It’s the beginning of the fall semester at college. During my first class in World History, the professor hands out the course syllabus. I sigh with relief that the reading assignments don’t seem too overwhelming, and there are only two exams, a midterm and a final.
Then my mouth drops. There on the syllabus, appears that most dreaded of assignments, a RESEARCH PAPER . . . a 15-page typed RESEARCH PAPER. . . formatted in MLA style . . . with a minimum of five academic references (no blog posts or Wikipedia entries) . . . due on the last day of the semester at “High Noon.”
A sense of impending doom invades my body as the idea of such a demanding assignment permeates my brain. The longest paper I ever had to write before was ten pages, and I copied most of that from an old essay my sister wrote for an English class. Now, as I read the school’s policy on plagiarism found on the syllabus, I realize that I best not try that strategy again.
The professor mercifully dismisses class early. He must have known that we were all suffering from a little syllabus PTSD. Outside in the fresh air, I lament to one of my classmates about the term paper. She sniffs coldly as she casually comments, “No big deal. I had to write 20-page research papers in my honors courses last year”.
Feeling a bit deflated, I assertively challenge myself to the task. I WILL write this term paper, and it will be an excellent term paper. No, it will be the best term paper in the history of this school!
Fortified with a new sense of bravado, I read the rubric for the term paper found in the course syllabus. No sweat! Then I reason I still have 16 weeks before the paper is due. The best strategy is to learn a bit about world history before I choose a paper topic. Of course, I dismiss my professor’s suggestions that we could be surveying our textbook for term-paper ideas now.
Kept busy with multiple extracurricular activities, a part-time job, and an active social life, I take little notice of the weeks that pass by . . . until my history professor announces that our paper is due in a mere four weeks. “That can’t be!” I exclaimed to myself, “I was certain I had more time.” However, a quick perusal of my planner revealed that not only was my term paper due in four weeks, but my other unfeeling professors also saddled me with their assignment deadlines that very same week, right before final exams!
As I quietly breathe through a mild panic attack, I resolve to cancel my social plans that weekend to hit those books. However, a nasty case of the flu renders me far too queasy to focus on my reading. As I grab a tissue and a swig of flu medicine, I calm myself with the assurance that Thanksgiving weekend is approaching, and I will have four full days to work on my term paper. I firmly proclaim, “This coming Thanksgiving weekend will be the most productive weekend in the history of my school!”
The Thanksgiving Challenge
On the day before Thanksgiving, I follow through on my promise to pick up my sister from the airport. Naturally, her flight is delayed for three hours, and I forgot to bring my textbooks, so I was not productive during that downtime. No worries, I inform my family that I am too busy with schoolwork to help with Thanksgiving preparations. Of course, my sister reminds me that she is also in school as she prepares turkey stuffing and bakes pumpkin pies.
Paying no mind, I head into the basement where I will not be disturbed. I outline a study schedule that includes a one-hour break to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Mmmm . . . but the smell of that turkey keeps distracting me, as do the sounds of my relatives arriving. They all seem to be having so much fun, laughing, and indulging in my Mom’s delicious appetizers. After reading the same textbook page for the third time, I recognize the futility of my efforts, and I join my family in the festivities. As I plop down on the couch stuffed from all that turkey and pie, I rationalize that I am entitled to enjoy holidays. There are still three more days.
Early on Friday morning, I ignore my family’s discussion about bargain holiday shopping and head to the local library. After a few hours of productive reading, I pat myself on the back, convinced that I will get most of this term paper done this weekend. Just then, I run into an old friend whom I haven’t seen for a couple of years. We start chatting, which leads to a movie followed by dinner. Late that evening, I assure myself that tomorrow’s plans to attend a football game shouldn’t derail my mission too much. I resolve that I will wake up at 5 a.m. to work on my paper – which I don’t do. Who would have guessed I would have been stuck in post-game traffic for over four hours? Exhausted, I plop into bed late that night.
On Sunday morning, the last day of my Thanksgiving break, I run to the local library again. Closed! I hadn’t counted on that. As I head to the basement at home, my sister informs me that her friend can’t drive her to the airport and asks if I would. I reluctantly agree because I don’t want to hear again how she cooked, baked, and washed dishes on Thanksgiving Day while I did nothing to help. My favorite holiday movie is on TV when I get home, so I sit down and watch. This next week will be the most productive week in the history of my school.
Major drama with my friends distracts me for several days early in the week, and then I have to cram for a couple of quizzes at the end of the week. After my disappointing quiz performance on Friday, I realize with horror that my term paper is due on Monday at noon. I only have 72 hours to complete it, and I haven’t even selected a topic yet! Of course, that doesn’t stop me from going to a party with my friends that night.
On Saturday morning, I ceremoniously open my textbook and decide whatever prominent topic is addressed on those pages will be the subject of my term paper. Okay, it will be The Fall of the Roman Empire. Armed with a topic, I recall that my history professor never said we couldn’t use our textbook as a reference. Now, I head to the school library to find two encyclopedias and two more textbooks containing information on the Fall of the Roman Empire.
Typing my textbook chapter verbatim (in quotes, of course), I complete the first ten pages of the term paper. Whew! I hit the pillow on Saturday night, very relieved. The next day, I utilize my other four references similarly. However, a lot of it’s a repeat of the information I already have. By Sunday night, I have completed 15 pages.
I do manage to get up at 5 a.m. on Monday to finish my term paper. After exhausting all my references, I restate all the reference information in my own words and ditch the MLA formatting, which only yields another three pages. So, I widen my page margins, enlarge my font size, and restate my own words again. Finally, I’m in the middle of the 15th page. “Close enough!” I proclaim. As I email my paper to my professor at 11:59 a.m., I resolve that my NEXT term paper will be the best research paper in the history of this school.
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