Sol G. Writes, “Getting Ready For Fall 2012.”

It’s here.

The Extension School website has some useful tips for choosing courses, and of course you know to use the degree course selector if you’re enrolled in the degree program.

I’ll be in PSYC E-1605 The Brain in Psychology I: the Neuroanatomical Basis of Psychological Function (14011) this semester. I’m excited about it. It’s great to be taking on-campus classes again- the narcolepsy’s pretty tightly controlled now,and I’m excited to be able to be here in person again. Yay, modern medicine! With that in mind, one of the things to talk about in getting ready for fall is assessing exactly what you are going to be able to do, since only you know the circumstances of your life.

This means financially, because when you add up your classes, remember that there are other things involved. This can range from books for the course to supplementary materials, like dictionaries, calculators, etc. (Yes, these exist free online, but don’t always work on the train or other places you may want to study.) There are free resources to make sure you have, like a  local library card. I’ve often found it more convenient to go to my city library than the school’s, though I like Harvard’s better.

Think about time: each class has homework. Think about how many hours per week you have, and it may be important for you to take one class that’s writing intensive with one that isn’t, to avoid having massive numbers of papers due at the same time.


This means extracurricular activities, too. Are you leaving an evening free if it’s essential to you to see your family/friends? Are you taking part in clubs? (Yes, it’s possible to be a part of a club even if you aren’t on campus.  I’m sure that contacting the club leaders will spark great conversations about how you can be involved!) For my part, I was elected Director of Student Affairs for HESA again, and that’s something I’m happy to make time for. I’d recommend attending the General Assemblies- they’re broadcast online for our distance students to participate.  We have a lot of new things planned, and it should be a good year. It’s also a good place to meet other students, and you don’t have to be enrolled in the degree programs to be involved.

Your life is your life, and you know what’s in it. You know better than anyone whether you’ll have to trade chores, arrange for meals, buy new notebooks, or plan extended “do not disturb” times with your roommates so that you can attend online classes. But whatever preparations you’re making, welcome in, and welcome back, for those returning!

Rachel writes: Commencement! A final blog post.

Since I wrote my last blog entry, I discovered that I had actually made it just under the wire after all and was able to submit my final, formatted thesis draft  in time for May graduation!

Commencement. Chatting with a new friend, Heather (left). I discovered that we shared the same thesis director.

The last few weeks have been intense: printing and sending off copies of my final thesis draft (total no. of pages, including bibliography, front matter, and appendices: 254–that’s a lot of printing!) to my thesis director and to the ALM office; sending off the grade-form for my thesis director to complete and return to Dean Schopf’s office; two rounds of format reviews, with personalized attention from the amazingly knowledgeable and helpful ALM office staff; then sending off the corrected final manuscript to the bindery.

And a library book, among the forty or so volumes I returned in recent weeks, went missing, causing me to panic, since library accounts need to be settled before you can graduate. The missing book was a slender pamphlet with yellow paper binding, which I had tucked inside another book on the same subject, so it would not go astray. When I looked online at my library account to find that the book was listed as still checked out to me, I emailed Widener Library and explained that the pamphlet was safe inside a book with a similar call-number and which had a dark-blue binding. A librarian emailed back to say the pamphlet was right where I said it was! So my library account is not in arrears. I will sorely miss the Harvard libraries and their wonderful staff.

All this while working full-time–and putting in lots of over-time hours, since my assistant was recently promoted and my new assistant doesn’t start until July. As one of the ALM staff suggested, “Sleep is over-rated.” Pulling off these final bits in the process was a balancing act, an exercise not in time-management but in severe time-rationing.

Word processing: I learned how to suppress page numbers and how to merge two PDFs to create one document–anyone want tips? I’m glad to help. I confess that these were skills I despaired of acquiring and had even looked around for someone to hire to complete the formatting for me. But I somehow managed it, though it often felt like a wrestling match between me, Microsoft Word, and Adobe Acrobat–and my cats, who never stopped trying to horn in on lap space as I worked.

On May 15 I was honored to participate in the annual ALM Thesis Forum. Twelve presenters chosen from among the fifty-eight graduating this May gave talks about their research–six of us on May 15 and six on May 16 (I had to miss the evening of the 16th). I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to discuss my thesis with current ALM candidates, fellow graduates, and other guests–it was a great evening, and I was floored by the brilliance and inventiveness of my fellow students. Friends from my first pro-seminar, as well as from other courses, attended–it was wonderful to have a chance to catch up and re-connect in this context.

A lovely reception for graduates was held on May 22 at the elegant Harvard Faculty Club. It was a great chance to meet so many ALM graduates from fields other than mine and chat with them about their research.

ALM reception, Faculty Club.

Among his valuable remarks at the ALM reception, Dean Shinagel made the bold prediction that the weather on Commencement day would be fair. He also managed a notable word on the value of “Clarissa” relative to “Paradise Lost.”

Commencement on May 24 was what I would call a “total immersion” experience. The day began at 6:45 AM when we all met at 51 Brattle to don our regalia and choke down a biscuit or two.

Regalia donned, we chat, sip coffee, and prepare to march together to the Yard.

Milling about the early-morning crowd afforded an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

Dean Schopf was stunning in her to-die-for regalia.

Extension School graduates carry stalks of wheat, commemorating the original fee for a course: two bushels of wheat.

We are handed symbolic stalks of wheat as we prepare to process.

Led by bagpipers, we processed to the Yard.

The weather was glorious, just as Dean Shinagel had sagely predicted.

We were on our feet for about two hours before we gratefully took our seats in the Tercentenary Theater, the area of the Yard between Widener Library and Memorial Church.

The view from the Extension School seating, Tercentenary Theater.

The ceremony for awarding Extension School master’s degrees was held in the storied First Parish Church across the street from Massachusetts Hall; as Dean Schopf pointed out, Harvard College commencement ceremonies took place regularly in the Church from 1833-1873.

Dean Sue Schopf addresses the crowd from the pulpit at the First Parish Church.

I was so thrilled and honored to have received two prizes: for my academic record, the Thomas Small Prize–Thomas Small received his ALM at age 89 in 1983, having emigrated from Lithuania in 1900. My father’s family also emigrated from Lithuania, so being honored with this prize means a lot to me. Jackie Cox-Crite presented to me the Annamae and Allan R. Crite Prize, which recognizes a thesis on the visual arts. I am extra proud to be the recipient of this prize–I have long deeply admired Allan Crite’s work; you can see some examples of his marvelously expressive paintings here: or here Allan Rohan Crite is one of our most important African-American visual artists–he received his ALB from Harvard Extension in 1968. Crite was a visionary whose work is vibrant with humanity, and I am so honored by the association.

I was struck by the suggestion made by one of the speakers earlier in the morning that Harvard graduates do not simply rest on their laurels but rather persist in dreaming up and undertaking new projects and enterprises, continually developing new goals, asking not “why” but “why not?” I hope to follow the suggestion, and with the bar set high by my Harvard education, to come up with some grand plans for creating something fascinating and new forthwith.

With many thanks to everyone in the ALM office for all of their help and patience over the past several years–especially these past few weeks–and to all of my instructors and fellow scholars, I close this blog with the current entry. Good luck to all, and I look forward to reading subsequent Extension School blogs right here or hereabouts.

Rachel writes: 5th of 5 ALM thesis chapters submitted!

This week I put my final ALM thesis chapter in the mail to my thesis director! After I’ve received his comments and incorporated his suggestions, I will finish up formatting, make two copies and send one complete copy to him for grading and one to the ALM office for format review.

Formatting, per the ALM handbook guidelines, is a bit daunting. I’m trying to keep in mind the notion that it’s a finite task–while the rules are detailed and slightly mind-boggling, the instructions are plainly laid out in black & white in the trusty 7th edition of the Harvard ALM guide. Don’t confuse this publication with the MLA guide, also now in its 7th edition. Word has it that on some details, the ALM guide trumps the MLA.

I’ve missed the April 2 deadline for graduation in May but will enjoy the leisure needed to properly format and finish up without a stressful urgent deadline. The ALM office is busy now with the theses of those graduating next month, but I will send in my copy for format review before the end of the semester and get in the queue. I’ll then graduate in November, after having my corrected thesis printed on the requisite paper and bound.

I have about 40 library books which I need to return; I will need to make several trips to Widener and/or the Fine Arts Library. Fortunately, there is no rush, with books not due until Sept 10: I was granted the extended borrowing period, which as a graduate student is a privilege you can request from the Library Privileges office on the ground floor at Widener. Ask for it if you think you need it. That was a huge help for me and reduced the number of trips I had to make to the library.

My thesis turned out to be much longer than I imagined it would be: 247 pages including front matter, appendices and bibliography, and hence took longer to complete than I first supposed. I work full-time, and I’m extremely busy at my job, so finding the time to write has been a persistent challenge. For months I have daydreamed not only about spending a weekend simply relaxing but about tidying up a cluttered house: the quotidian stuff which has been neglected for months on end as I toiled away in my rarefied  thesis microcosm is calling to me.

I look forward to being a Harvard alum and want to investigate ways to stay involved in the Harvard community. Meanwhile, though, still a last bit of work to do to finish up!

Rachel writes: four of five thesis chapters complete!

I put Chapter 4 of my ALM thesis in the mail to my thesis director last Thursday. I realize that we are officially in the midst of the spring break, but I have doubled down this weekend on my fifth and final chapter, and I plan to complete it by mid-April.

A few years ago when I attended an orientation for the degree program, I learned that the ALM thesis length requirement was a minimum of 50 pages. I recall wondering how I could possibly manage to write that much about any subject. Now that I am actually writing my thesis, I am enjoying the freedom of what is effectively an unrestricted length requirement. In my coursework, I found that I often struggled with keeping my research papers within a length requirement (eg, maximum 10 pages, etc); and I hesitate to confess, I sometimes fudged margins just a bit or shuffled some content to the end-notes in order to get in all that I wanted to say. But none of those papers were more than 25 pages long. My first thesis chapter alone is 46 pages. So far, I have written about 140 pages total. I believe that despite the minimum length requirement, most people submit final theses of between 60-75 pages. I’ve had no complaints or cautions about length per se; therefore I will keep writing to my heart’s content.

My scholalry cats

My two cats (see above) continue to occupy the space around my laptop as far as possible whenever I sit down to work. Somewhere I read that John Milton could not write without a purring cat nearby; however, these two sometimes drive me to the library for a fur-free interlude of writing.

One chapter to go!

Rachel writes: Third of five thesis chapters complete!

I am happy to report that I have completed three of five thesis chapters. Last week I received the third chapter back with comments from my thesis director; this weekend I have been preparing  to start the fourth chapter.

Are any of you incorporating translated material into your work? In my case, one aspect of my research involves a mid-nineteenth-century German personality who became a celebrity in Victorian England. Very little material was available on this person, in English or German. I did some digging, however, and found a book  through a German used-book seller online, which had a whole chapter on this person. When I received the book, I was thrilled to also find in the book a photograph of him, circa 1860. I had never seen his likeness reproduced anywhere else.

Aside from the thrill of finding a photograph of my research subject, I was faced with the problem of translating “fraktur” text, or black-letter. I have never studied German but have some knowledge of other European languages. . . some of us prepare for thesis-writing by taking a course in scholarly reading in a foreign language; since Harvard Extension did not offer such a course in German (though I have taken the Extension School’s French for scholarly reading course–wonderful experience), I found one at the Goethe Institute in Boston, not far from where I work. However, black-letter proved a problem for me. Again, a little digging on the Internet saved the day: I discovered software called Abbyy FineReader. You scan & upload your documents, and it will convert from black-letter into modern German, and from a PDF to a Word document, so you can edit. It’s really remarkable. So I was able to read & translate the German once I converted from the black-letter to a modern font.

So, two chapters to go. On schedule!

Rachel writes: Writing the ALM thesis–two of five chapters complete!

So far I’ve written two chapters (of five planned) of my ALM thesis, submitted them to my thesis director, and received them back with comments. I’m now working on my third chapter. My schedule allows for one chapter per month, so I plan on finishing all of the writing by mid-April. My thesis director prefers that I mail paper copies of chapters to him as I complete them, rather than send digital copies by email–I suppose that other thesis directors have their own preferences. But this routine suits me very well.

In my fantasies, I will finish early and graduate in May, but I think that will be pushing it. Alas, I need every day in my current schedule; so though I will nearly finish by that date, it won’t be quite early enough to meet the April 1 deadline set by the ALM office for submission of the completed thesis.

I am finding that it is very advisable that the bulk of one’s research should be complete before writing begins. I have had to run back to the Fine Arts and Widener libraries a number of times to check on things and go a bit deeper in some areas of my research. Another reason for researching thoroughly by taking notes early on from library materials is the dreaded “recall” notice, which compels you to return books requested by other library patrons. So it behooves you to take thorough notes and record the bibliographic data right away, just in case. Of course, the “recall” road runs both ways, and we can likewise request a book to be returned by a fellow scholar who has checked out a tome we must have for research . . .

Like many of us, I work full-time, so an overarching theme of being an Extension School student is actually finding the time to attend classes, research and write papers, and still do everything else we need to do. I am officially scheduled to graduate in November, and an interesting part of this arrangement is that I think it will leave me with the summer free, since my writing will have been complete by the end of the spring semester. Corrections, formatting, and binding will still remain to be done, however.

As you may know, the thesis isn’t complete until it’s been checked for format, printed, and bound, per the specifications of the ALM guide (the seventh edition of which is now on its way to you, if you are a degree candidate). So, since all of that finishing-up takes time, I will likely complete my writing by mid-April as planned, get the binding, etc, done as I can, and look forward to a mostly leisurely, laurel-resting summer.

Sol G. Writes, “A new year, a new you?”



We make them, we break them, we promise ourselves that this will be the year we study more, be more, try harder, lose weight, quit smoking, climb Mt. Everest, make that first million, return to our homeplanets in triumph, and win that pesky Nobel prize.

That’s the first of January. The first of, oh, say… March, we find ourselves back in the same bad habits, usually thanks to the same bad reactions to the same bad stresses. Nothing’s changed except our morale; we find ourselves beaten another year by our own inertia, which took over where our newfound energies flagged.
More and more, we’re learning that if you want to change your habits, it’s by tricking yourself into new defaults. We know all the tricks, by now. We know to make our goals small, achievable, realistic, and public. We know to make ourselves change how we eat by focusing on adding one positive thing instead of taking away a negative; we know to fight not for what we want, but for who we want to be. So how do we always end up in the same place?


Well, for one thing, we’re making the same old resolutions. It’s still about losing weight, it’s still about studying more, it’s still about the same actions and the same habits. Here’s another way to look at it. You can’t expect the same person to do something different when given the same situation and no new information. If you want different results, you need to change what you’re doing. If you want to lose weight, stop relying on a resolution to do it, because if you’re relying solely on willpower, it’s going to fail the first morning you realise that bed is a much more comfortable place than the gym at 5 AM. (Which shouldn’t take you long; if you don’t understand this concept, you may need a cat to help.) However, if you have a gym buddy picking you up at 5 AM whether you’re awake or not, preferably one who’s been doing the same routine for at least a few years, it’s harder to say no. Or you could force yourself: change your T pass from the linkpass to the trains-only, making you have to bike to the train station. It will suck in the wet weather, but you’ll get fit.


Most of our resolutions focus on improvement, and this makes me happy. Seriously, whether we succeed or not, it’s heartening to me that deep down, we WANT to be better people. We want to improve. And for those of you, like me, who are looking at radical career transformation this year, I came across this article, “New year, new identity,” about how to help make that transition work by weaving it effectively into the narrative of your life.  I think it also reflects on these little annual updates we try to make via resolutions. If we weave them coherently into our stories, we have to do them to still believe them true. I don’t want to get up at 5 AM to exercise- but I want to be someone who can, and that helps me do it. If I see it as an integral part of my narrative, it takes on meaning as part of who I am, and that makes it harder for the bed and the cat to keep me.


What helps you? Have you made any resolutions?



Rachel writes: “Structured Procrastination”–I’ll get to that eventually!

Have you ever wondered why, when you have a research paper to write, you suddenly get the urge to clean the refrigerator? Easy: because by comparison, psychologists tell us, a simple task permits gratification more quickly than a complex one. The fridge-cleaning lends an easily managed emotional snapshot of the sense of accomplishment which we want to end up with when the paper is completed.

When we perform a simple task such as cleaning the fridge, we thus avoid that nagging little twinge of inadequacy, always hovering in the background whenever we have any daunting task before us. Fridge-cleaning is the accomplishment-junkie’s quick-fix. Who knew? Of course if fridge-cleaning were at the top of your list, you might want to avoid that and do something with a quicker pay-off, such as writing your research paper. The idea is that you’d actually get quite a lot of stuff done, if incrementally, based upon the strategy of avoiding something else which is kind of fearsome.

John Perry, an emeritus philosophy professor at Stanford, won an Ig Nobel prize this year (see for a subject about which he first wrote 15 years ago and which he now calls  “Structured Procrastination.” Perry asserts that while procrastinating about a particular task, you can actually accomplish a range of other tasks in the meantime, while getting some diversion from the most daunting chore on your list.

In the essay, which is reprinted on his Web site, Perry begins by noting that he’d been meaning to write such an essay for months, and that he only found the time to write it because he had a  lot of other work to do.

Naturally I’m not advocating avoidance strategies. I think everyone should write and submit their papers on time. Schedule a bit ahead if you think you’ll need that extra chunk of time to get in some quality procrastination. You may end up with a both a brilliant paper and a clean fridge.

Rachel writes: Really Grass Roots — Occupy Harvard Yard

Undergraduate Michael and Extension School student Lee Ann greet the curious at the Occupy Harvard info table, Nov 12 2011.

One of the advantages of waiting a month for feedback after submission of my revised thesis proposal was that it coincided with the forming of the Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square. I was thrilled to be able to participate in one of the initial Occupy Boston marches, from Dewey Square to the Charlestown Bridge. Accompanying me was my daughter, a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University.

The assembled crowd was amazingly diverse: a large contingent from Boston’s Chinatown, representatives from a variety of unions, suburban and urban contingencies, young, old, middle-aged, all ethnicities.

When we reached the bridge, Boston police formed a barrier and prevented us from crossing. What happened next was a stunningly powerful and impromptu display of pure democracy in action—the crowd, using the “human mic” technique, discussed a range of positions, tactics, and opinions: Should we stay and attempt to force our way across the bridge, risking arrest and injury? Should we return to Dewey Square? Apparently an arrest had already taken place; should we stay and demand release? Rather than shout assent or disagreement at each speaker, assenting fingers were waved in the air; disagreement was expressed by lowered waving fingers. Everyone who had something to say was duly heard, and all opinions were carefully mulled before a consensus was finally reached. The moment was one of urgency and intensity, yet of thoughtfulness and caution, and I took a second to observe the reaction of the police officers, trying to sense what they must be thinking of this crowd with its leaderless, megaphone-less, finger-waving approach to intransigent police authority.

We marched back to Dewey Square to find hundreds of people linking arms around the perimeters of both Dewey Square and the square next to it, where a second, overflow encampment had been set up, to which the city of Boston objected. Hence the protective encircling of both camps, in the light of rumors of eviction and arrests to happen later in the evening. Indeed, 129 people were arrested around 2:00AM that night.

In my work as a photo editor for a college-textbook publisher, I acquire photographs for several economics titles. The other day I read a manuscript for one such tome, which purported to explain the current economic crisis by blaming regular folks for creating a demand for the sort of mortgages which turned out to be toxic. While I don’t know what textbook was used in the Econ course at Harvard from which scores of students walked out the other day in protest, I was struck by the bias in the text I read.

That walkout has led to an Occupy encampment in Harvard Yard, where there are now I’d say between 30 and 50 tents pitched. The university administration has decided that, for the safety of all, including students who live in buildings in the Yard, that access to the Yard will be limited to those who can present a Harvard ID at the one gate open for entrance and exit. Email notices regarding the restricted access to the yard have been sent to the Harvard community.

Yesterday when I arrived at that gate, I was met by a bouncer-like security official, to whom I showed my ID. I was able to breeze in, but there was a large crowd of onlookers milling about, including a Japanese TV crew. On my way to Widener Library, I stopped at the table set up near the tents, and spoke to the folks you see in the photo at the top of this post: Michael, an undergraduate in Harvard College, and Lee Ann, an Extension School student, who were welcoming the curious and answering questions.

Two students (I didn't catch their names) answer questions about Occupy Harvard.

My feeling is that those initial 70 or so students who drew focus upon the treatment of economic ideology within the academy are very brave to have done so, as are those who dare to camp in Harvard Yard for the duration. The inconvenience of being locked out of the Yard is outweighed by a sense of gratitude and a reassurance that our democratic spirit is alive at the grass roots (literally) and that we are witnessing that collective power in action in its purest, most elemental form.

A view of the Occupy Harvard encampment: Massachusetts Hall on the left; Harvard Hall on the right.

Now that I have passed the hurdle of thesis-proposal approval, and have been lucky enough to have a marvelously original professor sign on as my thesis director, I will hope to find a way to meaningfully integrate the writing and completion of my thesis with the exciting and compelling events happening right in our own back-Yard.

Rachel writes: ALM thesis proposal approved; thesis director assigned!

Thrilled to say that I am about to set off upon the final stretch of my ALM degree.

Last week Dean Schopf, humanities research advisor, let me know that she had approved my proposal, a second draft of which I had submitted on Oct 3, about a month after the initial submission. Dean Schopf rightly sent the first draft back to me for revision, having given me a very useful critique.

She reminded me that the potential thesis director, a professor who doesn’t necessarily know me or any of my previous academic work, will likely be reading the proposal, and that what he or she will see first is the “research problem” outlined in the proposal’s first pages–hence it behooves us to imagine the writing’s impact from the perspective of the eyes of such a reader. In a sense, you are making a pitch to someone who has never given any thought to the subject at hand–or at least in the way you are framing it–therefore you’ll need to write with the notion of making your case to the uninitiated.

I advise everyone, first, to carefully follow the instructions in the ALM guide regarding all aspects of the thesis-proposal submission process, including both formatting and issues of substance. Don’t simply model your proposal upon the example proposals included in the ALM guide–I found enough variation among these to cause me to question what was appropriate in my case, especially since my subject is on the interdisciplinary side. If you have questions about format, consult your research advisor rather than attempting a best guess–format mistakes too can cause your proposal to be sent back for more mustard, and that can consume big blocks of time in your schedule.

I’ll also mention, regarding schedule, that you should be prepared for waiting the full month or so which it takes to have the proposal read, commented upon, and returned for revision. Aside from routine matters, research advisors’ schedules can be affected by the unforeseen–illness, travel, office demands–which can also eat into one’s schedule. “Tentative” schedules are just that.

Luckily, within a day or so of hearing that my proposal was approved, Dean Schopf submitted it to a potential thesis director, who agreed to serve that very day. Part luck, yes, but Dean Schopf has an excellent sense of who among the Harvard faculty would be an appropriate match for a particular subject. So I suggest relying upon your research advisor’s knowledge of the lay of the land.

I work full time, so as with coursework, managing my schedule will be a challenge–I wonder at this point if I will be able complete the thesis in time for graduation in May 2012. Naturally my thesis director’s schedule will come into play; so considering all the variables, graduation in November may also be a possibility.

I will also mention that if you plan substantial work on your thesis proposal over the summer, remember that the Harvard libraries are on summer schedules, and hours are curtailed. That’s especially a problem since opening hours in the summer mirror typical office hours (9AM-5PM); so if you work full time, it’s hard to find a chance to actually get to the libraries. Of course, the Harvard library system’s Scan-and-Deliver service becomes essential at this point! Besides Scan-and-Deliver, regardless of season, I also make use of the Hollis online catalog, create a list of call numbers before trips to Cambridge, and plan my library visits like surgical strikes.

Meanwhile if anyone has any comment, feedback, input regarding his or her own experience with thesis-proposal submission, I would love to hear about it! Please feel free to leave a comment right here!