In the M.A. program that I am taking, students have a choice: they can either do a thesis (9 credit hours) at the end of their program, or they can do an independent reading project and take two extra elective classes. Now of course there are academic requirements that need to be met to qualify for the thesis track (certain GPA, permission of the program coordinator, etc), but assuming the student qualifies, why would they choose the thesis or non-thesis option?
Usually, the thesis track is chosen if the student wishes to continue on for doctoral or post-graduate studies. Usually, the thesis track is chosen if the student has been tailoring his courses and coursework to fit a specific theme that lays the groundwork for, and builds towards, doing a 100 page thesis on the topic.
There is of course a very pragmatic question that students may consider: which one is more work? True, the thesis is 100-120 pages and a year of study and writing, but sometimes that actually ends up being less work than 6,000 pages of reading for the reading project and two electives, especially if the electives are “new” topics for the student. Sometimes course work is actually more time intensive than a sustained thesis project.
An existential question also needs to be considered: Do I love the topic enough to spend a year writing about it? If nothing else, the thesis project is an exercise in perseverance in which the student has to just have the endurance to make it to the end. Sometimes topics are chosen that just won’t hold the interest of the student for that length of time.
I have one class left this semester, and the plan has always been to start my thesis after Christmas. I’m just now starting to question that plan. For the most part, I still know that the thesis is the track I’m headed toward.
I know I have already put a lot of hours into my subject, and have tried to tailor my papers for my other courses to overlap with my thesis topic.
I know that the sustained writing project of the thesis will be an excellent exercise that will help to improve my writing, both academic and creative. If I can’t write a 100 page thesis, what makes me think I can write and complete a novel?
I know that the thesis track will offer more flexibility in terms of spreading out my workload. Instead of gearing up for “intensive” week-long modular classes, I can pace my thesis to have roughly the same amount of work each week. This will be particularly helpful as I try to re-discover a healthy school-life balance.
I think the biggest thing I’m struggling with is the existential question. I worry that I’ll finish the thesis and never want to read Barth ever again. On the other hand, that might be a good thing, as it will push me to discover new theologians and new theological traditions.
I’m in the home stretch, but it’s been a long journey.
Part of me wants to just find the short-cut to the end.
It’s a good tired.
It’s the satisfied tired of having worked hard and accomplished much.
And even though I’m tired, I am happy. I love theology. I love studying. And even though this year has been my year of chaos, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I have learned a whole bunch about what I’m actually capable of.
I’ve learned that the project management and time management skills I learned in the secular world have a place and a use in my spiritual and educational life.
I’ve learned that theological reflection and academic study is a valid and important way to praise and worship and glorify Jesus: the Word made Flesh.