Summer is coming! You have almost finished your exams at the University of Padua and your internship is nearing an end. You are so close to graduation and the beginning of your professional career - everything seems so beautiful. You feel like you are dreaming, after all the effort it took to get there. But, here is the last obstacle staring at you, right in the face - THE THESIS. The thesis is your very last university commitment. An arduous commitment in the midst of a whole system that basically works badly - for the students, that is.
In Italian universities, there are some preliminary steps before the actual writing, namely; thinking about a topic so that you may select a professor of a course who will be your thesis supervisor. However, what if the professor of your dreams is too busy or doesn’t like your proposal? But even worse, what if the professor doesn’t answer at all? Students’ conditions in this regard aren’t the best ones and the university system is aware of this. That's why they ask students to look for a thesis supervisor way in advance.
We all agree that the writing of a thesis takes time. You conduct your research, sort your things out and only then do you start writing, while paying attention to plagiarism and quotations. Yes, writing a 100-page thesis takes time, but students are asked to also consider the inefficiency of the university system in providing the right support, starting from professors’ commitments towards their students.
Once the preliminary phase is concluded, it’s your time to start writing - waiting for inspiration, the right words, the right form - if they come. In the meantime, students divide their time between thesis, exams to finish, and internships to complete. This often precludes them from securing time for themselves and their mental health. Meanwhile, they may also have to find time to cook something for themselves, shop for groceries, and clean their house.
The entire thesis-writing process is predicated on the presence of a professor who guides the student by sending feedback and corrections, or even suggestions. The level of their presence in your work, well, depends on the professor. Some of them want full control over the contents, over the style, over everything. While others acknowledge that the thesis is the only work that is completely yours and that you should fully express yourself through it.
Another problem is that some professors disappear during the entire process, only to remerge right before the university-set deadline to condemn your work as a disaster. They could have told it before, when you sent them the chapters to be corrected a month earlier, but they didn’t. Why? No one knows. They were too busy, we guess.
Professors’ unavailability overlaps with a famous Italian prerogative when it comes to the university and educational system in general: the culture of merit, essentially based on capitalism, causing a suicide every 16 hours among youths in Italy.
Students obsessively live university as a competition towards the standards imposed by the media that keep on elevating the “valedictorians” who graduated with honours in record time. What if you do not meet this socially normalised standard? Would you have failed in university, and in life? You cease to be a person, but become a number - which is the grade you got and the number of months it took you to reach the beloved graduation. As if the degree represented more a status than a means for growth of the individual.
Due to such unrealistic expectations, students experience university with anxiety and panic attacks that drag them into a void. They can no longer study, sleep, or think about anything else. University is the only fixed thought, leading to the death of the soul. The more this malaise grows, the more you are stuck. And the university? What does it do? It adds fees for you to pay because rightly, you are out of the course. Heaven forbid that the university comes to the aid of students by taking on the hardships it itself causes. Rather, it praises those who sacrifice everything - social life, mental health, sleep - on the altar of success. Success is what counts, who cares if you went on anti-anxiety drugs and psychological sessions to achieve it, granted you could afford them.
Tiring, huh? Well, the thesis here is a glimpse of light amongst the rottenness, the conclusive stage of your path. After all the struggles, you could ask yourself, “how do I find the strength to do this as well?” University is not purely all peaches and cream as common narratives would have us believe. It’s hard, we agree, but it shouldn’t be exhausting, not to the point of driving students to kill themselves.
Written by Benedetta De Rosa Edited by Christine Nanteza
Benedetta is a second-year student in Human rights and Multi-level governance at the University of Padova. She has a humanistic background and she wants to become a human rights advocate in the field of women's rights and gender equality. Follow Benedetta on Linkedin: Benedetta De Rosa and Instagram: benedetta_de_rosa