There and Blank Again: A Thesis Story In which our hero fights the legendary academic monster.

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In the ancient lands of Academia lived a fierce and terrible beast called the Thesis. It was big and it was ugly. From head to toe it was covered in complex topics and its claws were made of cutting-edge research. Its hunger for knowledge could not be sated and its thirst for information could not be slaked. It is said that it could swallow entire student populations whole. For the longest time the Thesis was thought to be a mythological creature devised by institutions of learning to keep their students in line.

No one knows from whence this fell beast came but it was rumoured that it owed its existence to the Professors, the wisest men and women of the land who had created it to curb students’ natural tendencies to shirk work and regurgitate information learned by rote. From tales handed down the ages it is said that the Professors merely wanted to challenge their students, to make them think laterally, to produce outstanding research, and to add to the growing store of human knowledge.

Deep within a cave of a thousand corridors and passages, the Professors pooled their collective knowledge and created the Thesis. They gave to its creation their analytical powers, their desire to know how the world worked, their talents for writing research proposals and securing funding, and their great powers of cross-referencing. Satisfied with their work the Professors opened the cave and let their students enter the Thesis’s academic maze.

To escape the maze each student would be required to produce an academic paper that answered a chosen research question. Upon successful completion each student would bring their work to the Thesis. Good, diligent students with interesting and relevant papers would be awarded with high marks, released from the maze, and given the opportunity to progress to the next level of learning. The unlucky few who failed would be eaten whole on the spot by the Thesis. This system worked well for a number of years but soon the Thesis could not be satisfied by the small offering of students it devoured every year. It hungered for more words, longer essays, and more challenging research topics. It wanted intellectual engagement with abstract problems and it desired lucrative research grants. As time passed, the foul creature’s curiosity and intelligence grew and it plotted it escape.

One day, while the Professors were on sabbatical leave, the Thesis decided the time had come for it to escape its cave. It let out a fearsome roar and crawled from its dark cave onto the bright plains of Academia. The ground shook and the wind howled for the coming of the Thesis was like the coming of Armageddon. The Thesis consumed peer-reviewed journals, minor and major dissertations, and entire libraries by the mouthful. It ate electronic backups and no cloud storage was free from its voracious appetite.

The Professors, upon hearing their monstrosity unleashed cut their sabbatical short and sped back to Academia. They used every cunning method they could devise to chain it. Try as they might they could not capture the Thesis again. The creature had become smarter than them and it escaped all of their tests, studies, and reports. They posited, debated, and presented papers to no avail. They held conferences and tried to lure the thesis into their intellectual traps but the Thesis continued to elude them. Over and over again they developed new fields of research and study and left them unexplored as bait but the wily beast would sniff out their intentions and avoid the academic cul-de-sacs intended to ensnare it.

Whenever the Professors got close to the Thesis they tried to staple, pin, and bind it. They wrestled it through filing cabinets and deep archives but nothing could hold it for too long. Angered into madness, the Thesis turned on its creators and ate them one by one. After it had gorged itself on every academic paper it could find it crawled back into its cave to sleep off its greed.

A dark time came to Academia with all the Professors gone. Thesis Supervisors, an order of guardians whose sole duty it was to ensure that no research activity was done to awaken the Thesis, was formed. Although they held many academic powers the Thesis Supervisors were not as powerful as the Professors. They could not kill the Thesis or chain it; all they could do was guard against its awakening. In a watchful peace they clipped overly broad topics and prescribed word counts to discourage research that could rekindle the Thesis’s destructive curiosity. They warned and counseled; they provided feedback; they set deadlines for submissions to prevent research topics from dragging on too long since a student’s anxiety and stress levels could awaken the Thesis.

For a long time the Thesis slept and the land of Academia prospered. The Thesis Supervisors’ vigilance grew lax as the years of tranquility passed by and, soon, all fear and knowledge of the Thesis passed from all existence. However, as we all know, where there is a sleeping dragon there will always be someone to tickle it.

In September, 2013, after months of reading about corporate social responsibility in South Africa; diligently pouring over ancient legal manuscripts about company law; corporate citizenship and  corporate governance codes; and coming up against numerous conceptual barriers, a deep rumbling was felt in the earth. Brushing it off as tremor I burrowed deeper into academic writings on companies and their legal responsibilities to the communities in which they operate. From the onset I encountered difficulties with narrowing down my topic and soon enough my research time began to slip away. I read and re-read my sources in a desperate attempt to pin down what it was I was trying to say but my core idea always hovered on the edge of the ether escaping my desperate fumbles. Once, twice, three times, and even a fourth time I had to stop and start all over; I went there and I was blank again.

And then, a breakthrough occurred; I found the essence of my research paper. But just as I was beginning to make progress on my research topic the rumbling came again, this time it was much stronger. The winds slowly picked up and the sun beat a hasty retreat. Darkness, the likes of which I have never seen before, enveloped the world and an ear-splitting shriek brought the world out of its age-long peace.

The Thesis was awake. And it was hungry.

“THESIS SPARTA!” Click on the image to access my complete research paper.