Here’s how to tip-toe into the biggest research project of your life.
1. Don’t panic about the scope of the project, its research parameters, or even the time limitation. Even when you see that the requirements for a Masters thesis at Northwestern are half of what this, your Bachelors thesis, will demand of you. Even when you consider that last summer you spent three months doing nothing but art historical research, day and night, producing a 30-something page paper, and this year you will have to do a paper at least three times that length on top of 12 other credit hours, a paying job, and a teaching assistantship.
2. Read between the lines when your professors tell you that you’re not required to work on this project over the summer, but “it might be good to.” Recognize that it takes you a long time to articulate things like the feelings a work of art gives you, or the connections you see between supposedly unrelated things like installation and works on paper and John Cage, so you better start struggling through the free writes now in hopes of being able to articulate yourself come September.
3. Realize that you’ve never been formally introduced to Contemporary Art History; dig out your textbooks and do it yourself.
4. Make a lot of lists. Topics that interest you, artists whose work you love, biographies to read, so on and so forth, and get to it! As you read through the various items on those lists, make sub lists of things to google: artists that inspired the artists you’re reading about, books they admired (find and read them), museums they’ve shown in, movements they’ve started. Google those things. There’s nothing irrelevant when it comes to research. Cast your net far and wide while you have the time and construct the best framework of context and historical understanding you can, while you have the time.
5. Be painfully thorough with your bibliographic work now. Spare yourself the lost points and frazzled, midnight Chicago Manual Meltdowns later.
6. Max out Mobius within a month of being home from school.
7. Fill your life with sticky notes, index cards, and scribbles. Jot down almost-perfect sentences and further-articulated thoughts as they come to you at work or while you’re looking at something totally unrelated in the museum. Find lots of these papers in your purse at the end of the week and put them by your computer. Don’t lose them!
8. Type your reading notes and quotes so they’re ready to use later. Scan pages of books you think you might need or want later, just in case; it’s faster than typing or re-ordering the book, is paperless, and saves you from wasted time that will be so precious at three am the night before your chapters are due.
9. Make a playlist of music you work best to. Save that for later too.
10. Get in the habit of backing up your computer.
11. See your thoughts begin to come together. Find yourself settling into habits you know are only going to make the first two weeks of school easier. Be glad you’re figuring this whole thing out now, and start worrying less.
12. Look at a lot of art. Remember why you love your major, and your chosen field, and the work that your career will involve.
13. Start getting, dare you say it, a little excited to begin writing your first thesis.