My View: The can't-miss experience for a college senior
Sure, the senior thesis is a giant, time-consuming project -- but it's all about you and your passions, Elizabeth Landau writes.
April 17th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

My View: The can't-miss experience for a college senior

Elizabeth LandauBy Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Editor's note: Elizabeth Landau is a writer and producer for She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University.

(CNN) - When I told my mother that my senior thesis proposal had been accepted, that I would travel overseas to study the legacy of medieval Judaism in Spain, her main question was: “Where is this all going?”

For a 21-year-old, it’s often not clear where anything is going. I wasn’t entirely sure myself. In today’s tough job market, it may be hard for students - or parents - to rationalize working on an extensive academic research project over the course of the senior year of college, especially in the liberal arts.

But this is the season when some students are deciding whether to pursue one, and the seniors are submitting them. So, parents, listen up: A senior thesis is something that you should motivate your college student to do, even if the subject doesn’t lead to an obvious career path.

Outside of graduate studies or academia, most people will never again choose a topic that they want to research deeply for months, and write about what they discovered. As long as there’s an academic supervisor, reading and writing involved, the process can help with job and life skills.

Not every college or department will offer the chance. Princeton University, where I went, prides itself on requiring every Bachelor of Arts candidate to submit at least one thesis. Many institutions offer at least the choice of doing a thesis, sometimes as part of an honors program.

At Princeton, I majored in anthropology with minors in Spanish and creative writing. To combine all three, I planned to travel to Spain, conduct interviews in Spanish and write an anthropology thesis and  a novel based on my research.

I wanted to learn about Judaism today in Spain, hundreds of years after King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ostensibly kicked out Jews and Muslims in 1492. There were Jews who stayed and were forcibly converted to Catholicism, but some secretly maintained Jewish traditions. Now that it’s not a crime to be a Jew in Spain, some people of Spanish descent are reclaiming their Jewish heritage.

There are many words floating around for this concept: You might read about “marranos,” “chuetas” (in Majorca), “crypto-Jews,” “conversos” and even “b’nai anusim,” meaning children of those who were forced to convert. As a Jewish person with an interest in Spanish history, I wanted to know more.

So, with the help of grant money from Princeton, I completed a Spanish language program in Leon and traveled all over the rest of Spain visiting synagogues. Some medieval houses of Jewish worship are now churches. There’s one in Toledo that’s a museum. But I found smaller ones that actively hosted religious services and taught community members the ways of the faith. I spoke with people who felt compelled to convert to Judaism, or at least learn more about it, because they believed it to be their heritage.

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I think anthropologist Clifford Geertz described the kind of anthropology research I did perfectly in a 1998 essay for the New York Review of Books called “Deep Hanging Out” - you are a participant in a community, but also an observer. Because you are an outsider, everything that happens, even informally, becomes relevant to what you take away from it.

During the course of my senior year at Princeton, I met often with my anthropology adviser, Isabelle Clark-Deces, and my creative writing adviser, Joyce Carol Oates. Both professors were wise and encouraging.

I can’t point to any particular moment where I thought, “Aha! This is a breakthrough!”  But navigating a foreign country, interviewing and observing people, writing up my notes, supplementing them with library research and meeting frequent deadlines for chapters – whether for the fictional or factual components – prepared me well for a career in journalism.

An acquaintance, Rebekah Goode-Peoples, explored what she calls “apocalyptic” thinking for her thesis at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She connected ‘90s hip-hop lyrics to ideas about the end of times in literature at several turns of centuries. The big lesson for her was about connecting archaic material to personal interests.

“In my job as a teacher, I understand that no matter what I'm teaching, I have to start by tapping into where they (the students) are, what they are into,” she told me in an e-mail.

Another acquaintance, Carol Dreibelbis, a 2011 Princeton grad, spent a summer doing “participant observation field research in a vegan bakery in Seattle” in order to study veganism in the United States.

I know what you’re thinking: How does noshing on apple fritters and lemon poppy donuts constitute scholarship? But Dreibelbis also spent a lot of library time on research and writing. She is now a senior research associate for a business research corporation in Washington.

“My thesis experience helped me gain confidence with project management, writing, primary research and secondary research - skills I use every day in my current job,” she told me in an e-mail.

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More traditional library theses are also successful. My college sweetheart got an award for his analysis of what a flat tax would mean for the United States, and he’s on his way to a Harvard Ph.D. (We didn’t marry.)

Some students’ theses go on to bigger things, too. Fellow Princeton University Band musician R.W. Enoch wrote “Ideology: Suite for Jazz Band and Chamber Orchestra” and used the recording to get his first jobs scoring music. He now operates an original composition and production firm in Los Angeles.

Wendy Kopp, founder of the national teaching corps Teach for America, wrote about her idea for the organization in her Princeton senior thesis in 1989.

Author Jonathan Safran Foer wrote the basis of his novel “Everything is Illuminated” as his senior thesis.

So what became of all my research?

I didn’t do anything with my anthropology thesis - except refine some skills that helped me land a job. I’d like to re-write my novel, but it’s not ready for prime time. I had the dream of doing what Foer did: To turn my college novel into a popular, published work of fiction. (If there’s one piece of advice from my professor that stuck, it was this: Let the novel sit for a few years and then come back to it. In the meantime, read more literature.)

Some senior theses have a way of resurfacing. That’s what happened with first lady Michelle Obama and Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Having risen to prominence, they’ve all left behind papers written in delicate years of collegiate curiosity, when their career paths weren’t immediately clear and they had the opportunity to research whatever they wanted.

So maybe we don’t know where any of this is going at 21. But I’d like to think that if we find something we enjoy studying, and give it 100%, it will all lead somewhere good.

What was your thesis about? Did the experience held define or lead to a career? Share your experience in the comments or tweet us @CNNSchools.

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  1. conservativebrawler

    The College of Wooster's Senior I.S. program is both rigorous (more so than Princeton's, I'm proud to say) and formative. My own I.S. allowed me to explore and define what turned out to be a well-rounded understanding of morality that still shapes my worldview.

    It was, of course, the culmination of everything I'd learned to that point, but independent studies are so much more than a display of requisite knowledge. That's true of virtually any senior project at any university. An I.S. is a process that teaches the student about himself, how he responds to the highest degree of critical analysis of his work and assumptions, where the gaps in his understanding and processes are, and just what – if anything – he might have to offer to the world's epistemology.

    These are formative lessons. These are humbling lessons. And, if/when the student finishes a successful I.S., these are empowering lessons.

    Student's leave Wooster with a degree, of course, but a degree from Wooster means (among other things) that they've successfully completed an I.S. – which means they are leaving undergrad as essential subject matter experts on the topic of their thesis, and that they are also capable of managing a yearlong research study and producing a ~100-page product.

    In large part, it is because of my experience with the I.S. program at Wooster that I have the confidence to tackle projects of much smaller scope today with such assurance.

    April 23, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  2. Bryan

    this is literally the girl who asks the teacher for homework

    April 19, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  3. crappygovernment

    What the heck would any 18-22 know anyway? They are just soft headed kids with heads full of propaganda from teachers.

    April 19, 2013 at 8:56 am |
  4. Asha

    My college required every graduating senior to complete a thesis. I've worked with our alumni board over the years and have never met a single person who didn't find the thesis to be a valuable experience. I wrote my thesis on fractal coastlines. I got to spend a summer at the beach studying the land and I had a scholarship to do that. It was the greatest summer of my life. I learned a lot about hands on research and independent thinking. It seems daunting at first but the thesis really pushed me in ways my other classes didn't.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
  5. katherine bartley

    How is this news?

    April 18, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Gagan


      I enjoyed the article. Recognizing that a lot of the comments directed at you are b/c of your studies at Princeton, I pursued an undergrad degree at a University with a less than recognizable brand name. However, I sought out an opportunity to complete a Bachelor's thesis with an Honors program and the extra year paid off. It set me apart in terms of acquiring a new skill set and setting me apart from my peers. Three years later (it was a journey) I've landed a career path with a company in the Valley, hugely due in part to completing that thesis. This article matters. Well done.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
  6. PWEF95

    This mirrors my experience writing a senior thesis. The third* hardest academic thing that I have done and probably the most rewarding in terms of learning about time and project management. I also learned how to edit, and how to ask people for help in areas where you barely know what kind of help you needed.

    Everyone I know who did one looks back on it as one of the more important and useful things they did in college.
    My was on the economic effects of the drugs trade on Latin America and the US, particularly the effect of propping up Latin American economies. And, no, I did not do any field work. It was unlikely to be safe or effective 🙂

    While the thesis did not get me a job, though it might have gotten me into grad school, running student governments did.
    *(Number 1 & 2 were the MA and PhD thesis, which would have been a lot harder if I hadn't had the dry run)

    April 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  7. See the world

    if you think education is expensive, try ignorance - JK.. I'm with you. After spending 8 years in college and 4 degrees of credits (arts, business, computers, music) i found it was only useful to check the box when dealing with corporations or those who would hold you back because of a lack of a degree. more multi-millionaires don't have a degree, but high drive and good sense. In music college – it's a good place to get "found' – just get out asap and get the basics or you will be trapped there. in computers – it's a way of thinking that is not used in practical business nor can it really be leveraged to invent the next multi-million invention (you are better off at de-fry). arts – again, you get trapped in debt and its just a springboard to meet those with money.

    I've got kids at the two larger state universities in my state, representing 80,000 students. My feeling is you might as well party and enjoy the 4 year vacation because that restaurant job at the end of the time is going to suck. The university is a gateway to a professional state certification in most successful cases and the weedout profs are mortal gods living on a sick ego trip as they disqualify one wave after the next of the brightest kids in the state. There are artificially high requirements at our med schools – with somehow throngs of foreign-trained foreign-degreed docs roaming our hospital halls, waltzing in and out of visits to the semi-comatose in ER rooms at $500 a pop billed to Blue Cross with no tangible explanation of exactly what they did or how the process could not survive without them.

    April 18, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  8. Dodgers4Life

    CNN is starting to go downhill really fast. I'm going to start heading over to BBC for my news. Her article reads more like a diary. Why is her story about trying to discover herself even relevant news? CNN, please stop hiring these "daydreamers" and bring us the REAL stories. Put them to do real work and have them fact check information before making them "Breaking News".

    April 18, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • StafCoyote

      Grim, reductionist thinking. Oscar Wilde noted that a cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. You should stop staring at price tags and start smelling the roses. You might find a better quality of life that way.

      April 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  9. Ricardo

    Not everyone should do this, but just as we need plumbers, electricians, engineers, and cops, society needs good historians, sociologists, and anthropologists. Without historians, we'd have no idea why the world is today the way it is. It's sad that today the humanities always need to be defended against criticism.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  10. Alex

    School is a joke unless you're studying what you're interested in. Glad she found something to sink her teeth in for a few months. I majored in Math because I liked it, not because of what my future job prospects would be like. Most of us work boring bs jobs that make us feel important because we're taking home a paycheck. If you know what you want, get after it, and don't worry about the money. That would be my advice to every college student. You do NOT, and I mean do NOT, want to be stuck in a grinder of a job that you dislike. I've been there and done that, and it ain't fun.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Alex

      ...and before people comment on when I said "don't worry about the money", my point is that if you get after what you're interested in there's a good chance you'll get good at it and find some area in it that you can turn into a livable income.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • JinxGT

      I disagree. School is about learning, that is it. And learning doesn't have to be fun or interesting. I love history and would love to be an archeologist and I could have easily went to school to study that field. However, on a practical level, I know it isn't all Indiana Jones and more than likely without that many opportunities. So I went with a much more reliable second which was engineering. Working is bearable enough and the pay is very good. I still pursue my interest in history as a hobby, reading many books and traveling the world to different sites and museums. Things I couldn't do if I didn't have the income that I have from engineering.

      April 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  11. kmbf

    I applaud anyone that has ambition to do something (and get it paid for by a grant no less). I cannot tolerate anyone that sits around on their parents couch and complains about the economy and blames it for lack their lack of resourcefulness to get out in the world and make something of themselves. If you sit around and do nothing you will undoubtedly go nowhere.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  12. Stanimal24

    I can see this article prompted many thoughtful responses on both sides of this issue. Can both sides be correct? My wife has a STEM degree and has done quite well in the Environmental/Food Protection area and makes about $75k. I have one of those "useless" degrees with a minor in English and make $140k in the Labor/Employee/Misconduct field. Perhaps everyone's situation is unique and one should pursue their interests, all while factoring current job market demands.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Sarai

      I totally agree. Go for something you are good at in school and everything else will fall into place. College is the time to experience the world as much as you can. Not just for the college fun but also for the complete learning experience. That means deep research and traveling is a must! And in the end a job will come if you are persistent and hard working. The economy is bad but there are jobs for everyone.

      April 19, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  13. Robin H

    She is obviously much more accomplished than your claim if she attended Princeton. At an 8% acceptance rate she has to be pretty distinguished. No reason to be bitter.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  14. cnnlicksit

    This article is extremely well written and important and really who gives a f**k.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  15. Skyhiker

    The comments on this article are really kind of sad. Do you all not see the value of being able to design a research project, carry out said project, learning to speak and read a foreign language (not just being able to say, "How's the weather" or "Where's the bathroom?" but being able to carry out a rigorous, investigative interview in a foreign language), immersing yourself in a foreign culture, then organizing and then having the discipline to write out and defend your fiindings? Are there no employment opportunities for someone with this skill set? I think there are.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • Chuck

      Value? Some... in a world of infinite resources and opportunity, everything that had benefit could, and should be pursued.

      However, we don't live in a world of infinite resources and opportunity, and if the result is that the student isn't employable... then her parents have wasted an awful lot of money. Wasting that much money matters to some of us.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
      • Johnny

        Opportunities are for rich white girls like Landau, 90% of the population don't get that kind of education and opportunity. For every one rich person, it takes about 10 to do the labor for him or her.

        April 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
      • Deepsea35

        You forgot to say "white" again in your second sentence. Whenever you feel bitter, please don't forget to use your "whites". 🙂

        April 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
      • Rob

        I don't think her parents "wasted a lot of money," since Princeton has roughly an 8% acceptance rates which yields great financial aid packages for the few that are accepted. They do this so they can inflate their statistics like "95+ % of students accepted attend."

        April 22, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • jerseyj

      I think your dead on. Many people don't see any value in education for the sake of education. Not everybody is going to be an engineer but that's not the only important job in the world. Unfortunately many of the people on these boards have other important jobs like retreading tires and ditch digging.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  16. Evan G.

    All jobs are important...
    We always need people...

    April 18, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  17. eng

    "[...]participant observation field research in a vegan bakery in Seattle." seriously. Its funny what passes for education these days. And we wonder why the rest of the world is ahead of us.
    II would love to read that research paper, even the abstract or know what professor advised on this paper. ahhhh, gotta love liberal arts schools.

    April 18, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  18. Ali

    Let me start by saying that I majored in medieval European history. Looking back, I now realize that it seems like a very silly major with no future prospects. There are very few people in the world who know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are 18, 19, 20 years old. So we pick something that simply interests us without regard for the future or the dreaded "real world." Even though I have a seemingly useless degree, I don't know if I would go back and change a thing if I could. My senior thesis was on the royal-papal alliances in medieval Europe and, specifically, the corruption and in-fighting which often occured. Will I ever use that again in my life? Probably not. I believe it's not so much about the content of our thesis as it is what we learn about ourselves and how to succeed at difficult tasks. I have been in the job force for a decade now and I can tell you that there are very few things that have challenged me as much as writing my senior thesis. So while it may seem ridiculous to some that this woman spent a year traveling around Spain and writing, I must ask you, why not do it? Why not do this when you are young and full of life and hope before life gets in the way? Also, some of you berate her for using "someone else's dime" to travel the world. Guess what? Colleges are able to offer these scholarships in large part because alumni, like the author, continue to give back to the school so other people can have these life changing experiences. I say kudos for having vision and not caring what others thought. A senior thesis is hard enough without having to deal with questions asking "what's the point."

    April 18, 2013 at 11:38 am |
    • Mark Hartman

      What a great response - you've encapsulated the argument outlining the life experience value even better than the author. Just excellent.

      April 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  19. Joe

    this article is gay.

    April 18, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Robin H

      FYI the context of the term "gay" has changed. I wouldn't want you to go around sounding like a jerk or anything.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
      • Timmy

        Yep, can't call it gay anymore, legalization of gay marriage has made this term "ungay."

        April 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  20. Where?

    College experience is so different for every student. It can be an academic adventure that remains a big chunk of
    you as you look back. I went nuts in grad school on my thesis that gave me the direction for the next 35 years. It
    was 35 years doing something I enjoyed and made me a living. The times have changed where the college student's
    thoughts are about gainful employment and not being saddled with a huge debt. I'm saddened by a time where it could
    be " more" about finding a new interest, exploration and opening up avenues in points of views that are so different, it changes you in a good way fro the rest of your life. The best of luck to the new generation.

    April 18, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  21. Steve Bobiash

    Congratulations on having rich parents, Princess. That's all you've really accomplished.

    April 18, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • Talia Quartz

      Dear Steve, I must defend my fellow Tiger against your comment. I too went to Princeton and received funding from the University to explore an incredibly rich topic in Naples, Rome, Dublin, and The Hague. Elizabeth and I didn't do this because of our 'rich parents.' We did this because we were lucky enough to go to a school that supported our academic endeavours. I hope one day you immerse yourself in a topic the way Elizabeth went to Spain, and that I explored the complicated paintings of Antonio Mancini. Is there something that interests you enough to devote a year of thought to it?

      April 18, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • archchuzzlewit

      So...graduating from Princeton, traveling across Europe in pursuit of academics, and landing a job aren't achievements?

      April 18, 2013 at 11:33 am |
      • See the world

        For ALL CNN FOLKS – I would encourage anyone studying jewish history in Europe to visit Austria and mauthausen concentration camp to see a still-standing, functional example of what happened after KrystalNacht to victims after they gave up their arms and right to bear arms was taken from them. Possibly then you all won't be so against the human basic right of self preservation and self defense.

        April 18, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • A College Instructor

      Wow! That's really rude. She may come from an affluent background, but that background doesn't get the degree for you! YOU are the one that works hard and earns it yourself. Being in the upper class may give you a better chance of getting into college, but it doesn't guarantee you'll graduate. I came from a lower middle class family whose father had an associate degree and mother had a high school diploma. I earned my M.A. at 24 and have been teaching at a local college since I was 26.

      April 18, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • George

      I think I am with Steve on this one. I studied accounting because I knew I had to get a job and wanted to have marketable skills. I realize that there probably need to be a very small percentage of people in our society who pursue these types of research projects. A real issue for american education is that we have lots of people studying majors with little to no practical value and their education is largely paid for with student loans.

      Those conditions (no marketable skills) paid for with debt – that is readily available due to government intervention in the marketplace is helping to fuel ever increasing college costs.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
      • BT

        No, the real problem with education is that people graduate from college, even with "marketable skills" in engineering, science, accounting, etc., and do not have to abiliity to critically think, communicate their thoughts, or relate to/with people who are different from them. This is coming from a person with an engineering degree and almost 30 years working in the aerospace industry. It's not necessarily the field of study that's a problem, it's the lack general problem solving and communications skills. Programs like these help develop and hone those skills.

        April 18, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
      • JinxGT

        @BT: In my experience, individuals, like myself, with an engineering background are typically better at critical thinking and problem solving. In fact, that is probably one of key skill sets associated with a technical degree. Communication is a toss up since I am mostly familiar with technical writing and technical reports. So my "thoughts" are delivered through data, graphs, and analysis. I personally have the soft skills necessary to communicate to a customer, supplier, or business executives; however, I also know there are others that cannot.

        Personally, I think the traits you described are more individual characteristics accrued over one's lifetime rather than a set of skills bequeathed by a formal university education. Anyone with any degree can be effective critical thinkers and communicators. The real advantage of an engineering degree is having the knowledge to do the math and analysis associated with the critical thinking/problem solving.

        April 18, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
      • A College Instructor

        Well said, Jingxa!

        April 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  22. Really?????????

    Who gives a rip?

    April 18, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • MLatino

      Young people who only see CNN through their website and are trying to figure out this whole college thing.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  23. JinxGT

    I am fully supportive of people pursuing a higher education for purely academic reasons, such is the case here with the author's thesis and trip to Spain. Ultimately, that is the purpose of universities is to promote an individual's thirst for knowledge and creativity. However, as adults, know full and well that your decisions have consequences. Know that school is expensive and no one else is responsible for paying for your education but yourself. Know that the degree and courses you pursue will impact your ability to get a job in the future and your inability to get said job is no one's fault but your own. At the end of the day, people need to take ownership of their decisions.

    Just as a side note: In the modern US economy, there are plenty of job opportunities in high tech markets that go unfilled because of an insufficient pool of qualified technical workers. These jobs often pay in the upper tens of thousands to low hundreds of thousands of dollars. So when I hear complaints of rising tuition costs or unemployment or no job market, those complaints fall onto deaf ears.

    April 18, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • birch please

      So true, there are many jobs in america but we are hiring asian workers because americans can't fill them.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:27 am |
      • JinxGT

        Pretty much.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Harley

      Can outsource an Engineer in china for as little as $5,000 annually. This is why businesses move offshore.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:38 am |
      • JinxGT

        I'm sure some companies outsource engineering expertise to China or India. However, from my experience, sensitive information within a technical data package is handled by US hired engineers or scientists mainly to protect that information from being leaked to competing companies.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  24. Uneducated

    Get this out of your head: getting a STEM degree is instantly better for society and for the individual than getting any other degree. You know what amazing job a STEM degree leads to? A sub 30k a year lab job, an extended engineering post grad engineering internship where you get to learn about how engineering is flooded right now and is on its way to being as useful as a generic law degree, or a job teaching math to high school students while making 20k a year. Kids, don't listen to this thread. The key to finding something you actually want to do in life after college is not through your undergrad. People here are taking bachelor's degrees way to seriously, even the most stringent STEM degree will likely not land you a great job out of school without 4+ years of real work and internship experience. My advice is this: get an undergrad in whatever you want, grab a simple sales or entry level job after, then save money and use it to pursue a master's in something you really want to do for a job. The divide between people who only get a bachelor's vs who gets a master's is still large enough to where a job focused master's is still valuable. Unless you want to be a teacher, don't get an MA in the same random thing you wanted to get your BA in though, use your masters to focus on what job you want. People who still think that a bachelor's is even relevant in a time where 30% of the population has one are kidding themselves. Get a bachelor's, pay your debt (and your parents) and save money, then go get a masters for your job. Even if you can only get a minimum wage job after college, take it and start saving and paying your parents. And before someone says "the solution to college = more college" if you are not willing to pay for the master's that will lead to a better job/life, maybe you were never meant to be rich and famous, maybe you should stop blaming the already broken system that you have no control over and start working it in your own favor. Don't be afraid to be a leech on taxpayer money, the baby boomers ruined the system anyhow so try to get whats left while you can. This is all coming from a guy who got is undergrad in something useless (duel majored in Anthropology and Econ), worked a simple job outside of college, got my MPH in Epidemiology, and now have a great job while being able to pay off the limited student loans and the my parents offered for my education.

    April 18, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Educated

      To each his own. I got my bachelor's in chemical engineering (very STEM related), had one summer interning for a manufacturing company, got a job upon graduation, and make fantastic money (I'm 25 and I nearly triple that 30k lab job). I believe I'm blessed, and not everyone is so fortunate. But I do believe a STEM degree positions you very well for providing for one's self and family. To knock an engineering degree is ignorant in my opinion. Similarly, I wouldn't tell someone to pursue one if they can't stand it. If you need a master's degree to pursue the life you want, go for it. If not, it's a waste of time and money. I strongly encourage math/science savvy people to disregard the above advice. I never comment, I was just annoyed and perplexed at this ignorant opinion.

      April 18, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • What?

      Lol someone with a crappy undergraduate degree would spew some nonsense like this. There is ridiculous demand for motivated and intelligent engineering graduates. I have a mere math degree from a top 5 university (sigh) but I still somehow managed to garner a high paying job right of school even with my low GPA and lack of internship experience. Having a hard science/engineering/mathematics degree is fantastic as long as it's not from some random sub-par university. Those graduates are the ones that contribute to infrastructure, health-care and technological innovation. You know those minor things that advance our society and keep our quality of life up.

      April 18, 2013 at 11:32 am |
      • AnneK

        I am curious what you would consider sub-par?

        April 18, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
  25. Tricksy

    I believe the "can't miss experience for a college senior" should be landing a productive job that is capable of paying off their student loans.

    I also think ALL college students should take on a bit of debt in order to graduate. This way they are at least partially accountable for what they choose to study. "Ooo, anthropology looks fascinating! Oh wait, I have to keep in mind that I'll be $15k in debt after college. I better pick a field of study that is productive and useful to society and can support me."

    April 18, 2013 at 10:16 am |
    • Harley

      Yep and there will be another educated bum unemployed.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • elandau

      Hi Tricksy, the research and writing skills learned through an anthropology degree or any other liberal arts subject can translate to a wide variety of jobs, including journalism. Even if people want to go on to law school, medical school, etc. this degree does not prevent you from doing that. For med school you would just take the required undergrad science classes in addition to the requirements for the major - I know several people who did that.

      Elizabeth Landau

      April 18, 2013 at 10:57 am |
      • eng

        Since when did anthropology study translate in to Medical knowledge or journalism, You still have to go to Med school or Journalism school

        April 18, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  26. NickB

    I wrote a thesis for a masters in diplomacy – all while i was deployed in Iraq. My thesis linked World Bank with some atrocities around the world; then proposed a way to hold the WB accountable by taking them to court in the US – all backed up by case law and international legal standings. It was a fascinating project; but given my location at the time, seemed out of place. I would wake up at 0400 to research more material before a commencing a grueling 14 hour work-day. after two months of solid research (all of it was internet based – there were no academic libraries that i could visit), i started writing the thesis. colleagues of mine thought i was a workaholic – showing up in the office at 0400 and staying late in the night – but i couldnt find any other time to do the work, and if i didnt complete it while deployed then i would never "find the time" to complete it on my own back home... Most people ask me why i didnt choose something on the Iraqi war – especially since i was in it at the time of my thesis project. my response is always the same – I lived in Iraq, i breathed Iraq, I worked with Iraq; and I wanted a break from Iraq. It was by far one of the most rewarding assignments i have undertaken – and i have great memories of my masters degree because of it.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Wow, NickB! That's incredible. It's so interesting to read the variety of ways people researched and wrote their theses. What happened afterward? Did the service in Iraq or the thesis lead you to a career? Thanks for sharing!

      April 18, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • Tre

      I did five tours to Iraq and never averaged 14 hours days or see anyone averaging that many hours a day. They were occasions when 14 hours or more were required but that were the exception.

      Because of this exaggeration your posted lacks credibility.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:53 am |
      • Tre there many facets

        Tre there were many facets of jobs in Iraq. From the sounds of things NickB was a TOCroach or JOCroach (long ours, access to NIPR, and so on), I know, I was one, and were were 12 on 12 off but typically went far longer depending on ongoing missions.

        April 18, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • AdifferentNick

        Tre, I would agree with those other replies to what you said, depending on which job you had you might be working long hours or erratic hours. Since you made a blanket statement with no facts to back it up, it's hard to find any credibility in what you wrote, either. The poster who said NickB was probably a TOCroach is right. I had one of those my first deployment in Afghanistan to FOB Shank in Logar, and the 12-on 12-off thing is accurate. With that said, it's commendable that NickB took the time to write his thesis, since lots of people who are a job such as his simply go back to their tent after their shift is over, and they play video games or watch movies. They don't take advantage of the time they do have to actually accomplish something worthwhile. Not everyone can do this though, those who are at a small combat outpost may not have that level of access to a computer or the internet. There's also those who go out and patrol or conduct counterinsurgency operations – some patrols only last a few hours, while others last multiple days, depending on what happens. Again, not sure what your experience was, but your statement that 14 hours days are the exception is not true, unless you were a civilian contractor.

        April 18, 2013 at 11:55 am |
      • Harley

        Don't blame him for your lack of initiative

        April 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Deepsea35

      I was embedded with the Teams. Not sure where you were. Duties and work hours covered all ends of the spectrum for different units and missions. I don't know that your critical evaluation is very accurate.

      April 18, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  27. And...

    So you wrote a senior thesis, eh? Gee, that's great. I'm just not sure how this is salient to a wide audience.

    Why doesn't someone at CNN write an article on Obama signing off on legislation that rolled back the Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which required members of congress (and their staffers) to show transparency for stock holdings? There are very few things that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, yet they pass this under a Friday night veil of secrecy.

    Come on CNN, if you want to be taken seriously, report important news.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • And...

      Or at least feature the story on the CNN home page.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Milton

      OMG You should write for CNN.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  28. Space Antelope

    I don't think my school requires many majors to do any sort of thesis – but I may be wrong.

    But as a hard science major I know that for a BS we must complete two 'independent studies' – two semesters (minimum, most do more) of separate research projects that get all us undergrads as either primary authors or at least close to it. This gives us real experience working in a lab or doing research in our field, gets our names on papers that we can show future employees, and gives us experience writing academic research papers.
    My first semester I used the school's observatory and acquired my own images of a specific star and it's surround field and did photometric analysis to determine variability of that star and any others around it to determine some of its characteristics.
    This semester I joined a physics lab group and plan on doing my second study this summer tuning ZnO quantum dots.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  29. Dave in Illinois

    nice... living off of mommy and daddy- taking and taking.... figuring out your life playing... sure- it's all good to complete the academics and do a thesis... seems to me a little focus on a contributing and making money to pay for that education... oh, wait... mommy & daddy have at covered. a complete fluff attempt a 'journalism' via this article is one of the reasons we (the US) are headed on a downhill slide.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • MBA_Matt

      Agreed. At some point in the past 50 or so years, the path of least resistance for our young people became soft-skills over actual value-added work. As interesting as it might be to understand the minutia of cultural interactions in a foreign society, I have a very hard time quanitfying what value is created by it. I think this article might represent the high-water mark for this young lady, as charming and well-intentioned as she seems...

      April 18, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • RowdyRoddy

      Did you also note the "and my school paid for it all" aspect of the story? Yes, everyone should get a paid trip to another country for the sole purpose of igniting their learning passion. This reminded me of all those college kids who simply couldnt believe I had never been backpacking through Europe. I simply HAD to go it was so enlightening. Too bad I was busy working to pay for school.

      Something tells me this girl is going to have "fun" in the real world.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:44 am |
      • JinxGT

        She got a grant from the school, but that money has to come from somewhere. She is getting a free trip to Spain at the expensive of that grant money not going somewhere else more productive...opportunity cost. With that said, I'm sure the author is resourceful and will be successful in her life whilst having fun.

        But working hard in school and forgoing a European backpacking trip doesn't mean your life will be unenlightened or grueling. It just means when you do decide to go to Europe, you will have gone on your own dime which will make it all the more satisfying. Also you'll be older and wiser which will give you a greater sense of maturity to truly appreciate the experience.

        April 18, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  30. Sparrow

    My entire first degree was like that - I majored in languages. Later I went back for a nursing degree as the teaching jobs simply were not available at that time. I don't regret the first degree, though, and sometimes my extra two languages do come in handy.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • elandau

      Nice! Which languages?

      April 18, 2013 at 10:46 am |
      • Sparrow

        Latin and Aramaic.

        April 18, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  31. Mojavejul4

    I am a veteran who later graduated from Princeton, and I can tell you from experience that I was unable to find a job for more than a year after graduating. Many people often assume that an Ivy-league degree automatically equals employment, however the reality, in today's economy, is not always the case.

    April 18, 2013 at 9:07 am |
    • Deepsea35

      Very true. I never finished my college degree; went into the military and travelled the world extensivelly. Amassed a college fund that I eventually spent on a new truck, and have had numerous fun jobs since I retired. A year ago I I had an office on the top floor overlooking the Air Force Memorial in Washington DC. The article's point about the value of getting away from pointless academics and getting out into the world is extremely valuable. I currently have two wonderful employees that have upper-level degrees, and the hardest part is exposing them to the world, so they can put their knowledge into context.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:24 am |
      • Tricksy

        Sounds like you had a very cool experience, and I'm glad that it all worked out for you. However, the truth of today's job market and tech-centered industries is that its becoming almost impossible for people to simply "make it on their own" by starting their own business or just "working hard" without a higher level education or degree. Experience will always be invaluable, but a degree is almost always going to be a prerequisite into today's high tier professional jobs.

        April 18, 2013 at 9:36 am |
      • Deepsea35

        I've heard that....I just don't believe it. There are a lot of college degree's flipping burgers, and a lot of high school diplomas running business's. I don't even subscribe to the idea in general principle. Colleges are business's, and degrees are bought and paid for. I decided this in college, walked away and succeeded. My children go to college, but it was due to desire, not because they were blindly told that they had to in order to succeed. The world is harsh but fair. You really can be anything you like, if you want work for it. Promising success through college is false advertising, as many have learned. I subscribe to the Nike slogan...."Just Do It". 🙂

        April 18, 2013 at 10:17 am |
      • Tricksy

        The opportunities that existed 20 years ago don't exist today. True, there are high school diplomas running businesses out there, but that scenario (whether it's a product of luck or opportunity or straight up hard work) is an extreme minority. I don't think we'd do today's youth any favors by convincing them that college degrees are useless and are just some scam the corporatized colleges are running to make money.

        I do agree with you on that: One can achieve almost anything with the proper amount of ambition and work ethic; two things many students and young workers are severely lacking in. However, the world is harsh, but not always fair. Too many times the anthropology major gets hired over a more qualified candidate because she went to Princeton, or because her daddy has connections.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:53 am |
      • Deepsea35

        I agree with most of your postings, and like your mindset. My only comment here is on your statement beginning with "20 years ago....". Actually, 20 years ago, someone was saying "20 years ago there were..." just like you did. it is a human conceit that we all fall into to think that "now" is different from some other time. It's really not. History ALWAYS repeats itself, just in a different costume. Job opportunities are many as there ever were. The fact that people may not be innovative or adept at taking advantage of them may be a factor, but necessity will hone that skill as needed. We do our culture a disservice by convincing the young that universities and management positions are joined at the hip. Migrant workers are taking over huge blocks of US industry, by taking over from the ground-up across generations. By telling their children to work hard and get ahead, their children actually ARE. Our children, many with degrees, will work for them. And rightly so. History has shown this again and again.

        April 18, 2013 at 11:22 am |
      • Tricksy

        Thanks Deepsea35, and I respect your opinions as well. My perspective is probably a bit skewed because I work in the tech/electronics industry but the job industry/market, at least where I work, IS changing drastically. New paradigms like outsourcing are everywhere, and skills like programming, which 'before' were reserved for the nerdy Dungeons and Dragons kids, are as common as proficiency in Word and Excel. I see fresh, young professionals with online MBAs (don't get me started on those...) on the same pay-grade as techs with military and 10+ years experience. I wish intelligence and hard work were the deciding factors of success, but that's not always the case.

        April 18, 2013 at 11:58 am |
    • RowdyRoddy

      Then you did it wrong. Ivy league isnt about education, its about networking. You went there to schmooze with politicians sons and lawyers daughters so that your new-found buds would give you a job in exchange for not releasing that bong photo.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  32. Eric

    Elizabeth Landau has the right idea.
    Genuine scholarship is valuable, both personally and for society.

    April 18, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • MBA_Matt

      If it's valuable to you, how much are you going to be willing to fork over for a peak at her treatise on Judaism in medieval Spain?

      Unfortunately, the "value" that is created by an expensive education is all too often limited to inner pride and pats on the back and not captured by the attainment of a well-paying job or career. I sincerely wish the young lady success on her personal journey through life – however, I'm not sure that many hiring managers who are looking for certain skills are going to be able to place much value in her ability to synthesize literary works in a foreign language – outside of translation houses, and how many jobs are available in those fields?

      April 18, 2013 at 9:59 am |
      • elandau

        Hi MBA_Matt, thanks very much for your response. I am actually a staff writer/producer here at, a role in which I use my writing, research and interviewing skills every day.

        Elizabeth Landau, CNN

        April 18, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • elandau

      Thanks Eric!

      April 18, 2013 at 10:08 am |
  33. couchloc

    I think this article makes an interesting point. It helps to make clear what the point of education is. The importance of education is not primarily to help people get internships, or prepare for jobs, but to allow people to have new experiences and learn new ideas about the world. I have no doubt that writing a thesis on medieval jewish spain can accomplish this rather well. Too many people around here have uncritically accepted the corporate idea that going to school is mainly about job training or something. But one has time after schooling to do that and young people should be allowed to learn first.

    April 18, 2013 at 8:51 am |
    • Deepsea35

      I had to laugh when I read your post.....if getting out and experiencing the world is so important, why limit yourself to an academic life? Your statement is a reounding vote for going into the job market, joining the military, working your way around the world with a backpack, etc. You can speak to famous people, study at incredible libraries, write to your heart's content, paint/publish/speak at will. I'm glad you acknowledge the importance of this......I just wonder why we needed to associate it with a college or university background?

      April 18, 2013 at 9:12 am |
      • See the world

        The topic doesn't seem to matter in the real world. It's a fabricated experience that sucks money from the parents bank account at a fantastic rate. I cant say in Princetons case for sure but many kids in school "go to Europe" at only to find a US teacher in a class of US students that spend 4-5 hours at the bar each evening. It's not the experience you would envision of being a high school foreign exchange student. My neighbors daughter had to go buy new clothes at Oxford because she gained so much weight the only thing that fit was her sweat pants – 3 hours of drinking each day at dinner and then the pub till close at 9 or 11. Alcoholism is big there– over 60%. She returned to mega student loan payments and no job for years, but her parents have some snooty stories to tell. Her mom wanted to live vicariously and she did, at the kids expense.

        April 18, 2013 at 9:42 am |
      • MBA_Matt

        Agreed. Unfortunately, college / university "learning experiences" can be the most expensive sort, and the return on that investment is FAR from guaranteed. The biggest "learning experience" to be gained by most folks these days is the effect of a crushing debt load on someone just starting out in life. It's serious, it's real, and it's enough to suck most of the life out of what happened while one is off enjoying his / her "learning experience".

        April 18, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • Tricksy

      Yes, and in an ideal world, college education would be accessible and affordable to everyone, but that's not the case is it? Of the 3% of people who go to college, I would hope that 100% of them are thinking about productive jobs and contributing to society afterwords, and not just staring up at the stars or writing papers on mating traditions in African tribes.

      The truth is that a college education is a privilege of the wealthy (or lucky). You are partially right – college should be about learning AND preparing for a job afterwards. Not just one. But if I had to choose only one, it would be the preparing for a job part. It pains me so much to hear stories about anthropology or communications or art history majors who took courses because "they seemed interesting" and end up eyeballs deep in debt and whining about their minimum wage job. I don't feel bad for them at all. I just think "what a waste. That education could have gone to someone useful."

      April 18, 2013 at 9:43 am |
      • Bobbi P

        To address your first critisim: would you really care to live in a world without creative arts? Actors, musicians, dancers, artists, etc do contribute to society and enrich our lives. Those jobs take hard work and dedication – something the people you desribed must lack.

        To address your second criticism: I grew up in poverty. To afford college, I applied for government programs and attened state schools. I also worked two jobs and lived cheaply. I now work in a job that benifits my community and make a comfortable living. College can be a reality for anyone who is willing to work and sacrifice to make it happen.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:20 am |
      • Tricksy

        Bobbi P,
        Please, I won't even attempt to address the first part of your response – a ridiculous and fallacious assertion that I in no way insinuated in my post. If your conclusion is that I prefer a world without creative arts, than you clearly misunderstand (or choose to ignore) the point of my criticism.

        Regarding your second point: I commend you for your hard work in obtaining your goal. I didn't grow up in povery, but I was the second of six kids so money was tight. Getting into college required working through school, scholarships and plenty of loans.

        My point is this: most people don't have the ambition to accomplish what we have. And despite romantic thinking, college is NOT always a reality for anyone who is willing to work for it. Having a higher education is still a pretty exclusive club, and I hate to see the money and resources wasted on [lazy] students who throw away those limited opportunities by taking "fun" (read: useless) majors.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  34. Deepsea35

    I hate to say it, but your article is so narrow and uninteresting, I am astounded that CNN published it. It is incredibly centric to academics, which is long as a gifted writer works the magic of making it accessible to all readers. Princeton has not made you a gifted writer. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but you aren't a student anymore; you are supposed to be a professional. This article is "cute", mostly to your professors. parents and a few other students. CNN, hire some editors please.

    April 18, 2013 at 8:19 am |
    • CJ

      Unless she's trying to motivate other students to find a passion to study before they leave college, because once you leave you go into Zombie work mode and may never again have time to study things you're passionate about... Kind of a jaded post on your part.

      And what "time after schooling"? I went straight into a 100 hour a week job out of school. School was the last time I had more than 2 weeks vacation to take off, explore the world, and expand my mind before being stuck in a job.

      April 18, 2013 at 8:53 am |
      • Deepsea35

        If her message is to specifically motivate students, then my post addressed it correctly by saying that her article has a narrow scope. It would be incredible in a college periodical. This is a national news site, and EVERYONE might look at her article. Doctors, lawyers, students, high-school dropouts, engineers, garage mechanics.....was there something here for everyone? nope. She didn't write it well enough for a wide audience. But she DID write it for you, apparently, and for that this jaded man is happy. 🙂

        April 18, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  35. abdulla oblongotta

    Did everyone miss: whether for the fictional or factual components – prepared me well for a career in journalism....AT CNN. Not taking the quote out of context, but where would "fiction" fit into ANY research outside of picking apart a work of fiction??!?!?!?!

    April 18, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Kim


      April 18, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • elandau

      Hi abdulla, by that I meant that the process of storytelling and writing that goes into creating a work of fiction can translate into journalism skills as well in some sense (of course, in journalism, you don't make things up!)

      Thanks for reading!

      April 18, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  36. Scott Lisdale

    Do graduates of Princeton really ever struggle to find a job? CNN get real this article is pathedic.

    April 18, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • rafael

      Nice spelling. What "real world" school graduated you?

      April 18, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  37. Roger

    So many people complaining, "why would anyone get a liberal arts degree?" I guess they missed the following note: "Elizabeth Landau is a writer and producer for" In other words, she's got a job.

    Elizabeth, unfortunately, too many of us are too uneducated to appreciate the value of your essay. Nevertheless, I agree. There are few endeavors that are as educational as a thesis.

    For the record, I'm an engineer.

    April 18, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • abdulla oblongotta

      " whether for the fictional or factual components – prepared me well for a career in journalism (at CNN)."

      April 18, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • Ed

      Let's be honest, she got a job because she went to Princeton not because she got a Liberal Arts Degree. There's ample evidence that businesses hire from the big name schools for bragging rights. What about the kid who studied Liberal Arts at a state university or small college. They're the ones still looking for work.

      April 18, 2013 at 8:36 am |
      • Tricksy

        The reality is sad but that is probably completely accurate.

        April 18, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • God

      You think that you are an engineer

      April 18, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  38. mcriz

    An article about white privilege...


    April 18, 2013 at 7:30 am |
    • Deepsea35

      Nicely I was thinking bad thoughts about the priviledged, and next thing I know I got blinsided because I'm white. Way to make friends amigo! 🙂

      April 18, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • LeftyLiberal

      LOL! What YOU said!

      April 18, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  39. Thenextstep

    Wow!!!!!!!.............. I could of gone a lifetime and not read that one........ What about my two degrees...... Oh wait a minute, They are in the Engineering area...... No one cares about them...

    April 18, 2013 at 7:16 am |
    • Coleen

      Your comment should have read "could have," not "could of."

      April 18, 2013 at 8:39 am |
      • Deepsea35

        Great advice. I bet you would have ripped Mark Twain a new one! 😉

        April 18, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • LeftyLiberal

      I'm with you, my friend. These days you often hear about the importance of the STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and yet what does CNN promote? A self-centered personal essay about an extended vacation – oops; I mean, study program, funded with "help of grant money from Princeton."

      April 18, 2013 at 9:35 am |
      • Tricksy

        I could not have said it better myself.

        April 18, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • archchuzzlewit

      Congratulations on your degrees, I'll be sure that the committee plans a ticker tape parade for you post haste. Also, we've set up a sundae bar in the lobby to celebrate your amazing achievement.

      April 18, 2013 at 11:40 am |
  40. cart

    I am at a college that is not as good as princeton. We can write a thesis, but no one will give us $ for it, so travel is not part of the equation.

    April 18, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • rafael

      Perhaps you're just not looking hard enough.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • elandau

      Hi cart, what is your thesis about? I recognize that many schools don't provide funding for independent work for undergraduates, but there are some post-graduate opportunities for international scholarship such as the Fulbright Scholar Program.

      Elizabeth Landau

      April 18, 2013 at 10:53 am |
  41. FUJ


    April 18, 2013 at 5:25 am |
    • Carl

      I agree, Judaism in Spain? I'll save you the trip, they're despised in Spain as they are through the rest of Europe...

      End of Story.

      So again, F.U.J.

      April 18, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  42. Jay

    Why do people get so much joy from tearing down a degree in liberal arts? I received a degree in physics, with a second major in philosophy, and literally to this day the most important thing for my career has been being able to clearly write, argue and articulate myself. I'm sure everyone will complain and say "oh boy well you comment sure wasn't very articulate" but people seem to forget that a lot of the most influential people in history studied liberal arts. Stanley Kresge–founder of Kmart, Kenneth Langone, the CEO of Home Depot Barrie M. Osborne, class of 1966, producer of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. James Heckman, class of ’65, winner of 2000 Nobel Prize for Economics Ella Grasso 1940, first woman governor elected in her own right; recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Bill Belichick, ’75—Head coach, New England Patriots, winner of three Super Bowls and many many more. If those people are all failures then I can't wait to see what you have done with your life. It must be great.

    April 18, 2013 at 4:40 am |
    • John

      Well thank God for them. Most of the rest of the "arts" grads are on welfare now.

      April 18, 2013 at 8:04 am |
    • abdulla oblongotta

      paid taxes without griping on blog about how hard my life is serving yuppies coffee at Starbucks as my lib arts degree collects dust in me 200 sq ft apartment?

      April 18, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • couchloc

      I agree that lots of influential people have studied the liberal arts. Here are some famous philosophy majors: William Bennett (sec'y of education), Rahm Emanuel (Clinton advisor), Thomas Jefferson (president), David Souter (supreme court), Carly Fiorina (CEO hewlett-packard), Patrick Byrne (CEO, Robert Greenhill (president morgan stanley), Beverly McLachlin (supreme court canada), Bertrand Russell (nobel prize), Richard Riordan (los angeles mayor).

      April 18, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • Tricksy

      I actually agree with you, but that's kind of a poor argument. Surely there have been successful and influential people in all fields of study, liberal arts or not, and I know for a fact some didn't even finish or go to college at all. If I had to guess I would say that people tear down liberal arts majors because those degrees are commonly the "easy route" that college students take when they either 1) realize other degrees are too hard or require too much effort, and/or 2) are simply going to college to have fun, but their tuition-paying parents want them to get a degree.

      My personal pet peeve is when college kids finish with majors like art history or communications or anthropology and then complain that they end up working at Starbucks or managing a Kmart. While interesting fields of study, those probably aren't the best places to invest your education if you're actually looking for a paying job after school.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • couchloc

      There is a big misunderstanding which keeps appearing in this thread. People are implying that liberal arts students don't get jobs and students would be better served by studying practical majors. But the author of this article got a job at CNN, right, with a liberal arts degree? It's also true that lots of "practical" majors have high unemployment rates and aren't guaranteed a job. For philosophy majors in 2011 the unemployment rate was 7.2%. Some alternatives:

      Clinical psychology 19.5%
      Architecture 10.6%
      Engineering & industrial management 9.2%
      International business 8.5%
      Commercial art & graphic design 8.1%
      Pre-law & legal studies 7.9%
      Neuroscience 7.2%
      Biochemical sciences 7.1%

      (source: CBS Money Watch, 11/16/2011)

      April 18, 2013 at 11:47 am |
  43. John

    I'm sure the year spent on the thesis about the legacy of medieval Judaism in Spain was full of great experiences, was I hope a lot of fun, and added some rigor to the program, but I can't help but think she graduated from Princeton. Would it really be wise advice to give to a college senior in a liberal arts program at a majority third or fourth tier school?

    The economy has been rough enough for college grads, especially liberal arts majors. I'd think those that decided on a liberal arts degree and are closing in on graduation but won't have a degree from Princeton and everything that goes along with that may be better off focusing on something that has the best chance of directly helping them into a good job after graduation.

    April 18, 2013 at 4:07 am |
    • Frank

      Elizabeth's experience typifies liberal arts education in this country today. Far too expensive an undertaking with little useful skills acquired after four years. Our unemployment rolls are full of bright liberal arts majors with heavy debt and no good prospects.
      I cant help but think Elizabeth's Princeton degree and/or daddy's contacts helped her get that job at CNN rather than her senior thesis on the legacy of medieval Judiasm in Spain. Really?

      April 18, 2013 at 4:55 am |
      • Tricksy

        You hit the nail on the head, Frank. "Far too expensive an undertaking with little useful skills acquired after four years." So many people romanticize what college "should" be like – studying abroad in Europe, visiting tribes in Africa, unearthing skeletons in the sands of Egypt, or writing yet another paper on Napoleon's military victories – and refuse to confront the reality of finding a job. But as long as your parents are paying for it, who cares, right?

        As a side note: on Forbes' top ten WORST (i.e. most useless/most jobless) college majors: No. 1 is Anthropology/Archaeology! Well done Ms. Landau!

        April 18, 2013 at 10:05 am |
  44. apstar

    I had a unique opportunity also to study abroad and ended up being overseas for a number of years and earning my degree there. My thesis topic was something I never dealt with again, which is somewhat unusual, and though it was possible to stay employed in the field for nearly 15 years, the uncertainty of research and need to support a new family led to a career change nearly 20 years ago. Do I miss the original vocation? Sure, but the current generation of workers is predicted to change not jobs, but careers some eight times during their working days. That's scary, not only because for many, learning gets tougher as you get older, but also older folks, oddly enough - based on their broad ranges of experiences –, tend to be less employable. Hence, the idea to do something potentially flippant at a young age if one has the chance is smart. It may be, in fact, the only chance. The years spent in Europe were very memorable, and full of travels, chances to meet great people, and even work for a year there before returning to the US. My thesis was on an obscure topic in astronomy, but my lifelong love for research has provided the opportunity to work in IT in higher education and it's an environment that not only allows one to learn, but pass one's knowledge on to students. The five minutes one spends working with or explaining something to a student can be more rewarding and result in a glow emitted by the individual that you';d never see in the lifetime of working with a boss. Such experiences make it all worthwhile.

    April 18, 2013 at 1:33 am |
  45. DocB

    "I majored in anthropology with minors in Spanish and creative writing"

    What marketable, employable skills does this translate into?

    April 18, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • kingnear

      Organizational ethnography in bi-lingual settings e.g. McDonalds. ;-D But seriously, I would look into market research. There's always focus groups, interviews, and content analysis to be done. You could focus on Latino market segments!

      April 18, 2013 at 1:31 am |
    • ccomm

      Well..."Elizabeth Landau is a writer and producer for She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University."

      April 18, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  46. Reba


    I would love to read that thesis! Did you keep it?


    April 18, 2013 at 12:50 am |
    • abdulla oblongotta

      Send private msgs thru FB
      ~editor in chief.

      April 18, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  47. MH

    As someone from Quebec (Canada) it pains me to see people getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to get a liberal arts degree. Where I am, we have something that is similar to the last year of highschool in the US, but its called CEGEP and it lasts for two years. It's essentially university prep, however it is taught at a university level and is at the same difficulty bar. You're much more prepared. I'm still in CEGEP and am studying the Liberal Arts. It's actually one of the most difficult programs available to take (2nd in fact) and if you graduate with solid grades, universities here (some of the top in the world, like McGill) love you. However, you don't go in to the LA in uni. You go in to law or business from the liberal arts, and you're actually more prepared than those who were in other programs like business. I guess it depends on your perspective/where you come from. Liberal arts as an introduction is fantastic, as it opens doors, but not as a career choice. Anyhoo

    April 18, 2013 at 12:28 am |
  48. noone

    it's amazing how out of touch with reality some people can be.

    April 18, 2013 at 12:05 am |
  49. mickinmd

    The question at the end of the article implies everyone writes a senior thesis is college. Not true. The closest I came to was "Mechanistic Studies of the Dienol-Benzene Rearrangement" which I coauthored with my academic advisor and researched out of his research grant, which was published in a major Chemistry Journal. I also gave a talk on that paper at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in January, 1973. That worked helped my get a $9900 per year ($47,000 in 2013 dollars) graduate scholarship to IIT along with a $325/month ($1650 in 2013 dollars) teaching assistantship.

    April 17, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  50. blahblahblah

    I'd give her an experience...

    April 17, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • ok then

      what kind?

      April 17, 2013 at 11:33 pm |
    • corpsman

      Probably nothing she'd remember very long....

      April 17, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  51. Derek

    I hope this author's thesis was far more interesting and engaging than this load of junk. I stopped reading when she mentioned she was getting a liberal arts degree. People who study for the sole purpose of studying are a drain on society.

    April 17, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Edwin

      Yes they are. People like Leonardo da Vinci and Newton, who studied for the sake of learning, were terrible drains on society. Because of people like them we have medicine, science, technology, democracy, and many of the other things that make up your society.

      The fact that you don't appreciate the value of learning for learning's sake simply indicates your lack of imagination and your inability to advance society in a meaningful way. I am sure you make a fine worker in somebody's business, though, and society always needs plenty of drones.

      April 17, 2013 at 11:02 pm |
      • mollywins

        I got a liberal arts degree from an elite private school, worked for several years, eventually went back to school, and am currently serving in the Navy. The majority of my former classmates are professionals - doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors... people making the world a better place. My spouse also got a liberal arts degree and is also a military officer. So, what was that you were saying again about liberal arts graduates being a drain on society?

        April 17, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
      • mollywins

        That was clearly meant as a reply to "Derek." Sorry!

        April 17, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
      • Deepsea35

        The Da Vinci's of the world didn't go to a college and write a thesis on the geneology of nutter-butter bars. Great achievers are often quantified by their makes average people believe that they could be "Da Vinci". Milk is milk, cream is cream, they come from the same place. One rises after working, regardless of who does the churning (teaching).

        April 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • Carrigan

      An acquaintance, Rebekah Goode-Peoples, explored what she calls “apocalyptic” thinking for her thesis at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She connected ‘90s hip-hop lyrics to ideas about the end of times in literature at several turns of centuries. The big lesson for her was about connecting archaic material to personal interests.

      How is the above benefical ? Im being open minded.

      April 17, 2013 at 11:35 pm |
    • christabella611

      Student loans (not that Princeton has them thanks to endowments) should be tied to what you are studying. Engineering/Science/Math full loans available with a low fixed interest rate. Liberal Arts/History/Political Science partial loans with a higher interest rate. You would force people into fields that are better for the economy and aren't useless.

      April 17, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • corpsman

      Sorry you failed, Derek.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:00 am |
    • Andrew

      As a current college student at the University of Pittsburgh, I couldn't agree more. I personally feel as though I would be just as well off setting fire to $16,000 a year. College is such b.s. No pragmatic knowledge whatsoever. Einstein even said, the only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. I don't party, I'm active in a few clubs, and I have recently started my own business. This college crap though really holds me back.

      April 18, 2013 at 1:00 am |
      • Alex

        If you are so sure that you are wasting your time at Pitt (or any school), why do not you just drop out?

        April 18, 2013 at 8:21 am |
      • Deepsea35

        Welcome to enlightenment! 🙂 I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau....but degrees in ocean sciences were ungodly painful....not to mention I probably would have ended up as an underpaid lab tech. Oh, and maybe I would have got a free trip to the beach for my "Thesis". 🙂 I joined the Navy, became a diver, and four years later I was training marine mammals. I could write a book on my adventures in diving, and in my own mind, at least, I got to be as close to a Jacques Coustea as anybody can. Of all my old friends, one "suceeded"....he gets to work with performing dolphins at SeaWorld. Life is for living. Don't waste it. 🙂

        April 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
      • apstar

        @Deepsea35: That is excellent. College isn't for everyone and in particular, it's not necessarily the best learning environment. I work in IT, and see people working with us who have little or no college experience and are still very good at what they do. Give me a practical, hands-on, deliver-the-goods person over a theorist with little practical experience any day.

        April 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
  52. food

    I couldn't even finish this article. It's full of "look at me! look at me! look at me!" Not everyone wants to write papers while in school, there is something to be said for hands on experiences as well. Congo-rats on your paper but I would rather do something else.

    April 17, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • Edwin

      I disagree. It was not the most engaging article, but I believe her goal was to inspire others to pursue research, as she did.

      You are right that it is not for everyone - a lot of people prefer something more concrete, more 'real' than abstract research. Some of the world's most famous geniuses (Edison and Gates come to mind) preferred the sort of 'hands on' research that interest you.

      April 17, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
      • Deepsea35

        Edwin, I think you disagree based on just playing Devil's Advocate more than for any actual substance in the article. She's not a child, she's a journalist writing articles for the public....and it's taking a lot of work to make this topic interesting, none of it hers.

        April 18, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  53. Tom

    She is an idiot. Princeton is just taking her money.

    April 17, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • Nick

      Princeton is certainly better than going somewhere like Dixie state in Idaho...That 'college' is literally a middle school.

      April 17, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
    • MRW

      Actually, Princeton is probably giving her loads of money. Princeton started the no-loans system, where they give students 100% of demonstrated need in grant money. The average Princeton grad comes away with about $4500 were of debt–that's $4,500, not $45,000. Other ivies followed suit. My daughter is starting at another Ivy and it will cost us less to send her there than it would to either of the major state universities, even with in-state tuition. Not so idiotic at all, Tom.

      April 18, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  54. Greg W

    I think it's great that the author was able to do what she did and have the experiences that she did. For those who are grumping about "privilege" or say stuff about Mom and Dad paying all the bills – wake up and get a clue! These top schools have fabulous opportunities and they also have a lot of money to enable anyone who makes the grade to attend. If you can get in, Princeton, for example, is one of the least expensive schools to attend. Too many people make assumptions about these private universities and colleges and dont even bother to get the facts about the education they offer and what is actually required to attend and and pay for that education. Its the middle tier schools (between the State systems and the elite privates) that are crushing students with debt and providing less that excellent educations (in many cases, not all of course).

    April 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
  55. sci guy

    for undergrad: "Growing Oriented PZT Thin Films Via Spin Coating Using Hydrothermally-Synthesized Cubic-Morphology Lead Ti-tanate Seed Particles"

    Jargon, anyone? Basically, it was a way to make a great material (at the time) for capacitors even better because a certain crystal orientation gave more desirable properties than a random mix of orientations. It gave a 20%ish increase in performance over existing technology with minimal increase in cost or change to existing techniques – woohoo.

    April 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • sci guy

      bah, meant it as a reply below – sorry for poor placement in the thread

      April 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  56. Kodak

    Sorry, but if you are at the point of thesis creation and you still have no clue what you are or what want to do in life, you are very possibly wasting your time. I feel bad for today's children who spend four years and still have no clue what they have an interest in. I guess nowadays we live in a society where you don't have to learn about or know anything specific because all you need to get by in life is a phone and a credit card. For many students, mom & dad pay the bills for both, so what's to learn about in any case??

    April 17, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • motherofaphdstudent

      You missed the entire point! The skills used to research and prepare a thesis are invaluable in the workplace. Did you miss the part where she got a job.....using these skills. Your comments sound uneducated and full of self-pity.

      April 17, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • Tricksy

      This annoyed me too about this article. At the very beginning it states that at 21 you don't really have any clue where you are or what you're doing, but that's totally fine! Yeah, especially when you're paying for an Ivy league education. Don't worry about it! College kids are just supposed to follow their passions and try new things and explore the world! As long as mommy and daddy pay the bills who cares about a job after college!

      April 18, 2013 at 9:27 am |
  57. mkay

    Thesis papers and projects should be part of a rigorous college education. A thesis paper or project doesn't require a semester abroad–just a passion for asking and answering questions. Too many students graduate from college and can't put a sentence let alone a paragraph together. We (America, I suppose) have made a college education a requisite for many jobs that don't require college education and, as a result, we have diluted the accomplishment of graduating from college.

    On another note, I am a little tired of people calling students at top schools "privileged" - yes, it is a privilege to go to a great school but "privileged" implies that it is somehow undeserved and that isn't always (or usually) true. (And there is good data to show that the benefit of an Ivy education tails off after 4-5 years)

    April 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • AnneK

      I am one who used "priveledged" in my post. I have nothing against students who go to Ivy League schools such as Princeton. My point was to suggest to CNN, etc...that maybe it would be helpful for an article to be written about the rigors of a great academic program where the majority of college students can relate. I was one who was accepted to a study abroad program at the University of Paris through my university. I studied hard, was extremely motivated, wroite a great essay in French, but I could not follow through on that opportunity because I was not offered a :"grant" that would help me go on such a wonderful learning and life changing experience during my senior year of college. I was very dissappointed and wonder how that opportunity could have changed my life. My point is not about me, but it is about my college age kids, and all of the other college age kids who are busting to get a break and opportunity such as the one Ms. Landau had her senior year? Maybe some good thoughts and direction on that end. We all know this is a global society. ALL of our college age students who are motivated to learn and grow, make this world a better place "deserve" this opportunity too.

      April 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm |
      • Accelerate

        "wroite?" Seriously, this is what we have come to.

        April 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
      • BT

        @accelerate: Seriously, is that all you have to criticize?

        April 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  58. sparky


    April 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  59. Steve

    This story is not something most college students can relate to. I'm an academic advisor at a research university and not many of the students I advise chose to write a thesis. They can't possibly do it also many of them prefer internships over writing a research thesis. Internships are what employers are looking for the most not whether one studies abroad and authored a thesis. Granted these are valuable experiences but the big ticket item is internships and learning professionalism in the world of work.

    April 17, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • DeskJockey

      Steve–internships and theses are not mutually exclusive. I availed myself of both opportunities in my senior year of college–I took a full-time intern position during the summer before senior year, then wrote my thesis on a closely related subject during the school year. My thesis benefited from the work I did during my internship and the contacts I made. And no, I did not have to travel overseas to complete my thesis. The only travel required was a day trip for interviews (and numerous visits to the library). It is true that employers look for internships, but a thesis can add a lot of value for an employer–I say this now as a recruiter who has looked at (and culled) a lot of resumes.

      April 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  60. TimB

    This is a good story, and it is sad when many can graduate from college without doing any in-depth research or having to produce a large project like a thesis. Not all have to be so elaborate, or as some imply, privileged. It's neat that Ms. Landau was able to spend a term in Spain, learning as well as researching her topic. But you don't have to do that to gain from the project. I went to Allegheny College and they require a Senior Project in order to graduate, with what that project entails varying depending on your major and interests. As a Political Science and History major, my Thesis was an analysis of Military coups and regimes in Nigeria since Independence. I would have liked to go to that country for research, but didn't have the resources to do so and was still able to produce a worthwhile product doing old-fashioned research.

    April 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • Tricksy

      How did your thesis experience or choice in major contribute to your job after college? Was it essential? Or was it just "nice to have"?

      April 18, 2013 at 9:29 am |
  61. SoCal

    I'm still amazed that someone with 3 of the least valuable (job-wise) choices in majors/minors actually got a job! There is something to having Princeton on your resume after all, it seems. As a finance guy, I'd love to see the ROI on that investment. I'm not even going to touch the vegan bakery...

    April 17, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  62. elandau_is_cute

    Hey liz,
    Wow, you are really pretty and very smart as well !! Are you single ??

    April 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  63. Mandor

    I do understand this kind of thing can be fantastic for individual intellectual growth. And I do understand that senior year of college is often the only chance in their lifetimes most people will have a chance to do something like this.

    I also understand that many students are graduating with a full-on MORTGAGE of school loan debt, that legally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. So unless you have a strong reason to believe this kind of thesis will land you a good paying job... maybe you're much better served to skip the extra expenses of this. No, that's not the way it should be. Unfortunately, that is the way it is, for an awful lot of folks.

    April 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Tricksy

      FINALLY, someone who thinks like I do.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  64. AnneK

    I really appreciate the article and think this author is great. It is just really out of touch with the plight our American students today. While I do think it is terrific to travel to Spain for a senior thesis on Princeton's grant money ( and I really do mean that respectfully ), there has to be ways that seniors can travel abroad that cannot go on Prinvetons grant money. It hurts me to think of the thousands of our students who are studying and working hard on their degree but do not have the financial status to just go traveling abroad when they have the brains, dreams and motivation to do so. I truly do appreciate the authors thoughts but it is a bit out of touch with the reality of where our students and young people are at financially. Miss Landau, you are a terrific writer and I do love your articles..this is not personal, but maybe an article about how the mainstream student can get to Spain. Where can they find these grants? Talk to the mainstream. This article is for the priveledged.

    April 17, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Tricksy

      I agree completely. The fact that Ms Landau didn't mention be stressed at all about finding a way to pay back her Ivy league education with her anthropology major just reveals that mommy and daddy were funding her whole operation, and that an actual job after college was an afterthought.

      How many engineers or accountants or teachers or nurses could we have educated with the price of your Princeton anthropology major?? Privileged indeed.

      April 18, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  65. J

    I did my thesis on "The Spanish Major: Teaching Isn't the Only Option" – not only did I complete a 30 page paper completely in Spanish that I later presented in a symposium at my college but I created a pamphlet for future Spanish majors there, was able to combat my parents' concerns for me majoring in a language with no intention of teaching it and researched various jobs to write the paper ... so I created a list of careers from studying for the thesis that I was interested in pursuing when I graduated. If it weren't for my favorite Spanish teacher from high school telling me to just take 1 spanish class in college when I had no idea what I was doing there, and if not for my sister encouraging me to just take out a loan and study abroad in Spain when I had never traveled abroad before and was completely broke, I would've probably graduated with some random major doing something I hated. Shortly after graduating 7 yrs ago, I started working for an educational travel company, have traveled to several more countries and love encouraging current students to travel the world and discover themselves. Thank you study abroad for revealing my true passion of language and travel and thesis for unveiling my career path!

    April 17, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Thomas

      Your "thesis" was 30 pages? What school did you go to? I had chapters in my thesis that were 30 pages.

      Thirty pages is a term paper, not a thesis. Good on you if your school accepted that as a thesis. However, I would not attempt that at other universities.

      April 17, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
      • J

        You should not be so stuck on length. Many landmark field-changing academic papers are under 30 pages. Conversely, any student can inflate a thesis with drivel to meet an arbitrary page count..

        April 17, 2013 at 11:30 pm |
  66. Really?

    The reason the author got a good job is likely related to her school's brand. Sure she can write, but that isn't because she went on a flight of fancy senior year. I went to a state school and had multiple internships. There's no way it would have been practical to go off to follow my dreams. The author's advice may work well for priveledged children, but it doesn't work well for students who are paying for school on their own. I had 4 job offers because of my internships and part time work experience. And I'm in a job I love.

    April 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • lwk

      Did your state school not care about spelling in your papers?

      April 17, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • Really?

        Pedantic much? You don't seem to be disagreeing with my comment. Fail.

        April 17, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • elandau

      Hi Really?

      With all due respect, I also had several internships throughout college, including here at CNN. I think internships are a great way to gain career-oriented experience. Internships do not, however, have to take the place of a substantive independent research project during the senior year. In fact, there could be a way to have them relate to one another.

      Elizabeth Landau

      April 18, 2013 at 10:07 am |
      • Really?

        Wow, I appreciate your response. Unfortunately, you have missed my point. During school, I also had 2-4 part time jobs- in addition to my internships. The idea that I could go to Europe for a year and not work was simply not practical. I needed my jobs to assist with living expenses and to prepare for graduation. Further I would not risk an employer viewing an experience unfavorably. Granted I'm a STEM major, but my field doesn't tolerate a whole lot of fluff on the resume-you have to have certain courses period. The idea that you'd recommend this to many students who won't get a grant and will have thousands in loans shows that you weren't as worried about finances as many others are. With today's economy you don't have the luxury of spending thousands of dollars on impractical course work. Now this experience may have helped you with specific skills at CNN but really, how many students could say that? I've been part of the recruiting process at my job and what gets resumes past HR are internships, part time work, and most importantly, relevant degrees. It's fine to do a thesis, but you'd better be able to sell it. College costs too much not to focus on the finances. Anyone who tells you not to worry about the practical side of education is giving out bad advice. With all do respect.

        April 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
  67. dappledview

    Good heavens, if your writing advisor is Joyce Carol Oates, don't don't DON'T turn down that opportunity, I don't care if you go into sanitation engineering afterward! Besides, your project definitely seems to have ramifications for the history of multiculturalism in the world. You go girl!

    April 17, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • CGM

      I read Joyce Carol Oates' books in my college literature class. It would have been even better to have her as a teacher.

      April 17, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
      • Elizabeth

        Me, too. That would have been fantastic. I did have famed archeologist Bob Brier as a professor, which I cherished.

        April 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm |
  68. heterodoxpictures

    Misuse of the word ostensibly: It wasn't the case that Ferdinand and Isabella are alleged to have issued the Edict but actually didn't. Perhaps your logic is that since many Jews didn't obey and stayed, somehow the Edict is thereby rendered less-than-actual, which conflates a number of aspects of this event. They actually did issue the Edict, but some Jews didn't leave. That's not an ostensible or purported description, that is an actual one. Ostensibly, this comment is about word choice, but it actually pertains to your apparent understanding of history.

    April 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Hypostasis

      What I understood her usage of ostensibly to mean:They didn't kick the Jews and Muslims out because they were Jews and Muslims and they wanted a Catholic country, but because those who left would have been much harder to convert to Catholicism than those who stayed behind; avoiding a potential bloodbath. Thus, her following sentence clarifying why they were kicked out: "There were Jews who stayed and were forcibly converted to Catholicism." That being understood as those being the easier to convert, which secured for them the true purpose of their ostensible edict, a Catholic country without the bloodbath."

      This is not an argument about the Inquisition, only the usage of a word.

      April 17, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  69. benjamin eckstein

    i am a sportswriter/oddsmaker for the n.y. daily news (america's line is my daily column)...also a jew that has family roots going back to budapest...i understand that many of the spanish jews that were kicked out in 1492 went to hungary & turkey...wondering if you came across a way to search back thru the centuries that would guide me toward my spanish heritage...thx...

    April 17, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • elandau

      Hi Benjamin, that is pretty fascinating! Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to help, but I wish you the best of luck!

      -Elizabeth Landau

      April 17, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • SeaTigr


      Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that any central data repositories exist for that kind of records search. You'll probably need to go synagogue by synagogue. Another possibility is historical tax records. Very generally speaking, areas under Islamic control during the Medieval/Renaissance periods tended to allow Jews to live in peace so long as the Jews paid taxes, didn't make trouble, and didn't try to convert any Muslims (leaving Islam is, according to the Koran, punishable by death). Obviously, that is not a blanket statement given the vast area and span of time under discussion.

      If you could narrow down what decade(s) your ancestors were in a particular area you could conceivably search through tax records to find them. Assuming the records still exist, and are accessible to the public. Unfortunately, it is doubtful any such records will be computerized.

      My general suggestion would be to start with the most recent data you have and work backwards. If you know your relatives came across Ellis Island in 1929, let's say, from Budapest, then I would start by finding synagogues in Budapest that existed in 1929. If you can't find that information via the internet, I'd suggest searching for Budapest synagogues and picking one that says in its history it was open during that time. I would send an email or letter to the synagogue asking for help in finding a list of synagogues open in 1929. Even better is if your family history includes knowledge on what part of Budapest. Jews prior to the 1950s almost always lived within walking distance to the synagogue they worshiped at. That would help you narrow your search.

      Synagogues generally try to keep records of births, bar/bat mitzvahs, marriages, and deaths for as long as possible. You may have to pay somebody to perform the search. Once you have the right synagogue, follow the family tree back as far as it goes. When you get to the first generation listed, see if the synagogue has any other records to search from that time period that might provide you with information on where your ancestors moved from before arriving in Budapest.

      Wash, rinse, repeat for as far back as you can.

      Bear in mind, it might not be possible. My great-grandparents came from a village in the Pale of Settlement before making their way to Ellis Island. Emigration of Jews from the Pale was forbidden at that time. If the Russian authorities had found people missing from the village, the people still there would have faced reprisals. Consequently, the people who stayed destroyed any record of my great-grandparents' existence in that village.

      April 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
      • TimB

        Benjamin, SeaTigr has provided a lot of good suggestions.

        Whether one is jewish or christian, church records tend to be a wondeful way to trace a family's roots as you go back further and further. Birth certificates and civil records of births and marriages are a semi-modern innovation, but religious groups kept track of their own. Adding to your challenge of course is the destruction of many of those records in the Shoah, and then under communism. However, you can always try and never know what you'll find.

        Something SeaTigr touches on that should be explored is the fact that Jews and other religious minorities were often taxed more heavily by civil authorities, particularly under Ottoman rule. Those extra taxes would have been recorded, and if you're lucky you may find records specific to your ancestors or other relatives.

        April 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
      • Marc

        I took an approach which led me over a surprising route. I entered my name in a Jewish genealogy web site. Rather than trace my surname on this site, it traced a family's name to Bordeaux, France in 1688. I went through that ancestry and found that it included my marriage to a lady from an old Methodist family in this country. It turns out that her maternal family was descended from Sephardic Jews who originated in Bordeaux and Cadiz, Spain. One of the Spanish offspring immigrated to Baltimore in the early 19 th century and married into a Methodist family. The subsequent generations were Methodists but the original family name from Bordeaux was sporadically assigned as middle names to the male offspring through my wife's siblings. Early in our marriage I often heard the rumor from my wife's family that they thought there might be a Jewish lineage but they were unsure. All are surprised and pleased with the finding.

        April 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  70. elandau

    If you wrote a thesis, what was it about?

    April 17, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Lawdawg

      "The End of the Innocence: Rock Music and the Post-War Era" It was a combined Humanities and Sociology honors thesis I wrote at my alma mater, Eckerd College. It's been a long time, but I did content analysis of rock lyrics and tried to connect them to the disillusion of the American Century and the loss of the American frontier (I think).

      April 17, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • Elizabeth

      "The Design, Construction and Resistance Testing of Stern Flaps and Integrated Stern Flap-Wedges on a High-Speed Catamaran Hull to Reduce Powering Requirements." All students at my college are required to complete a a senior thesis. As future engineers, it was a valuable experience to undertake real-life projects from conception to research to testing to a final written product–just like we would in the field. Every student had to present and defend findings to the student body and the entire faculty. I no longer work as an engineer, but I definitely still utilize the skills and training I honed while completing my senior thesis.

      April 17, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Mamasan4G

      "Of Kings & Tyrants: Exploring the Prose of John Milton and Modern Culture" The political prose of John Milton and it's connections to modern culture and politics. Fascinating stuff! I was required to complete a senior thesis as part of my honors program in Literature. I loved doing it, not everyone gets the opportunity to explore a chosen topic in-depth like that. I look back at that year of research and writing with great nostalgia and fondness. Once you join the rat-race it's rare to be able to dedicate time to learn about something you find moves you. By the way, gainfully employed since graduation.

      April 18, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • EcoEvoBio Girl

      "Genetic Variation in a Retail Population of Zebrafish (Danio rerio) and Implications for Ecotoxicology Studies." This was my undergraduate research project, and it taught me how incredibly complicated it is to design and implement biological studies. I was trying to determine if there were any significant differences in heterozygosity between lab-reared and wild-caught populations of fish, and if so what that meant for the validity of studies that used only captive-bred fish as the test subject. Unfortunately, after a full year of research and testing, the results were inconclusive due to problems with the PCR method. Thus is the nature of science... for every paper published there are 100 more with "inconclusive results" that never see the light of day.

      April 18, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Deepsea35

      "Cross-cultural mythology; creation, adoption and migration through time and across civilizations." This was my Doctoral Thesis, and it involved feigning interest in numerous cultures while tracking the various dieties of greek origin over their development to the current iterations that we see today. I never did find a useful translation into employment, but it really gave me great ideas for a lot of cosplay themes. HA! Sorry, couldn't coffee just kicked in. 🙂

      April 18, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Remarque

      I had two. A Literary Trace of the Nihilist Hero from Turgenev to Camus...and...Effects of T-Gene Mutations on the Mouse Embryo in Chimeras produced via ESC Aggregation.

      Today, I find myself diluting and forgetting that knowledge within the confines of a passionless pharmaceutical company. On the bright side, I abhor what I've become – so there is that.

      April 18, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • Deepsea35

        You, sir, crafted a sharp wit while incarcerated in the drudgery of employment. Well done!!

        April 18, 2013 at 1:03 pm |