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Though the English department at JHU may not have a formal honors thesis program, it does offer the option of doing a half or full-year independent study with a faculty advisor. Technically, you can take this in any direction you please: a research paper, a series of smaller papers on a particular poet, you name it — you can probably turn it into the focused academic work of your dreams. For me, that means a yearlong focus on George Eliot and 60 pages of analysis to prove it. But what does this process look like here? How do you go from zero to 60 pages of extensive academic writing and research on your own time, as an undergraduate without a Ph.D. and a life to lead? It looks something like this:

This is my roommate Kira and I with some serious stacks of books for our respective papers, standing outside of Gilman and waving despite the fact that we’ve lost feeling in our right arms. The only way to survive the sea of sources you amass as you plow through research is to swim through it with a friend.

But where do these stacks come from? The abyss: D-Level of MSE Library, a crypt with motion-activated lighting and a wealth of knowledge that comes in very handy when you’re a young scholar, just trying to engage in meaningful dialogue with a heap of old scholars for 60 pages of fun.

While the independent study program may not sound as prestigious as the hallowed “honors thesis,” it offers (I think) even more in its open-endedness; it allows for a freer scope of academic exploration that can take on whatever shape a student sees fit (a shape that may differ from 60 pages of fun). I’m glad and grateful to be doing it in my humble department with the loving support of D-level’s multitudes, an equally nerdy roommate, and the freedom that the vagueness of “independent study” allows.