Dissertations and Theses Year-in-Review, 2021-22

Today, the Graduate Center is gearing up for the first in-person Commencement since June 2019, a ceremony that will celebrate graduates from three academic years. It has been a long time coming.

We now have a new president, a new provost, and new leadership across the institution as CUNY undertakes a strategic roadmapping process to develop its next master plan. There is a spirit of transformation hovering over the university lately, but today we happily return to our time-honored tradition with all of the pomp and circumstance we’ve missed during the (ongoing) pandemic. While I won’t be there to join the festivities at the Barclays Center, I am pleased to continue the library’s tradition of celebrating our graduates by highlighting the culminating works that they have worked so hard to complete.

This year, the Mina Rees Library accepted 461 new graduate works into our collection: 336 doctoral dissertations, 8 doctoral capstone projects, 78 master’s theses, and 38 master’s capstone projects. (N.B. While all doctoral graduates are required to deposit a dissertation or capstone project with the library, some master’s degree programs do not require a deposit, so these numbers won’t  represent the full range of graduates—for that, see the final program.) The 2021-22 academic year also brought the first thesis deposit from the M.S. Program in Nanoscience (“A Python Implementation of the Quasi-Harmonic Approximation: Ab-Initio Study of the Thermoelastic Properties of Magnesium Oxide and Calcium Oxide,” Adewume Bakare, June ‘22).

Once again, the Ph.D Program in Psychology accounts for the most dissertations deposited (49), followed by Anthropology (22), English (19), Music (18)—and a four-way tie between Biochemistry (16), Biology (16), Physics (16), and Sociology (16). For the master’s programs, the library received a whopping 43 theses and capstone projects from Liberal Studies, followed by Data Analysis & Visualization (15), Cognitive Neuroscience (12), Linguistics (10), and Political Science (10).

All of these are deposited in CUNY Academic Works (please, go read them!), though some are not immediately available to the public due to their embargo settings. Graduate authors may elect to restrict public access to their work for up to two years, and this year 36% of them opted to do so. Researchers may place an interlibrary loan request with the Graduate Center Library to access embargoed dissertations and theses.

As you browse this year’s dissertations, theses, and capstone projects by program, you’ll find the usual variety of subjects and research methods across disciplines that makes the Graduate Center so special. I try to highlight those that caught my eye when reviewing their format to give a sense of what our graduates are producing. No, I don’t read them all, and yes, these necessarily reflect my own interests!

Two dissertations tackle Harlem in the 1960s: Maya Harakawa’s “After the Renaissance: Art and Harlem in the 1960s” (Ph.D., Art History, June ‘22) is framed as the first art historical exploration of Harlem after the 1920s-30s, and Dane Ruffin’s “Past-Futures of Harlem: Black Urban Space at the Limits of Spatial Justice,” looks closely at grassroots neighborhood development plans to understand  (Ph.D., Anthropology, February ‘22).

Romm Lewkowicz (Ph.D., Anthropology, September ‘21) offers an ethnographic account of migrant securitization in Europe through an exploration of Eurodac in “Documenting the Undocumented: Experimenting Europe at the Biometric Migrant Archive,” one of several works addressing migration, migrants, and refugees. Sally Sharif’s investigation into peacebuilding in Colombia is one of many whose work is focused on conflict beyond our borders in “Demobilizing and Reintegrating Ex-Combatants: Explaining Success and Failure on the National and Subnational Levels” (Ph.D., Political Science, September ‘21).

The library accepted works ranging from the labor of off- and off-off-Broadway theatre to an examination of Marlon Riggs and the documentary form; from infant sleep to climate change and corporate behaviors; racism in social work practice and an analysis of police shootings data; the relationship between changing pedagogies in British art schools and the rise of underground music in the 1960s–80s to a reconsideration of modernist aesthetics and Lou Reed (coincidentally, NYPL’s groundbreaking Lou Reed exhibit opens today at Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center). From decentralized waste management to early modern scenic design in Spain to the use of metaphor in psychoanalysis, researchers at the Graduate Center have it covered.

Students at CUNY are drawn to the history of CUNY, and this year’s submissions are no exception. At the doctoral level, Anna Zeemont (Ph.D., English, June ‘22) takes a deep dive into a tumultuous decade in NYC in “‘The Act of the Paper’: Literacy, Racial Capitalism, and Student Protest in the 1990s.” At the master’s level, Clarisa Gonzalez (M.A., Women’s and Gender Studies, February ‘22) waded into unprocessed institutional archives at the Graduate Center to compile  “A History of the Center for the Study of Women and Society, 1975–2015,” while Nicole Haiber (M.A., Liberal Studies, June ‘22) considers the rise and expansion of criminal justice programs at CUNY in “The Cop in Your Head: Criminal Justice Education, Liberalism, and the Carceral State.”

As for the sciences, I try to highlight graduates that describe their research in ways that I, a library scientist, can follow—a win for science communication! Jennifer Zhu (Ph.D., Biology, February ‘22) elegantly explains the work conducted in Jamaica Bay that informs their work in “Understanding Species Interactions and Their Impacts in Restored Communities,” while Ian Liefer (Ph.D., Physics, June ‘22) takes us through the basics of network models and symmetry  to deftly explain the significance of a novel approach to biological networks in “Symmetry-Inspired Analysis of Biological Networks.”

Across programs, machine learning seems to have taken hold as a subject of investigation for students. We have machine learning and drug discovery; machine learning in mobile robotics; machine learning and text-based sarcasm detection;  machine learning for predicting the onset of Type II diabetes; the list goes on. Fortunately, we have an astute analysis of this very phenomenon from Emmanuel Moss (Ph.D., Anthropology, September ‘21), who investigates the societal conditions that allow machine learning to gain broad influence across domains in  “The Objective Function: Science and Society in the Age of Machine Intelligence.”

Speaking of machines, capstone projects from graduates of the M.S. Program in Data Analysis & Visualization present unique challenges for the library’s preservation efforts, as they often include complex digital components that go beyond a single PDF file. Students might submit Tableau projects, Jupyter notebooks, code repositories, and project websites built with a variety of underlying data tools, along with a unifying white paper; the library is tasked with making sure they are appropriately documented and packaged in archival formats so projects will remain legible even as technologies change. To do this, we draw on our experience with “non-traditional” or digital dissertations to develop a preservation strategy for each case. (Want to learn more about dissertations that go beyond a single text? Join the Digital Dissertations Group on the CUNY Academic Commons!)

Not surprisingly, given our location and the public-facing format of the works, many datavis capstone projects tackle issues related to civic life in NYC. “Data for Power: A Visual Tool for Organizing Unions” by Shay Culpepper (M.S., Data Analysis & Visualization, June ‘22) draws on the author’s experience unionizing technology workers at the New York Times (view the tool itself), while Joanne Ramadani (M.S., Data Analysis & Visualization, February ‘22) created an interactive explainer for the NYC budget in “Slices of the Big Apple: A Visual Explanation and Analysis of the New York City Budget” (see the interactive narrative). Jennifer Cheng (M.S., Data Analysis & Visualization, February ‘22) explores landlord incomes data in “Disrepair, Displacement and Distress: Finding Housing Stories Through Data Visualizations” to “try to pinpoint buildings exhibiting indicators of speculation” as a means to locating residents who may need assistance (see the project website). I can’t wait to see what new forms of public engagement our students will create when the new Center for Digital Scholarship and Data Visualization opens on the concourse level of the library later this year.

With that, let’s get to this year’s milestones:

Longest Dissertation: From Rulay to Rules: Perceptions of Prison Life and Reforms in the Dominican Republic’s Traditional and New Prisons” (Jennifer Pierce, Ph.D., Criminal Justice, September ‘21) takes the honor at 511 pages.

Shortest Dissertation: Solving Multiple Inference in Graphical Models” (Cong Chen, Ph.D., Computer Science, September ‘21) comes in at just 58 pages.

Longest Title: Effect of the Virtual Simulation Paired Prebriefing-Debriefing Strategy on Nursing Students’ Self-Efficacy Perceptions and Virtual Simulation Performance in the Care of Patients Experiencing a Myocardial Infarction” (Laura M. Penalo, Ph.D., Nursing, June ‘22)

Shortest Title: Girl Friends” (Camila Santander, M.A., Liberal Studies, February ‘22)

As we head into summer, unsure of the institutional and personal transformations that lie ahead, let’s savor this moment of ritual and join in celebrating the extraordinary accomplishments of all of our graduates in this long overdue ceremony.

Congratulations to the class of 2020, 2021, and 2022!


About the Author

Roxanne Shirazi is assistant professor and dissertation research librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she also serves as project director for the CUNY Digital History Archive and oversees the college’s institutional archives.