Interview conducted by Johanna Pieper & Paola Gosio
Marcella Zandonai is an Euroculture alumni (cohort 2015-2017) from Trento, Italy. She spent her first semester at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and continued her Euroculture studies in Bilbao, Spain. After doing some volunteering, travelling in New Zealand and working for a local NGO in Trento, she joined Euroculture again in 2020 as the Assistant Coordinator at the University of Göttingen.
Euroculture Magazine (EM): What were your expectations when you applied/started your job position as professor or coordinator and does it match the reality?
Marcella Zandonai(MZ): I have to say that I started my job in a very unrealistic period of our Earth´s life. The 2020 health crisis completely changed my perception and my work tasks as well. When I started, there were actually hints of a return to normal life around July 2020. However, a couple of months later, the virus came back and I started working remotely I only had a vague idea of how my job was supposed to be, since I did my MA in Euroculture as well. I was seeing my (now) ex-colleagues doing a lot of work, being outside, traveling, being with students, and enjoying themselves. I supposed that in a utopian world my job would be hectic and I would be always on the move, meeting up with people and exchanging smiles with students.
So, my answer is: no, the job expectations did not match reality. But unfortunately, there is no one to blame. Maybe it would be easier if there was but…oh well: such is life.
When I applied I thought that the first wave would have been the first and only. But then this turned out not to be the case. We are living in uncertain times.
The second interview of the section “SOS Thesis: Alumni4Students” presents Maeva Chargros, who tells us about her Euroculture experience and gives students an insight into her thesis. Maeva is French and was in the 2017-2019 Euroculture cohort. Before that, she did a BA in Nordic Studies at the University of Caen, France, with an Erasmus in Tartu, Estonia. Before enrolling in the MA, she worked for start-ups and NGOs all over Europe, gaining some experience in the field of digital communications. Maeva started her Euroculture path at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, moving to the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, for her second semester. She was so impressed by the atmosphere of the small Czech town that she decided to spend her third semester (Research Track) and eventually begin a PhD there. When asked about the reasons that led her to apply for Euroculture, she simply said that she wanted to get a MA in something related to European Studies, which could lead her to a job in political communication.
Euroculturer Magazine: How would you describe Euroculture to future students? And what does it represent to you?
Maeva Chargros: Euroculture is a cosy bubble – but in a good way. It does not cut you off from the rest of the world, instead, it is quite the opposite. It facilitates your peregrinations, it helps you figure out what you want your next steps to be, and everything is done so that once the bubble pops open, you land on your two feet from a safe height. So, it’s a cosy bubble that turns you into a cat… Sort of…
In this new section of the Euroculturer Magazine, we interview alumni who have much more to offer than an insight on the Master itself and can actually give many tips to current students regarding their own thesis writing process.
The first one is Ashanti Collavini, who was part of Euroculture 2017-2019. She spent her first and second semester respectively at the University of Udine, in Italy, her home country, and at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. For the third semester, she chose the research track at UNAM, the Mexican partner university. Before Euroculture, Ashanti did a BA in Foreign Languages and Literatures (English and Spanish) in Italy. She applied for Euroculture because she wanted to broaden her studies towards other subjects and gain international experience. She also wanted to live and study in foreign countries, improve her language skills and experience new cultures and academic systems. Ashanti is currently undertaking a second Master’s degree at the University of Trieste, but she is also the current Euroculture coordinator for the University of Udine.
Euroculturer Magazine: How would you describe Euroculture to future students? And what does it represent to you?
Ashanti Collavini: I would describe Euroculture as a unique opportunity of life enrichment. One of those that gives students a set of skills and knowledge that they probably wouldn’t be able to fully develop by studying only in their own countries. At least, this is true for me! Euroculture represents a life-changing experience, since each country I studied and lived in shaped who I am today.
Welcome to Thesis Hell! This is what I like to call the three, five, six, maybe even more months you spend writing your Master Thesis. People have told you about this phase in your life, they have warned you, scared you and told you it will be the worst part of your student life. But The Euroculturer is here to help you survive Thesis Hell and enter Submittal Heaven with 15 easy tips.
It is really not that important
Most people will try to tell you otherwise. They will insist that this is the most important paper you ever write and if you cannot submit in time, you have to pay fees and if you do not submit at all, you will end up unemployed for the rest of your life.
These ideas are not helpful when you are already lying awake every night in a state of panic. Because really: it is not that important. Make this your mantra. Yes, you should care about your thesis – but it is not the end of the world.
You have done this many times before
…just with smaller case studies.
If you are panicking over the ground-breaking scientific contribution your MA thesis asks from you (and you will at some point), remember that you are not a freshman. Most probably you have written so many theses and papers in your university life that you cannot even remember a third of their titles. You have done all this before. A thesis is a thesis is a thesis. Your case studies might have been smaller, your literature more limited and your time frame only a few weeks, but you have done this work many times before and you have not failed. You know your craft and you will succeed this one more time as well.
Make it your project
Most teachers try to guide you into Thesis Purgatory by asking you to pick a topic you are passionate about and write your thesis about that. There might be a slight chance that your passions are actually outside the realm of your studies but even then you can make the thesis your project. Surely there is something you have been wondering about, something you want to dissect. Well, here is the good news: You get a few months of time, a fully-equipped library and two supervisors to help you find the answers to those questions you have been thinking about.
Don’t think: they are making me write this shit so that I get a degree. Think: Now I am going to find out about this, I have excellent prerequisites and I will even earn a degree for pursuing my interest.
Get a team
Everyone has two supervisors, some have the good ones that answer every email, give your tips and help you advance the project. (Like mine.) Other have more, let’s say, absent supervisors. But regardless of which one you have, think of your thesis as a challenge you will master in a team. Your supervisors are the more serious part of the team; you are the captain. But three is not enough for a team: get a pep talker and an academic guide.
When I wrote my thesis, I had a very patient friend who I could send all my angry texts to. She would reply with loving words of encouragement. Every evening, I would inform her how many words I had written today. Sometimes it was 34. She would say, “Every word is a step forward”. She would also feed me when I was unable to get my act together and she would go and party with me when I reached a milestone in thesis writing.
I was also lucky to be friends with someone involved and excited by academic research. Whenever I met her for lunch, I got a flow feeling afterwards. I could just work at the double speed because she had guided me and told me what my next steps should be. It is much easier to accept a friend’s guidance than the ones of your supervisors – who will in the end, grade you, after all. ¨
Find people who can encourage you during your thesis writing. Build your team and let them help you. You have to write your thesis alone but you can have company on the way. (Do not forget to mention these people in your acknowledgments though.)
Write for instant panic relief
Many of us read and research and think. We do not start writing because “I still do not know enough”. But your time is dedicated to thesis writing not thesis procrastinating so do not make this mistake. It leads to you stressing when others tell you they are on page 37. It makes you anxious because 60 pages seem so much. Stop reading right now and start writing. Begin with the easiest part, regardless whether that is the introduction of chapter four or only the cover page, but start writing. Having five pages down gives instant panic relief, I promise. If there is one thing that will be in the way of submitting your thesis it is perfectionism. Always remember: Done is better than perfect.
Don’t be scared of the fancy words
Establish relationships to conceptualize and theorize the pan-European issues of contemporary times in a broader perspective? The art of professional bullshitting uses a lot of fancy words and they can be scary.
Remember that a definition is not more than deciding what a word means, a concept is not more than explaining an idea and to historize something means you tell me how something was before today. They’re fancy words, but they will not bring you down.
Set the right margins from the beginning
In most social sciences and humanities, professors seem to think they will need a lot of space to actually write corrections on the sides of your paper. Regardless of the fact that we have long ago entered the age of digital theses, you are still obliged to leave some 3 centimeters blank on your paper and to format it 1.5-spaced. This is a good thing! Make sure to set every document you work in in the right margins and put in your correct footnotes from the beginning. This will make your paper look longer, make you calmer, and save you time in the end. Eighty pages sound way too much when you work single-spaced.
Use a citation software
Using a citation software is going to save you a lot (!) of time and energy. I do not see why you should manually manage 214 books and articles when there are excellent programs that can do it for you. At some of our universities, these programs are even free. Check with your library and take an introductory course in how to use Citavi, RefWorks and all the other awesome inventions that save you blood, sweat and tears. You will not regret it.
Do your share every day
If you are going through Thesis Hell, keep going. Do not take days off (except weekends), but do your share every day. It will give you a feeling of security that you have done everything you could. Slow and steady wins the race.
Count your pages
It is relieving to know how far you have come. Count your pages and feel free to share with your above-named team that you have a third already. But please, spare your fellow prisoners in Thesis Hell from your page numbers.
Separate work and play by studying somewhere else but at home
Some people say they can study and write at home. For the other 95 percent of the world’s population I suggest: Try simulating a work environment by studying somewhere else than your home. You go to your thesis every morning and you leave it there every evening. In the meantime, you are a free person.
Build in filters to minimize collateral damage
A lot of thesis anxiety is rooted in not knowing if what you wrote is good enough. We have all heard the stories about those that failed or got a re-write. If you want to minimize the risk of failing make sure you have a critical proof reader and carefully read through their comments. You might want to ask different people for different chapters: your maths student friend for the statistics and your English teacher aunt for the overall flow of your text. Also, ask your supervisors if they are willing to read single chapters before you submit the complete draft. A supervisor who has read and accepted single chapters will tell you before the final deadline if s/he thinks you are going down Fail Road.
Enjoy the privilege of being a student
Thesis Hell does not have to be the worst part of your life at university. On the contrary, it is now that you have so much experience that you easily navigate through the campus jungle and can take best advantage of everything student life offers. Work hard and play hard – it might be the last half year you can do that.
Put things into perspective
Do not think that Thesis Hell is a pleasant place just because you follow these tips. No, there will still be days with nervous breakdowns when you are crying in bed. There will be hours in which you are staring at your computer screen wondering why you chose this topic after all. There will be times when others have stolen your favorite library seat.
There are ups and downs. They come and go. There is no way to avoid them, make sure to keep a healthy perspective.
So you think you are the poorest thing on the earth because you have to write that stupid thesis. All your first-year-friends get to go out all the time and play.
Stop pitying yourself – it is not helpful. Put things into perspective. Do you know someone who is really sick? Heard of someone who cannot find housing? I assume you do know about people living in war-stricken regions. Yes, right: you do not have a problem! You have a challenge that you can and will master. And everyone is on your side.
Submit and CELEBRATE!
Submitting your MA thesis is a milestone in your life. If you are not pursuing an academic career, this is the last paper you ever wrote for university. You should treat this event accordingly. Have a graduation ceremony, throw a party, submit and celebrate like there is no thesis defense! (I mean, there isn’t at many universities…)
Helen Hoffmann, Creative Editor
Helen is from Germany and studied BA History and Gender Studies. She studied Euroculture in the University of Göttingen and Uppsala University, and did an internship in the PR department of the German-Swedish Chamber of Commerce. Her passion is to dive deep into the Swedish-German relationship and deconstruct the German über-idyllic image of Sweden. This summer, she works with visitors coming to Stockholm. Her interests are film, literature, Liechtenstein, the Eurovision Song Contest (and not ashamed to admit it), and everything printed – even TV magazines. She’s also fascinated with communication, marketing and commercials, socio-cultural trends and psychological phenomena. And of course, her interests include the Swedish Royal Family (she will never forgive Jonas Bergström for what he did).