My Most Challenging Academic Pursuit

My journey to finishing my Babson Honors Thesis Project.

Without a doubt, writing my honors thesis at Babson was one of the most rewarding- and most challenging- experiences of my entire academic career. I applied for Babson’s Honors Program when I was a Sophomore in college by recommendation from my Business Law Professor, who encouraged me to apply, thinking that I would be a good fit for the program. Once I was selected to participate in the program, I knew the hard work was just beginning.

I remember sitting with my peers at the Honors Retreat later in the year, looking anxiously around at my talented and ambitious classmates. I had no idea what I wanted to write about and with every brainstorming session and idea-generating conversation, I fell deeper and deeper into a whirlwind of confusion. When I finally considered studying music for my project, I encountered yet another obstacle: who was going to be my advisor? To describe finding someone who has knowledge about music, musicians, and passion at a business school as merely challenging is a vast understatement. I spoke to upwards of ten professors from Olin and Babson with no avail. How I found my advisor at the end of my Junior year still remains to be a bit of a mystery to me. I distinctly remember walking into her office in the basement of Tomasso thinking:

“this is my last hope, if she says that she cannot advise me I am not sure what I am going to do,” as I crossed my fingers under the table.

To my relief, she was truly the most interesting, genuine, generous, and kind professors I had met at Babson. I knew that if she said no to advising my project I would not only have to continue looking for an advisor but, more importantly, I would be missing out on the chance to work with such an incredible scholar. 

I could not have been more overjoyed when my advisor agreed to work with me on my honors thesis during my Senior year. The fact that I would be her first advisee made the experience all the more special. It made me feel as though we were walking into uncharted territory together and that we could both make mistakes and laugh about them. We would always figure it out, but we had the joy of figuring it out together. 

When I returned from summer break, I was excited to revisit the project, yet, undeniably, apprehensive. I had spent the whole summer searching for inspiration. Whatever I read, watched, or experienced I thought about how I could generate a thesis idea from it. With no luck, I returned to school with a pit in my stomach. I was still so confused as to what to write about. This confusion soon turned into frustration, as I used this conflict to define other parts of my life. How come I do not know what I am passionate about? Maybe I don’t know myself? If I could not choose a research topic of interest, how was I going to choose a profession after college?

Who is Ursula?

Yet, I was always comforted by my advisor’s simple and warm words “your project does not have to be perfect and, in fact, no project is”. It was as though these words allowed me permission to make mistakes, knowing that floundering was part of the process. It was my advisor’s continued faith in me that convinced me that I was capable of moving forward and, without it, I would not have believed that I could finish. 

It was at the Honors Reception in October of 2019 that my confidence during the process was at an all-time low. At this point, I had limited faith in my project. I still had not developed a research question or methodology. I found that my thoughts were constantly spinning in circles, butterflies in my stomach as I entered the dining hall. I knew that, at the reception, I would be forced to talk about my ideas and how I would be accomplishing my goals, but I simply did not have any answers. I clearly recall, when we had to stand up and present our projects, my advisor leaning over to tell me to have confidence because my preliminary idea was inherently interesting, words which gave me enough encouragement to stumble along and explain my project to the room. 

Yet, despite my discouragement, that semester my advisor helped me to press on, motivating me to continue to make mistakes, discover, and ask questions. I think that some of the best advice she gave me was that if I kept circling back to the same idea it meant that this was the idea that I should pursue. Another piece of advice I found incredibly helpful was that I should just start talking to people- diving in even though I did not have all the answers. She helped me to realize that I did not have to have everything figured out before I began and that this project would be an iterative process of discovery, learning, and adaptation. 

Despite my progress’s interruption from my college having to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt certain of the completion of my thesis. I knew that my advisor and I would see our project to the end, knowing that if we had come this far there was no stopping us now. After many long nights in my house writing away, I finally finished my honors thesis at the end of April, just weeks before I was supposed to have my graduation.

Now that I had completed the thesis, my mind was drawn to the other aspects of the project that I would now be missing out on: the presentation of my work at the Honors Thesis showcase, my advisor and my weekly catch ups, and having my parents see me graduate with honors. What hurt the most? The fact that my advisor would not be seeing me, along with all of the other honors students, walk across the stage to receive my diploma. I would miss out on the moment where I would find my advisor and family in the crowd as I stood on stage with my honors degree in hand, thinking about how proud I was that we finally finished this long journey together. 

Nevertheless, this day will come at some point in the future, but if it doesn’t that would be O.K. too. I have realized walking across a stage or showcasing my work some place would have been nice, but it wouldn’t change the research already done and the experience already had.

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