Surviving the Second Semester

I am a second semester senior, and the struggle to stay motivated is very real. As is evidenced by my lack of blog posts, the first half of this semester was rather slow for me in terms of working on my thesis. Some of this can be accounted for by the fact that I have been much busier than I had originally expected this semester! On top of my classwork, I had the added stress of awaiting decisions and doing interviews for graduate school, was a model for CMU’s Lunar Gala fashion show, and have been working extra shifts at my jobs to prepare for post-grad life–all the while trying to enjoy what is left of my senior year.

However, if I’m being honest (both with myself and all of you), a main holdup for me was finding the motivation to work on my thesis. Because I had collected all of my data by the end of fall, I came into my second semester feeling confident about my thesis. I felt that I was in a good place in terms of my timeline, and that I should focus on more pressing matters before worrying about my thesis–I would get it done eventually. But, here I am, halfway into the second semester and about a month away from the final due date, and it’s still not finished.

Though the clock is definitely ticking, I have recently been able to get back into the swing of things. Though picking up extra work shifts may never end for me, Lunar Gala has ended, and I was finally accepted into a graduate program. Tying up these loose ends has lifted an unbelievable burden off my shoulders, and has allowed me to return my focus to my thesis. In fact, when I was not working on my thesis over spring break last week, I went and visited my potential graduate school. Seeing the place that I might call home for the next5+ years has made me incredibly excited about my future, and I know that an integral step to getting there is finishing my thesis.

A photo taken while visiting my potential grad school, The New School for Social Research, in NYC.

Data Analysis: Remembering the Visual

As soon as I press the “play” button on the voice recorder, I begin to type as fast as I can to transcribe the first few words of the interview. I press pause as soon as the recording gets ahead of me, and then repeat the process. Transcription is a bit tedious and there are moments when my fingers stop typing, because I begin to really listen to what is being said. Then, I have to rewind a few seconds back in the recording and type, again.

Having allocated a few hours on the weekends to transcribe, I finally had the opportunity to lay the transcriptions out on my desk and read (multiple times) the words of my interviewees. Multiple readings alone are insufficient to code and analyze. Time also plays an important role in coding the information that I have. There are moments in between classes that I have to pull out my notebook and jot down a note to go back to when I’m looking at the interviews.

Staring at the transcriptions, I almost forgot that I have other senses. One of my professors reminded me that I have eyes. Since I only have audio recordings of the interviews, I made sure to take time after the interviews (not in front of the interviewee) to take notes of body language, the environment of the interview, facial expressions, etc. that seemed significant and accompanied their words. I find more connections when I don’t get completely absorbed in the words themselves. After all, these words are products of individuals who express themselves in a myriad of ways.

One of my goals in this research project is to encompass as much of the individual voice in the analysis as possible without sacrificing the quality of the analysis. Behind each word, each sentence, is a human being who is sharing various moments of their lives.

As I read through the transcriptions, and often re-listen to the recordings, I remember the facial expressions, the pauses, the shifting in their chairs, etc. These are elements that allow me to interpret their words beyond just the words and I hope I can convey that in my writing.

Let the Adventure Begin

~Awaiting adventure~ with some of my housemates!

~Awaiting adventure~ with some of my housemates!

Now that I’m halfway through the fall semester of my senior year (!!!) I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the somewhat limited time that I have left at Carnegie Mellon (which is still really hard to believe). When I started off my senior year a few months ago, I promised myself that I would make the most of my time left at Carnegie Mellon, and enjoy every moment I spend here, whether that be in class, at work, or just at hanging out at home with my wonderful housemates (2 of which are pictured above). As cheesy as that sounds, I have actually benefited a great deal from having this perspective. I am not as stressed as I usually am, mainly because I am truly enjoying the work that I’m doing it.  Investing time and energy into my classes and extra curricular activities can be overwhelming and stressful, but since I’ve made more of an effort to enjoy every moment I have left here, I’ve grown to be even more passionate about my courses and activities on campus. I’m incredibly grateful for CMU, my professors and my friends for giving me this kind of environment to thrive in; as a senior, it is making my last semesters extremely valuable. I can only hope that I keep up this attitude for the remaining semester and a half that I have left as an undergrad.

As I walk around campus, I become more sentimental about the adventures that I’ve had but also the adventures that are to come. I hate not knowing where I’ll be a year from now, but I’ve started to embrace the unknown. The future is scary, but exciting.

In the meantime, I am waiting for IRB approval for the online survey that I will send to French and Québecois participants. I’m really looking forward to reading the results from these surveys to see if my archival and library research about La Loi Toubon and La Charte de la Langue Française corresponds with contemporary opinion about these language policies.  I am also starting to engage in more archival research and starting to write my introductory sections to my thesis.

Thanks for reading!

Sweet New Year

The fall is upon us; this is the realization that I had as the temperature took a sudden dive and I pulled a sweater and umbrella out from my closet. This Monday and Tuesday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I celebrated with apples and honey for a “sweet new year”, and dinners filled with my grandma’s recipes (kasha varnishkas, goulash, honey cake). I’ve been thinking about and planning for the year ahead, my final year of undergraduate school, and where it might take me. October is a month filled with job interviews and job fairs. My friends are in Seattle for an interview one day, back in school the next, finishing final touches on medical school and graduate program applications. The next year seems like a distance away, and yet here we are, trying to make decisions that will prepare us for the next move, and then, hopefully, for the next. Wrapping my head around where we may all end up in a year is like writing a collection of tension-filled fiction in itself.


Shanah Tova! Happy New Year!

I have also been thinking about my thesis, and where it may take me. I am grateful for the momentum that I was given over the summer, but now I am forced to be even more mindful of getting myself to the writing table. This past month, I gave myself the commitment to find time to sit and write every single day, weekends and weekdays alike. Amid reading assignments and engineering group projects, job applications and exams, I have been finding the space to give my writing the priority it deserves – to not just let the days slip away. (Of course, weekly meetings with my advisor, Kevin Gonzalez, have provided the necessary encouragement). Some days, this has meant finding the silence early in the morning, and others – later at night.

I have been working on a story that now might be turning into a lengthier novella. There is also the chance that, when I’m through, I will have to untangle it into two distinct stories. I’m not sure where it will end up now, or where the stories of the rest of the year will take me. In any case, I will be writing! Have a happy and healthy new year, everyone!

A GREat start to Senior Year

It is now October, and we are about 6 weeks into the school year. That is 6 weeks into my senior year of college, and it feels absolutely unreal! Actually, I retract my statement. It feels a little bit TOO real. As the school year began, so too did all the responsibilities that come with being a senior: the most notable of which is applying to graduate school. I am applying to Clinical Psychology Ph.D programs, a.k.a. one of the most competitive program types out there. To say I’m stressed out would be an understatement. However, as with everything I do, I’ve got a structured plan, and am making steady progress.

In fact, this past Friday I completed an integral step in the grad school application process: I took the GREs. All I can say is thank goodness that’s over with! For the month of September, I spent, no exaggeration, all of my free time studying for the test. Though it prepared me to do well, it did hinder my ability to work on other things, such as my honors thesis. However, now that the test is over and I have a bit more free time, everything with the study is back on track; it has been piloted and is just about ready to launch! If all goes well, the month of October will be spent collecting data!

I am incredibly excited with all the progress I am making, both in terms of grad school applications and my honors thesis. And, though I know things won’t be slowing down for me any time soon, I am comforted by the fact that I have plans to move forward with, and a support system that can help me get through anything and everything.


Special thanks to my wonderful housemates for my post-GRE surprise: a piece of Prantyl’s burnt almond torte cake saying “U R GREat”


And that’s all, folks

It feels a little strange to say, but my thesis — a comparison of the political and militant arms of Hezbollah and the Provisional Irish Republican Army — is pretty much done.

Oh, there are a few edits left. My footnotes are still in disarray, so those need neatening up, and I’m sure there are typos that still need to be rooted out. But by Friday, those last little issues will be gone, and I’ll have my adviser, Dr. Clarke, sign the final copy, and I’ll drop it off at the Dean’s office. And I’ll be done.

This thesis has been a huge part of my academic experience as an upperclassman at Carnegie Mellon. In the fall of my junior year, I took my first class with Dr. Clarke, where I first began to develop my interest in militant groups. By the spring, I was almost 4,000 miles away in Granada, Spain and trying to plan a substantial self-guided research paper and pick which militant groups I wanted to focus on. That summer — my last summer as an undergrad, really — was spent with my nose in a pile of books and articles as I tried to absorb as much as I could about Hezbollah and the Provisional Irish Republican Army as quickly as I could. I ended the summer with a 20-page rough draft I was pretty proud of. I was about to launch into my fall semester, which I would be spending in Washington, D.C. working at a foreign policy think tank. I thought I’d finish the draft while I was there, and enter my spring semester of senior year with only edits left to do.

Boy, was I wrong about that last part! Over the fall semester, I got virtually nothing of substance done on my thesis.

My D.C. semester was wonderfully challenging. I loved the think tank where I worked, I made some really good friends and I learned a lot. And I could say that all the goings-on of Washington prevented me from working on my thesis, and there would be some truth in that. It was a jam-packed semester. But the real reason I got nothing of consequence done was that I kind of hated my thesis for a while there.

I’m told this is a natural part of the production of any academic work. Maybe it’s like having a kid? For the first part of the baby’s life, you and the kid are thick as thieves. But then the kid hits adolescence and suddenly everything is more difficult because the little bugger just will not stop rolling her eyes at you. Okay, maybe that’s not the smoothest metaphor, but I honestly struggled to feel connected to and invested in my work that semester. I thought my thesis was no good, but since I didn’t really have the time to fix it, that didn’t galvanize me to make it better; it just made me really anxious about having a piece that wasn’t much good be the crowning achievement of my college career.

So I spent my fall semester ignoring my thesis. And then I got back to campus in the spring and continued to ignore it. Because I was sure that my aversion to rereading it and working on it must have been based in some true lack of quality, some egregious hole in my argument that I had registered subconsciously but hadn’t seen yet. But eventually I got to the point where it was due to Dr. Clarke in a week with major edits, and I hadn’t cracked the file open in months.

I printed off a fresh copy, braced myself and sat down with a cup of coffee and a red pen. And there were problems, definite problems – I didn’t really define my research question or thesis statement as clearly as I should have, my Hezbollah section was longer than the PIRA section by a full four pages and I didn’t have a real conclusion as yet. But none of those problems were insurmountable. And so I began to fix them, in that draft and then in the next. And now I’m basically done.

I don’t know if my long dormant months were a necessary part of the creative process, like a caterpillar forming a chrysalis and then popping out a butterfly, or something. It certainly didn’t feel that way to me. It mostly felt like frustration, topped with a liberal dusting of self-doubt. But when I managed to get over myself and settle down to work, I managed to produce a paper that I’m proud of.

The two most important things I learned from this thesis are these: that any creative process, whether it’s for the academic or professional world, will have its fits and starts, and, when in doubt, it’s best to just grit your teeth and get it done. Hopefully, I’ll remember that the next time I feel overwhelmed by a project.

Working on this thesis has been an exciting challenge for me this past year. I’m so grateful for the support that I received from the Dietrich Honors Fellowship staff, especially Dr. Jennifer Keating-Miller, as well as my advisor, Dr. Clarke. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m excited to present my work at Meeting of the Minds on May 4th.

Hello Friends

photo-1458925140641-48569e57da75My novel, for the purposes of my thesis, will be done tomorrow. I will submit it to my advisor, who will submit it to the department head who will then send it on to the Dean’s office. I can’t believe it!

The last few months I have been working on editing, rewriting scenes and trying to fully define what I wrote so I can describe it when people ask that much-dreaded question “So what is your novel about?”

Now, I can safely answer, “I’m working on it.”

I am so thankful for the opportunity that Dietrich College gave me to write a novel. The time and the resources provided have given me the chance to prove to myself that I can do it. But more than that, it has shown me that I love long form fiction.

This time last year, I asked my friends who were finishing their theses what they had learned during the process. One friend, who had been working on a historical-fiction novel, candidly said, “That I don’t like novels.”

That response stuck with me. But for me, this experience has been the opposite. I have emerged from this year secure in my knowledge that I really enjoyed writing my novel and I can’t wait to write another one.

I am excited to share my work at Meeting of the Minds and with all of you who have supported me through this process.

Thank you!

Learn more about my project.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Write, Write, Again

lw1My head really hurt. It had that strangely numb and fuzzy feeling that heads have when they’ve been focusing for too long on one specific thing. The all-around sluggish sensation made me a little woozy as I stood up to stretch my legs and wonder how long I’d been curled over my notebook, fingers clenching my favorite mechanical pencil, eyes trained to the lined pages.

The process of revision is never easy.Whenever we are asked to take another look at ourselves, to alter, refine, and improve in some way, there is bound to be at least an inkling of resistance. This can be in our writing, or in our lives. But in both cases, it’s useful and, whether we like it or not, necessary to do.

These past few months have sent me back to the drawing board more times than I care to count. It seemed that each time I made a step forward, the revision process would take me two steps back. And while it wasn’t all this way, it certainly began to feel like I was only moving away from my goal.

But, when I think about it, I wonder if the “goal” ever really existed? Maybe for me, the process was the goal? I have certainly learned a lot in the past few months, about myself and about my writing. I have worked with being more present, in my creation of story, and in the experiences of my life.

So as I look ahead to the final submission date, I know that everything is exactly as it should be.

This Week’s Inspiration:lw2

For the Eyes: Spring is underway here in Pittsburgh! Take a moment to appreciate the delicate blossoms popping up all over the city.

For the Ears: I am loving listening to the rain we’ve been having, lately. The spring sounds in general are so welcoming after the winter months!

For the Soul: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Learn more about my project and experience with the Dietrich College Senior Honors Fellowship.


Still Life of Girl with Computer

eleanor1One year ago, I boarded a plane and left the Pembroke College National-Writing Academy of Writing Summer Programme. I did so with a heavy heart, sad to be leaving the community and shared knowledge that my peers and I had created. I knew I would miss my friends. I knew I would miss my work-shopping group and the practicing authors that we met every week. I knew that even if I tried to come back the following year, I could never recreate the same experience.

What I did not know was that things would just get better. I did not know I would have the opportunity to workshop with an incredible fiction class upon returning to school. I did not know that the friends that I made in Cambridge and I would stay in touch, supporting each other as writers from our remote locations. And I certainly did not know that my pipe dream of writing a novel would become a reality.

This summer was a dream – and not in the terribly cliché the-character-was-asleep-the-whole-time sense. Working on my novel this summer was everything I wanted it to be. I have been trying to test my skills in a big way and I have proved to myself that I am capable of this kind of writing. Furthermore, I have really enjoyed it (although I am convinced that the first five minutes of sitting down to write does not get easier).

When I left Cambridge a year ago, I had four short stories in my pocket. I was proud of one of them. And looking back, that one still needs work. I am sure in five or ten years, I will look back on my novel and think the same thing. As P.G. Wodehouse wrote, “An author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo.” I am trying my best to listen for the echo, but what is important to me is that the next novel, or the novel after that will be progress on progress and that I will get better with each word that I put down on the page.


I am not where I want to be yet and I am really enjoying the journey. The first short story I wrote, when I was five, was about two princesses protecting their castle from an evil witch (original, right?). I used an Illustory, a kit for children to write and illustrate stories, to publish it in hard cover. Today, I’m halfway through my first novel. I have grown so much from that first princess story, and even more so in the last year.

This summer my fellowship has shown me that I can write, that I can write a novel, that I can balance many other things in my daily routine. It has shown me what free time means and taught me to relax in it. I have learned to be kind to myself on days when writing is hard and to push forward through creative challenges. This time spent writing my thesis was a gift that I am so thankful for. I wish it would go on forever…but then, what would I write about?