Note: Everything in this list was arrived at through personal experience. Some of it may not apply to you or everyone you know. Also, forgive any grammatical and spelling mistakes. Having finished up yesterday, my number of fucks has decreased significantly.
Stop stressing out about your Plan apps.
You may have heard this one before – but I cannot overemphasize the truth of it. People tend to freak out about Plan apps – especially the Final, but because you design your own Plan, the process is really flexible. You can make changes up until almost literally the last minute and nobody actually expects you to know what you will take your senior year as a junior. Your needs should dictate what tutorials you’ll have, not some piece of paper. Plan apps (from what I can tell) are created to help you speculate; so you should complete them, but worrying about them is a complete waste of energy. The things you set down on the Plan applications, even the Final Plan app, are absolutely not set in stone. They get your thought juices flowing and give you some initiative to talk to people, but they are not the be all and end all. Notice how I keep repeating that? That’s because y’all need to calm down.
The “one percentage per page” thing isn’t true.
You may have heard from someone, maybe even a senior or a professor, that people generally think of one page being one percentage and thus an ideal Plan as being 100 pages. But many professors don’t believe that, and it certainly doesn’t apply in practice. If your Plan is entirely written, this can be a useful ballpark to figure out percentages and general page length. But you should absolutely not keep going after you’ve said everything you have to say. Plan should be about saying your point or points succinctly and clearly, then giving demonstrations as to why said point or points is/are true and then stopping. As Cameron pointed out on the FaceBook page, “do more with less.” Working with some professors (ie. Geraldine) will usually result in a longer Plan, but most of the Plans (proper, just the Plan writing and no supplementary stuff) are between 80 and 120, with some being around 200. I can’t think of anyone whose Plan was a perfect 100 pages.
Plus, this makes things harder for students who have most of their Planwork in the form of exhibits, performances/shows, and other nifty things that can’t be translated to a pages.
Contact your sponsors(s) early and often.
While nobody expects Marlboro students to come in knowing what they will be doing for Plan, there are a lot of advantages to starting early. Being the sort of person who does everything early (except for catching onto trend) I used the following model: (SO 2): Talk to everyone you want to take a tutorial with or have as a sponsor (JR 1): Lots of reading, some writing. (JR 2): Lots of reading, Lots of writing. (SR 1): More or less finish drafting aside from my independent. (Stupid independent) and continue reading (SR 2): Revise all papers and finish independent.
If you want to replicate this model, or even if you don’t (or feel like you don’t have the capacity), it is best to find out who you want to work with and (this is essential) ask them to work with you. Chitchatting about a tutorial is not the same as asking someone to be your sponsor or cosponsor. If the choice is obvious for you, the professor might expect it, but actually saying that you want to work with someone opens doors to tutorials – and planning tutorials leads to having tutorials, and having tutorials leads to having work done. After you ask someone to work with you, update them consistently about what or who you’re reading and the thoughts you are having – professors appreciate these kind of updates even over the summer. Also, many professors will want you to plan a tutorial, and you should keep them up-to-date on this if that’s the case. In terms of how tutorials work, it varies wildly from professor to professor, and your professor of choice will tell you how to do that.
If you aren’t sure who your sponsor should be, search…early and often.
If the last bit made you sweat, you have my sympathy. Not having a Plan sponsor sucks, I know from experience. But breathe, and know that there is hope. While Marlboro is admittedly small and thus has a limited faculty, most of the faculty are knowledgeable about a freakishly large amount of things. It helps that a ton of professors at Marlboro have completely different graduate and undergraduate degrees. For instance, Richard Glezjer is best known for being a Medievalist and literature person with a love for Holocaust studies. But his undergrad was in zoology.
If there’s no clear person for you to work with (or if your clear choice is on sabbatical), ask around. Ask your adviser, ask students, ask the dean of faculty – just ask around. Sometimes people have an interest that isn’t immediately apparent, and talking with people who know the faculty better can help to suss these interests out.
Talk to Catherine O’Callahan…
Catherine O’Callahan is the Director of Academic Advising. Plan will (probably) be the toughest academic endeavor you’ve embarked on thus far. Chat with her about your Plan team and how to build it, talk to her about academic stresses, talk to her if you’re thinking about going on extension – just talk to her at least once.
You will read things that won’t help you.
If your Plan is one with lots of secondary or primary sources available, this scenario will happen at least once, and probably way more than that. You will be sitting in a professor’s office talking about your Plan and they will hand you a book. They will talk to you about it. It will sound useful. You open it up and start reading it. You finish reading it. You get absolutely nothing out of that thing.
Unfortunately, you will probably read many things that won’t help you, even some things professors specifically point you toward. Even the most promising of sources sometimes turn out to be unhelpful. This is entirely normal and isn’t anything to get hung up on. Maybe you can talk with your professors about what sources didn’t help you and why they weren’t helpful, in order to steer you in more productive directions.
Be flexible with your Plan.
You know what I just said about your Plan not being set in stone? Yeah. A lot can change about your Plan between your sophomore 2 and senior 2 semesters, and even during your senior 2 semester. I actually had a huge change to my Plan happen around Valentine’s Day this semester. Some people switch focuses entirely some people end up working with different people, sometimes your points end up changing or even reversing. Part of the Plan process is being able to roll with the punches that serious thought and reflection presents to you. In order to revise papers, you need to be okay with cutting chunks out. In order for your Plan to grow, you need to be comfortable with change. While change is stressful at any point in the Plan process, it is always for the better. After all, you would not feel compelled to make changes unless you felt in your heart of hearts that you were doing your best.
Take a Plan writing seminar if at all possible.
If you’re friends with me, there is a very high chance that you heard me talk about Plan writing seminars before. That’s because they’re amazing and really helpful. In short, Plan writing seminars are “classes” (let’s be real here, they’re more like tutorials in their nature) where seniors (and sometimes juniors and once in a blue moon sophomores) review each other’s work. Many professors have Plan writing seminars, or you can ostensibly plan one on your own as a tutorial like Jessie Stout and I ostensibly did this semester. Bottom line: It’s really useful to have your peers and a professor consistently critiquing your work. Also, Plan writing seminars can serve as an impetus for writing, since there are deadlines – and if you generate content each week, it accumulates nicely.
Senior grading: How does it work?!
There are two ways you can be graded during your senior year. The first (and more common) are progress grades. You get midterm grades, but the final grades in your classes are dictated by the grade you get on your Plan. Which makes sense, since if all your classes are tutorials or plan writing seminars, then your plans and orals are ostensibly finals. You can also get letter grades, which can work for some people, but which I generally would not advise. This would mean consistently showing up to class and always having work to present. Both of these things are borderline impossible while on Plan, regardless of how hardcore you are. However, the progress grading system really ticks off some professors because it allows students to ostensibly blow off classes that aren’t directly related to your Planwork, meaning that you could do almost no work and still receive a good grade. I find both concerns to be valid, and if you are taking a course that is not directly related to your Plan, I would talk at length with the professor about possible ways to negotiate.
You will doubt your thesis.
Because Plan lasts at least a full school year and can last up to a calendar year and a half, it eventually comes to occupy almost every corner in your mind. Thinking means reflecting, and for many Marlboro students on Plan, reflecting leads to stress. This is a special stress that you may have heard of called “Planic,” and there is a special variety of Planic in the form of doubting your thesis. If you are working in a field where things are the tiniest bit subjective (ie. almost all of them, barring maybe some science – but I know almost nothing about science beyond the history of science, so I’m probably wrong there) there will come a day when you just stare at your computer and cry, paralyzed by a fear that everything you have written is wrong. This seriously sucks, but it’s inevitable. It’s just a part of the process, and if you think about it, it’s actually more troubling not to have a moment of doubt about your thesis. Because if you don’t have any cause to doubt it and everyone you read agrees with you, that’s boring. If you’re just parroting what others have said, you aren’t thinking – and that’s an essential part of the Plan process.
If your professors aren’t worried, you shouldn’t be either.
Most Marlboro professors have been around a while, and know how the Plan process goes. They’ve seen a lot of students come and go…or come and not go. Even those who haven’t been around for a while have done dissertations, so they understand the feels that doing as huge a project as Plan can cultivate. And God, does it ever cultivate feels. Planic will seize you, more likely than not at multiple points. But as long as your professors aren’t freaking out, you should know that you’re fine. Your professors are often able to discern what you are capable of, even more able than you. I would’ve had my orals in April and been done earlier if I had trusted Richard more in this respect.
Your professors aren’t the boss of you…really.
This may seem weird, but hear me out. Sure, you have spent the last fourteen or fifteen years of your life (probably? maybe) being taught. But once you start Plan, the teaching aspect sort of dissipates – at least in an obvious way. Your professors will continue to challenge you to reflect on new thoughts, read new books, and maybe do certain exercises – but they will no longer be sitting at the head of a classroom leading discussions. The only people in the discussion now will be you and the professor you work with. By virtue of studying one thing (or a couple things) really intensely over an extended period of time, you will become a scholar. Your professors will also be scholars and sort of spirit guides through the land of Plan. What this means is that your Plan is 100% yours. You can feel free to take their suggestions and go in the direction they want you to go in – or you can opt not to do so. Use the authors you want to use, introduce the concepts you want to introduce, and don’t feel pressured to introduce things you don’t want to….that said…
you should still listen to what they have to say.
You shouldn’t completely change your Plan or any aspects of it just to please a sponsor, that said, ignoring their feedback is stupid. At least consider doing what they ask. And if you hear the same feedback from more than one person you work with, consider again and more seriously. Being stubborn in the Plan process won’t help you, only sticking with your principles and keeping your voice will.
Get a Plan buddy.
Honestly, the scariest thing about the Plan (especially for extroverts like me) isn’t the workload or the expectations, it’s the isolation that comes with needing to work all the time. It’s useful to have someone to sit and work on Plan with, help you realize when you should take a break, edit your papers, or ask to read your stuff – or just to vent to and/or geek out with. There’s sort of a built-in support group in Plan writing seminars (another reason to take one), but sometimes the person whose Plan is closest to your own isn’t in your seminar. Jessie and I were never in a Plan writing seminar together (at least not officially), but we planned two tutorials and took several classes together, thus solidifying our Plan partnership and our Plans’ FaceBook romance. Find someone with a similar Plan – or at least someone whose Plan you think is cool and who thinks your Plan is cool – and work together.
Break it down
Plan is much, much more daunting to do when you’re viewing it as a whole project. Instead, focus on individual papers or even sections of papers. Accomplishing lots of small things adds up in the end, and it’s much easier to trick yourself into accumulating results from small tasks than trying to tackle this enormous thing.
Be aware of dates.
As usual, deadlines are obvious, so be aware of your mailing date. Also be aware of your orals date and time – and make sure everyone in your Plan team is aware of them as well. In addition, keep in mind the deadline to hand in both an electronic copy and physical copy of your Plan to the registrar. The registrar will give you these dates and many more at senior 2 meetings toward the end of that semester.
Cite as you go.
Citing is entirely mindless, and so you can save it for the end. But it’s also tedious, time-consuming, and pretty much the least fun way to spend your time – so don’t save it for the end.
Your professors won’t let you fail.
Back to the point of “your professors will know how you’re doing better than you know how you’re doing,” your professors can tell if you’re in trouble. If they know that you’re not going to pass, they will usually ask how you feel about taking an extension. Very few professors will actually willingly allow a student to fail Plan. The people on your Plan team care about you and want you to succeed.
It’s REALLY SERIOUSLY HARD.
Plan is seriously hard. Weirdly enough, the workload required isn’t actually that hard, if you work on a consistent basis for a while, you can be finished with drafting by the end of your senior 1 semester. The hardest part about Plan is thinking about your professors’ comments, regardless of how you take criticism. Feedback for Plan is sometimes very specific, but generally tends to be more general and broad. Your professors will ask that you define your terms, think about certain concepts, look at things from a specific sort of light, look at the relationships between your papers – these questions all require reflection, and that’s where the hardest part lies. What do I think? What do I want to say? How do I put all of this into words? How much do I need to put into words anyway? All of these are good questions, and ones that Plan will probably stir in you.
But it’s not as awful as many seniors make it seem.
You’ve probably heard seniors complain about Plan a lot. You may have seen them walking into the dining hall dazed at strange hours. Perhaps you even had the misfortune of seeing someone (maybe even me) in the middle of a complete meltdown. But it’s important to remember that one’s Plan is a labor of love. At Marlboro, we get to do intensive research projects on WHATEVER THE HELL WE WANT, and that’s awesome. If you ever just talk to a senior about their Plan, you can see how much they enjoy talking about what they’re studying. Sometimes writing about it isn’t the most fun, but thinking and talking and being absorbed by it actually is.
You will always feel like you could do more – and that’s probably true – but you need to know when to stop.
The thing about Plan (and by all accounts) dissertations is that you’ll never be completely happy with what you do. There were things I could have improved about my Plan and stuff I could have added (otherwise my orals would have been pretty boring), and there will be things you can add, too. But eventually there comes a time when either a) any improvements you could do, you don’t have time for b) looking at your Plan is making you feel anxious, impacting your physical health, psychological health, or both or c) a & b. Eventually, you just need to get your stuff out of your face and mail.
In order to mail, you just ask your sponsor for your outside examiner’s email address and post address. Email all relevant parties to see if they would prefer an electronic (pdf) or physical copy. Then respect their wishes. Simple.
How the eff do orals work?!
You, your Plan sponsor, and any readers (if you want them there) assemble around a table. Your outside examiner gets the lead on asking questions, though your sponsors may at points interject. There might be a surprisingly large amount of time in which they talk to each other. From what I can tell, you are expected to establish two different things in your orals: 1) How much you’ve thought about the concepts you lay out in your Plan, whether you’ve actually considered your terms and ideas at length. And 2) How much other stuff you’ve learned along the way that isn’t actually in your Plan. In other words, your orals are supposed to demonstrate both that you know your stuff AND that you know other stuff. Impress both your outside examiner AND your Plan team with your dazzling Plan knowledge.
If you have the chance to meet your outside examiner prior to your orals, DO IT.
The only thing that really made me nervous about my orals was the fact that someone I didn’t know was going to ask me questions about my work. So I asked Richard if I could have breakfast with he and my outside examiner before my orals. This helped to lower my anxiety level considerably, and I feel it could do the same for others.
Don’t dress to impress. Dress for comfort and for YOU. This is YOUR DAY.
This was a piece of advice that I got from Richard, and only in hindsight can I see how true it is. I asked him about what I should wear because I wanted to make a good impression on my outside examiner. He then told me to wear whatever I wanted. This was my Plan and the day of my Orals was my day. Now I realize that your outside examiner is not there to critique your fashion sense, or even your eloquence, but your writing and your defense of your thesis. Martha liking my outfit was just a plus.
“I don’t know” is a perfectly okay answer.
It might feel weird to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” at your orals, considering that your orals are basically the ultimate final exam – but the questions asked may blindsight you, and your Plan team and outside examiner know that you can’t sit down and write the answers to a question, but must answer in as good a fashion as you can come up with in that moment and then move on. They may pertain to books you’ve never read, thoughts you’ve never had, or concepts you have never heard of in your life. Don’t make up stuff up, just be honest if you honestly have no idea how to answer a question. Take a pause to think if you have to. Your Plan team will respect that.
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