Surviving Your Thesis (A.K.A: The F.Y.P)
Article for University of Limerick student newspaper An Focal, Published 1st November 2011
It’s a frosty Thursday morning in January in the non-term time Universityvillage ghost town of Castletroy, Limerick. At least I think it’s a Thursday, butthe day doesn’t matter. When you’re “Doingthe FYP”, there are no , only hoursof daylight in between the half an hour it takes to drag yourself out of bed and the merciful moment in the evening whenthe creak of a door signals the first housemate to crack and make the journeydownstairs for tea and Coronation Street.
For most 4th years of University of Limerick (ahem, hard luck Law andEuro!) January is a far off, comforting beacon of hope- the promised land ofhard work to suppress the guilt of first semester negligence, and just theright side of Christmas. Ah yes, a month in which to complete that thesis toperfection, just on time for your final Rag Week. You reassure your older,wiser supervisor confidently, “Yes, but you see I’ve actually decided todedicate my entire January to my FYP, so..!” January is the month of the return to the grim (if a little flooded)arms of student accommodation. The very act of returning to a freezing housestrewn with tragic remnants of the après exam frenzy of December, far from theindulgence of home cooking seems an adequate forfeit in itself.
When you make the FYP Pilgrimage to Castletroy, the first thing to do isThe Shopping. The genuine FYP experience necessitates the hermit look, which simplycannot be achieved by frequent trips to the Mecca of Superquinn. Stocking up onpractical goods is important. It’s all about perish-ability! Meticulous effortto prepare dinners (for those of us to have discovered Tupperware and themiracle of freezing) takes up a day or 3. You see, once you get enough dinnerscooked for a month, THEN you can settle down and focus on your FYP. It’s justplain old good planning really, an investment of time. Oh no, we were wise tothe trap of cooking a meal for five hours as the main event of the day, seen itdone before. To be honest, I’ll probably even being reading over my notes untilthe microwave tolls the bell. But wait...you can’t cook in a messy house!
And so it begins. Day one: I’m aone-woman poetry SAS crack unit. Everything is shiny and new and the zest forlearning is overwhelming. But what’s that I spy from my (perfectly arranged) desk?If it isn’t my laptop from 1 year! It took its last breath manymoons ago, since replaced by a kindly sibling hand-me-down. I absentmindedlyturn it on, half expecting a miracle rebirth, but get the familiar errormessage I never bothered to decipher (recession wasn’t in my vocabulary at thetime). Hmmm. No harm in typing the code into Google. Before I know it, I have turned from Englishstudent to computer technician, searching the dark realms of computer geekforums for step by step instructions on how to resurrect this poor neglectedpiece of scrap metal. Six hours later I have burned two discs of reboot softwarewith little triumph. While I consistently fail amateur computer CPR I hear thegentle hum of my healthy laptops fan. Under its breath, it whispers “eeeeeefffwhhhhhyyy peeeeeeeee!”. I choose toignore it. “I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause!” Two hourslater I’m looking a little dishevelled, but more determined than ever. I hear footstepson the wooden stairs. Oooh. This usually initiates a nice cup of tea and a twohour standing (sitting is dangerous territory in FYP land) loiteringconversation, the threatening type where someone could leave any minute and upsetthe entire dynamic, and everyone will have to return to their respective FYPcaves. But no, it’s coming towards me. An FYP survivor friend walks in and eyesme suspiciously, enquiring as to what exactly I’m doing. After I manicallyexplain my achievement with wide-eyed grit (I’m about to reboot it), he congratulatesme... but his eyes say “and WHO has been looking after The FYP?!” At the ripeold post FYP age of 25, he gently prods “I hope you didn’t spend all day doingthis... because that’s what I might have done when I was doing my FYP...”
I’m indignant. Just then, myreboot fails.
And so I realise one distraction replaces another and evading The FYP isnot so easy. There is always the attempt at disassociation. My housematedecided to rename The FYP to something with positive connotations, something less...dirty (think “your flower” ala Monica in .).“Godmother” was the best she could muster. This was followed up by strictFYP/Godmother house rules. Rule #1 Notalking about the “Godmother” in the sitting room. Rule #2 No talking about the“Godmother” in the kitchen unless previously agreed. But talking about The FYPis as much part of the process as writing it. And everyone, EVERYONE has anopinion on it. It’s hard to decide who is more infuriating, those in the throesof it, who inspire rampant guilt when they casually mention they gotsidetracked on Sunday and only managed 8 hours, or those FYP survivor friends/siblingswho have that air your parents and teachers used to when they proudly declared“I’ve done leaving cert!” after youmoan about their lack of understanding of the strain you’re under. But forgetthe scare-mongers; the most exasperating are without doubt those graduates with1.1’s who put their feet up on your coffee table and try to convince you thatit only takes “aaaah 3 weeks of solid work” to do a good FYP, while trying toput a beer in your hand. Lies! Clearly the pain of the FYP is akin to that of childbirth,and they have deluded themselves into amnesia.
So where can one find relief from this burden? It can be refreshing to placeyourself in a situation or group of friends where The FYP doesn’t exist. Likean alternate universe. For me, discussing The FYP with my parents falls intothe alternate universe category. When you’re Doing The FYP, it seems impossibleto imagine a world of ignorance to your plight, but my parents managed it.Sure, they have a mortgage and a recession to think about... but really. OneJanuary morning I called my mother to hear a chirpy voice asking whether I wasworking that day because I was up so early. I glumly stated (although with thatsmug self sacrificial pride of an FYP student) that no, I was up.... “Doing TheFYP”. Instead of the pat-on-the-back sympathy I was used to from my fellow U.L.graduate siblings she enquired, very confusedly and casually “What’s the FYP?!”I was gobsmacked.
Now, this isn’t a case of all encompassing FYP self pity/importance. Oreven just the standard “my parents haven’t a notion what I’m doing at college” situation.My mother has had children gothrough the gates of the (I’m from a good Catholic home you see). That must be some kind ofrecord. But back to the point. Think about that. Five UL graduates = FYP’s lovingly dedicated to . You do not have that many children doThe FYP without at leastthe term, particularly as something of a negative or at least meeting itsmention with the required reception of support/pity. But I had swallow myastonishment to proceed with the half hearted explanation “you know those bookson the bookshelf upstairs that the girls did and thanked you and dad in, well THAT.”Then we started talking about what I’m going to do with my life, or in mymother’s words, what I’m going to “BE”. Ah, the question all prospective Artsgraduates relish.
I’d love to tacklethat question but you better stop procrastinating, that book shelf isn’t goingto alphabetically arrange itself you know!