Senior Project Diaries, Chapter 4: 40 pages, 12,000+ words…

This post is part of a series on my senior project(s). The first post in this series is available here.

The deadline had loomed since the beginning of the year, but it never quite felt real.

February 19th. The due date for the first draft of my senior essay for my History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health major. I had roughly 40 pages to turn in, synthesizing the messy array of background information, primary sources, and analyses I had gathered over the past semester.

It seemed a ridiculous, impossible task. In the weeks before, I was pre-concocting excuses to feed to my advisor about why I wouldn’t be able to make the deadline:

  • Too much other schoolwork (could be valid in a different time, but this was the beginning of the semester, before midterm season).
  • A family emergency (blatantly untrue, thankfully, and probably unethical to lie about).
  • I just couldn’t bring myself to write (this was kind of true. But though my advisor is very sympathetic, I think her advice would have just been to… suck it up and start).

Slowly, the due date inched closer and closer. Panic replaced fear. It was go time.

To be clear, I wasn’t starting from nothing. Last semester, as a final “check-in,” I turned in 10-page outline for the paper. In detailed bullet points, I had created a map for myself of where I wanted my paper to go and the different pieces of evidence I would use to take readers there. My advisor had read it over and approved it. I leaned on that outline heavily as I started to write. 

Late one afternoon, sitting in my room, I created the Word document: “HSHM SENIOR PROJECT DRAFT.” I found a section in my outline that didn’t seem that intimidating. And then, I started typing.

It was slow at first, the words bottlenecked in my head as I tried to figure out how to translate abstract ideas into meaningful sentences. But I kept at it. I traveled across campus to write in the most random places. The common room of my friends’ suite. The Medical School Library. Bass Library. In between running experiments at my research laboratory. At the Elm, a new cafe in the Schwarzman Center.

My final push came the night of February, in my room. I wrote, like, 10 pages that night. But honestly (and maybe this is hindsight bias), it didn’t feel that bad. All the other essays I’d written throughout my time at Yale had prepared me for this. I knew what I needed to say.

By the time I typed the last word in my conclusion, my essay was write at the 40-page limit, over 12,000 words long. There were still sections that needed tweaking, for sure. Many ideas that I didn’t verbalize as well as I wanted to. But the structure was there.

In other words, I had done it!!!

I emailed the essay to my advisor, a little bit past midnight. (Subject line: “HSHM Senior Project Rough Draft!!”. “Emphasis on the rough,” I noted). I quit Word, shut my laptop, and went to bed.

Now, on to the second draft.