Yesterday, I headed out to a local music/crafts fair that is a very hippie space—costumes, body paint, environmentally minded, etc. It’s very crowded, so the best way to get there is by the free shuttle bus.
On the bus, I ran into a former student. “Hi, Professor Laughter!” I said “are you done? are you coming up on senior year?” She will be starting her senior year, and so mentioned that she was trying to do preliminary reading on a thesis topic and settle down to an question/argument, but having some difficulty. (She is in a program I work with where all students write theses and I serve as outside third reader on a variety of theses through this program, so this was a totally apropos thing for her to be sharing.)
I promptly spent about 10 minutes—on the bus to the fair! she had feathers in her hair!—advising her on things she might do to help sort out the major issues in the topic and find a focus that grabbed her attention. On a topic (not history) I haven’t studied since undergrad.
My favorite part of this story is that I managed to restrain myself from introducing the friend I was with, who is an expert in the thesis topic. I mean, I don’t really recognize my own work/life balance, but at least I respect that of others.
PS. The best tip I gave her—which I had never thought of before, and so share—was to google for introductory syllabi in the arena to see what the big questions were and what the basic theoretical readings were. Shouldn’t her advisor be telling her those things? Yes, of course. But there’s some structural flaws in this program that I cannot blog pseudonymously, so I try not to blame advisors for things.