Senior Thesis Café Provides Writing Support & Community

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Bridget Fullerton/Writing at Bates

“We want seniors to feel comfortable asking for help. We will meet each writer where they are and help them get to where they want to be.” – Sarah Raphael ‘21

Sacha Feldberg, Contributing Writer

One unique and fundamental aspect of the Bates learning experience is the senior thesis that all students are required to complete. Thesis Cafe is a space for seniors to plan, write, and revise their theses. It is also a space where seniors can build community, share ideas, and support each other throughout their writing process. 

Sarah Raphael ‘21, Trisha Kibugi ‘21, and Nick White ‘21 will be facilitating the cafes each week. They will be running this program alongside members of Bates’ professional writing staff: Dr. Bridget Fullerton, Dr. Stephanie Wade and Eric Dyer. 

Raphael’s main role is to oversee the Writing Center, writing tutors, and various writing support initiatives.

“In the past, Thesis Cafes occurred in ARC throughout the week, as a physical event,” Raphael said. “This year, things will be playing out a little differently. We will still be hosting Thesis Cafe in-person, but now we will have an added virtual component”

Although there won’t be any chai, seniors can still rejoice in the fact that there are many different ways that they can access thesis support. 

Thesis Cafe will be offered three times per week: Sundays from 4:00-6:00 pm at the Ronj and Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:00-9:00pm in the Hedge computer lab.

The Hedge computer lab was added as a new space this year, due to COVID restrictions that have impacted maximum capacity in ARC. The lab setting allows every student to share their writing via screens with the tutor, [email protected] professional staff, or the student manager on duty. 

“We encourage students to stay for as long or as little as they would like,” Raphael said. “In the past, we have had some students stay for the entire period, and some students stop by to ask a question or two. I don’t foresee an issue with capacity, but we will stay vigilant and offer another physical space if necessary in addition to the online platform.”

The online format might be a change, but Fullerton, Assistant Director of [email protected] and the Academic Resource Commons, is determined to make it work. She mentioned that thesis writers can make one-on-one thesis consultation appointments with her or Wade, simply by emailing them. 

“In the past two years, I have also facilitated small groups of seniors, typically three to five students writing theses in a similar major or field, to engage in thesis writing groups,” Fullerton said. “I would book a conference room in Ladd and stock it with tea and cookies for each writing group. Alas, we cannot do that this year, but I can provide guidance and support for making these smaller, more intimate writing groups successful and worthwhile. If any seniors wish to form a thesis writing group, they can reach out to me.”

Fullerton recognizes how important it is to have a writing community to stay motivated, especially when projects seem intimidating. 

“Gathering students together to write is a tried and true way of supporting writers, particularly writers working on large projects,” Fullerton said. “In these spaces, student writers hold each other accountable while offering support by sharing ideas, anxieties, and tips and tricks — as well as their writing — in really healthy ways.”

Her favorite aspect of the cafe is hearing from writers about their different thesis projects. She likes hearing seniors talk about their projects with their peers — she can see how hard they work. Equally exciting to her is the fact that Raphael, White, and Kibugi are taking on more leadership with Thesis Cafe this year.

“They are the first students at Bates to know ARC as an integral and normalized aspect of their academic ecosystem; they are well-poised to be able to write with and support their peers in this, their culminating writing experience at Bates,” Fullerton said. 

Raphael also believes that “students are more comfortable asking for help and ARC in general is a bigger part of campus than it was when we were freshmen.”

“It’s a high-stakes writing task that demands a level of autonomy and self-direction in which most seniors have not yet been required to engage. But all senior writers deserve effective and equitable support for their thesis experience, and I think Raph, Nick, and Trisha are modeling for their peers the value and imperative of seeking out and using the resources offered at Bates.”

Her hope is that Thesis Cafe will provide this type of equitable and accessible support to all seniors. Like effective peer review in writing-intensive W1 and W2 courses, the cafe normalizes the act of talking about writing ideas with others. By having positive support from faculty and peers, seniors might find the writing process less alienating and instead feel more energized and emboldened.

“Our primary goal is to provide writing support for thesis writers, but more than that, we hope to provide space and empathy,” Raphael said. “We want seniors to feel comfortable asking for help. We will meet each writer where they are and help them get to where they want to be.”