By Lauren Hale
Next semester we have to complete our thesis projects. A thesis is a project of your choosing, entirely your choosing. Up until now, every project we have ever done has been prescribed to us by our professors of that studio. We make every decision now, but with the guidance of a thesis committee.
A thesis committee is made up of 3-5 people who are graduate level professors in the School of Architecture at Southern Illinois University. The faculty isn’t huge by any means. I would say there are probably 10 or so professors that are qualified to help us. This semester we were supposed to have been communicating with these professors about our thesis topic interests and determining who we think would be the best fit. Professional qualifications are extremely important. Certain professors teach certain classes and have specific degrees and interests. Those backgrounds should mesh with your intentions, but almost more importantly are their personalities meshing with your own.
The deadline to have our chair (the head of the committee) and two committee members has already passed, but it wasn’t easy. I definitely learned a few lessons in dealing with figures of authority. It’s kind of an interesting story actually. I met with two professors initially and knew I wanted to ask one of them to be my chair. Both meetings went really well, with differing viewpoints and research directions, but both I could see as being very beneficial. I also liked both of them as far as ease of conversation and their personalities. One of them had been great at responding to emails almost immediately, very thorough with their responses and information, which I really appreciated. The other wasn’t very reliable even in the first few days of meeting this person. I sensed this was going to be problematic, which is unfortunate because in our first meeting, a lot of great ideas were discussed and produced and I could tell this professor was very enthusiastic about my project. But they were both enthusiastic. So, I ultimately decided to ask the professor who was prompt with their email responses and organized with meetings etc. You have to have someone reliable, period. And that professor said they, “…would be honored to serve as my chair.” So I was very excited and relieved; this whole process brought back the same nervousness I had when I was asking professors for letters of recommendation to get into grad school in the first place. I was so afraid of them saying no, luckily none of them did. Anyway, I had secured my chair. Then the next day, the other professor I met with finally called me. This professor had been saying for days that they needed to talk to me about something but then never did, even when I made myself very available, which is part of the reason I decided I didn’t want to have to deal with a lack of organization on their part. So I get this phone call, and it’s the other professor I met with and they were wondering if I had made a decision about my chair yet and I said yes, I asked the other professor and they said yes, but I would still love for you to be a part of my committee. And this professor said, “Well that’s where I have the problem. I feel I should be your chair and I don’t want to be a part of your committee unless I am.” I couldn’t believe it; AN ULTIMATUM. An ultimatum from an adult, professional, graduate-level figure of authority, had just done something so petty I didn’t even know what to say. So after a couple seconds of silence, I said I wish they would have made their intentions clear a lot sooner. This professor then said, “Well, I just think we had a great meeting and a great conversation and I don’t think Professor INSERT NAME HERE is qualified to help you.” So after being hit in the face with an ultimatum, this person was now talking about another professor in a negative way with a student. I was just shocked. I was like, “You have given me a lot to think about and I’ll let you know when I make a decision.” I hung up the phone, freaked out a little bit and ran to studio as fast as I could. I told all my friends what had just happened and they were dumbfounded, completely shocked. I already knew what my gut feeling was about how to handle this. There is no way I could go back to the first professor and take back my invitation to be my chair, there is no way. But that also meant I couldn’t work with the person who gave me the ultimatum. I don’t think I could have a good conversation with them ever again, and I didn’t want to choose someone out of obligation. So, I kept my original chair and politely told the other one, thanks but no thanks.
Navigating the professional world is way trickier than I thought. Honestly, the thing that requires the most work is making sure everyone plays together nicely, and acts like the grown-ups they are. Oh and the professor I have as my chair is definitely qualified and has a very good reputation and is a well-liked professor. Turns out, the other one is more often than not very unreliable.