In the intervening time she's taken two courses with me, and we've spent a year and a half working on her senior thesis. Mentor Colleague of mine (who's seriously worked here longer than I've been alive and who's fabulous and who was my mentor toward tenure) has tried to poach her, but BES refuses to be poached. As I told her today, though, I so don't feel like it's a competition because I feel like Mentor Colleague is actually MY professor, and thus she and I are under the same umbrella. Anyway.
When BES first came to me, she indicated that she wanted to do a thesis that would prepare her for grad school in English. I gave her then, and I've given her many since, a speech about how that was a RISKY proposition. [Insert the diatribe about grad school in English here] But when I signed on, that was the project I signed on for: prepare this student for grad school at a school that doesn't really prepare students for that. And dude, if she wants it? It's hers. Yes, I've tried to dissuade her from the dream, because I feel like I should, but she is SO bright and SO capable. I really do believe she can maybe do it, or I'd not have agreed to this thesis project.
But so the road hasn't been easy. For me or for her. For her? Because I've been a real motherfucker to her. I've given her comments that are NOT comments for undergrads. I've not coddled her. I've not made her feel good, or even ok, about lame work. I've not even excused the lameness out of a sense of niceness or whatever. I've been a total hard-ass. In regard to the thesis, that is.
And she, well, she's not been easy either, in that she's done the classic shit of avoiding me, of resenting me, of refusing to do what her adviser tells her to do. Not out of conviction but out of laziness and rebellion. She's lost her shit and sobbed, she's thrown tantrums, she's pitched a fit. She's sulked and sighed. All of those things when she knew from the first day that I'm the Ill-Equipped Professor who barely has a napkin, let alone kleenex.
But I LOVE BES. She's seriously, like, my friend. I mean, it's weird as I'm like a professor-friend, but for real, she's not just some undergrad to me. She's somebody whom I'd figure as a peep.
So I forced her to give me a complete draft of her thesis this past week (after she'd been actively avoiding me for two weeks, in the way of anxious dissertators). And I spent at least 2 hours commenting on it by hand, with three different colors of ink. When I finished, I knew that I had to email her before she saw it or she would totally lose her mind in angst. So I emailed her yesterday, saying "BES, you're at a crossroads, and you can either choose A (finish the shit up and do nothing ambitious) or B (work your ass off and do work you never thought you could plus make the theory make sense to normal folks). I made it very clear that I was cool with both, and that I'd mentor her through either, happily. I made the point that this was HER project and that it really isn't mine. So she thought for approx. 24 hours.
Then she came to pick up the draft with all of the comments. And she lost her shit.
Luckily, Mentor Colleague comforted her for a few before I was out of class, and then as I came back to my office, I found her. I saw the look on her face and hugged her, she cried, I nearly cried, I talked her off the ledge, at a certain point I said, "Do you have a lighter? Because if you do I have cigarettes and I'll provide some for you," and then we went and smoked and she calmed down, and then we went back to my office and had a two-hour long confab, that was part meeting and part just hanging out and in which it was agreed that she'd come to my place on Friday (for thesis work, yes, but mainly for dinner, and wine) and I'd help her hash the shit of her thesis out. The thing is, and the thing that she didn't seem to get, is her thesis is already fucking passed. She's amazing. It's just -- her thesis isn't what I know she wants it to be. I'm committed to helping her to make that, if it's still what she wants.
So there are lots of things, related to this cathartic meeting with BES.
Things she was surprised about:
- I never had a preconceived notion about what this thesis would be. I never had an idea in my head about what her thesis "was." I was always about helping her to get as far as she could go. And still am.
- I wrote a shittier senior thesis than she's written already. Seriously. My standards for her have nothing to do with what I did as a student.
- I really do see how totally far she's come. I'm proud of her - already.
- I really don't think that this thesis is my business. I think that it's her work. I want to facilitate that work, sure, but I have absolutely no personal investment in it.
- I have a gift for giving people as much or as little feedback, at the appropriate times, as they need to do their best work.
- I'm good at pushing a student past what they think are their limits, and bringing them over the threshold into a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing.
- I'm really good at giving students ownership over their own work - for as stressed as BES is, she sees how much she's become her own scholar through this - and so do I.