All English majors at Dickinson write a senior thesis. Students compose and revise the thesis—an independent piece of critical writing of about 50 pages—in the challenging and supportive company of the senior workshop.
What makes Dickinson's thesis process different is that both students and the professor critique and edit sequential drafts of the project.
During this yearlong sequence of classes, students usually remain with the same professor and group of peers. Because there is no other way to describe this transformative process of becoming an author, we call it the Senior Experience.
Just ask anyone who's gone through it:
GREYSON WYATT ’19
Entering my senior year, I approached my thesis as the culmination of my time at Dickinson as an English major. So, naturally, I was terrified. But it was a well-managed undertaking. There is support everywhere at Dickinson. In my 404 seminar course I found likeminded peers and a professor determined to help each of us produce something we could be proud of. And there was a whole department of professors happy to help.
There is a lot of freedom when choosing what to write about, and the 403 course taking place the semester before 404 provides time to play with ideas. Students in my 404 seminar wrote on topics ranging from steroid use in Major League Baseball to Victorian elegies. I was able to write on a topic that interested me and challenged me and that I found important.
Writing my thesis gave me an opportunity to prove to myself that I could create a text that I find valuable. I was not writing for a grade or completion; I was discovering ideas and placing my voice among those of other scholars. Writing my English thesis (on horror films, of all things) was the most rewarding experience of my academic career, and having accomplished it, I have a greater understanding of my capabilities.
LIVVY POULIN ’17
The structure of 404 affirmed writing as a process of exploration and discovery for me. With each partial draft of our projects that we submitted and discussed in workshop, my peers and I came closer to identifying what exactly we wanted to pursue in our writing and how to strengthen our voices to do so.
I never imagined at the onset of 404 that my final product would address so many of my deep and personal interests that I had previously viewed as unrelated. Without question, the most critical of these developments in my project emerged in workshop as my peers discussed my writing; were it not for the collaboration of my peers and the guidance of Professor Seiler, I would not have arrived at the connections that became essential to my thesis. It was a watershed experience to immerse myself so completely in my own project while also observing and participating in the process of my peers’ work as well.
The English curriculum at Dickinson emphasizes literary scholarship as a form of conversation, and the collaborative nature of 404 allows majors to experience that—and the joys that come with writing in a community—firsthand.
ALEJANDRO HEREDIA ’16
Working with my 404 cohort was one of the academic highlights of my four years at Dickinson. Supporting them in their writing process and being supported in return gave fruit to some of the most creative, vigorous work of my Dickinson career. It clarified for me that writing—even the most academic, theoretical writing—can be done in community. So much comes out of having someone you trust read your work. I wouldn’t have made it through such a long process without the periodic feedback, challenges and validation from my peers.
I also thrived with the large scope of the project. With the time, space and resources to conduct long-term research, I had the freedom to be creative about my writing process. I was able to put texts together that have never been analyzed next to each other, and I experimented with different approaches to my writing process. All of this freedom gave rise to work that I’m still proud of, years later. It wasn’t always easy, and not all of my creative endeavors made it into my final draft—I threw out about 15 pages, which admittedly is far less than some of my peers. But it was liberating, to feel that I had the time and resources to approach my work differently, without the pressure of writing quickly for a good grade.
More on the 404
The Multifarious Worlds of English 404