How to Write a Senior Thesis During a Pandemic

This summer I worked on a chapter of my senior thesis that tracks the activities of the Ford Foundation in India between 1951-62. Since I have already blogged about my findings, I thought it would be useful to summarize the process of doing research during the pandemic.

Step 1: Complain to your friends, family, or advisor

Accessing a bunch of primary sources which you would ideally like to consult for your thesis is hard; complaining about that, though, is easy. Occasionally, complaining also results in people directing you to resources you were unaware of – in my case, the huge trove of digitized material made available through HathiTrust.

Step 2: Email archivists and librarians like your life depends on it

I am so grateful to librarians and archivists for going out of there way to fulfill my research and copy requests. The sources acquired through these requests form the backbone of the chapter I was working on. In particular, I owe a debt of gratitude to Bethany Antos (Rockefeller Archive Center), Dean Hargett (State Historical Society of Missouri) and Gary Barnhart (Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections at Montana State University).

Step 3: Present half-baked arguments before the incredibly affirming group of CASI Fellows

The suggestions, feedback and questions I received during the monthly meeting of CASI Summer Fellows allowed me to probe deeper into my research question, and look for answers in places I had not thought of. These summer check-ins helped me stay on track and be accountable to someone who was not me.

Step 4: Understand that you will never write the ideal thesis

Even in non-pandemic situations, it would hard, if not impossible, to write the ideal thesis you planned in your head – things will go wrong and your writing calendar (if you even have one) will hardly resemble how things actually pan out. I tried to change my topic twice and to give up many more times than that, but this is not uncommon (I hope).

Step 5: Plan for the future and then abandon those plans

I hoped to seamlessly move on to the next chapter of my senior thesis after the summer. So far that process has been anything but seamless. It turns out planning is more iterative than final, so I will be trying to find the right balance between working on my thesis and focusing on my classes for the semester. This next chapter is devoted to Cold War economic theory and the role of numbers in political argumentation in India between 1962-5, and I will be turning to the work of scholars like David Engerman, Theodore Porter, Arunabh Ghosh and Sonja Amadae. Hopefully by the time I am done with the chapter, it matches this description.

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About Tathagat Bhatia

I am a rising senior (C'21) from Lucknow, India, studying history of science and technology, and Russian. I am especially interested in environmental history, histories of empire, and post-colonial histories of South Asia. My project explores how development experts in post-World War II United States exported their expertise to India, particularly in the domains of food and agriculture.