As Kenyon seniors prepare to graduate, they are working to complete their senior exercises, commonly referred to as “comps,” which represent a culmination of a student’s work in their major. However, many of this year’s seniors are dealt the difficult task of navigating comps online, as formerly in-person research conferences and other components of the process have gone virtual.
While comps requirements differ between departments, most involve a presentation at a research conference. This year, however, there are added challenges to giving such presentations, such as navigating the screen sharing setting on Zoom or Google Meet. While preparing for his physics presentation, Ezra Moguel ’21 explained that difficulties he encountered while practicing screen sharing lowered his confidence for the event. “It was also hard to try and figure out a time to practice my presentation with my friends because we’re all tired of being on Zoom calls,” he added.
Moguel also noted that some departments eliminated the conference from their capstone requirements completely. Referring to his fall sociology comps, he said, “It was super stressful to have the entire basis of your comps project change, going from a 25-minute presentation to a 6-page paper really threw me for a loop.”
Further stressors for seniors preparing comps presentations have included conducting research remotely, as many were forced to work from home last semester. Che Pieper ’21 said he faced difficulty in finding and accessing sources for his religious studies comps while studying remotely last semester. However, Pieper said his research was made possible by his professors’ support. “There was a degree to which my experience of doing research from home was more enlightening to what research looks like post-college, without the support of an institution like Kenyon behind you,” Pieper wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Having a strong departmental community helped a lot here — faculty individually supported students where Kenyon’s benefits were no longer able to.”
Associate Professor of History Eliza Ablovatski, chair of the Department of History, noted that a silver lining of holding virtual presentations is that students are able to invite family and friends who are off campus. “I actually got an email from … an honors student who graduated a few years ago and is now in graduate school, asking about attending one of the panels,” she said.
While holding conferences online allows for a broader audience, Ablovatski noted that the intimacy of certain in-person traditions is lost. During a typical year, for example, the history research conference usually concludes with a meal for seniors, faculty and guests. “It is very sad not to be able to celebrate their achievements over a shared meal this year, since that is usually one of the highlights of the department’s year,” said Ablovatski. Moguel agreed. “It was a lot less anxiety-inducing than giving a presentation in front of a room of people because I was just alone in my bedroom, but it felt less rewarding because of that as well,” he said.
While a virtual setting can limit connections between the speaker and the audience, Pieper found that the preparation for this year’s senior presentations strengthened connections between peers. “I do feel like that preparation was a lot more intimate, as we all got to know each other and support each other in our attempts to do academic work in a challenging time,” he said.