interactivity, Indigeneity and the Digital Imaginary”

Screenshot from
For part of her thesis, Hradil did a "close-playing" of this eerily beautiful video game, "Never Alone" (Kisima Ingitchuna), which was created in partnership with the Alaskan Native community.

Cassandra Hradil ’17

Major: American Studies

SIMPLY PUT: “There’s incredible stuff going on in the world of Native video games.”

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THESIS: “Investigating Berry-Phase Interference in the Ni4 Single-Molecule Magnet”

Electron spin resonance
Kwark built this electron spin resonance in the College’s machine shop. You rotate the worm gear, which rotates the gear, which rotates the sample mounted on it. That allowed him to change the orientation of the magnetic field.

Robert Kwark ’17

Major: Physics

SIMPLY PUT: “I froze some magnets. Turns out they get Berry cool.”

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