To Thesis or Not to Thesis, That is the Question

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 tired.

I’m in the home stretch, but it’s been a long journey.

I’m tired.

Part of me wants to just find the short-cut to the end.

I’m tired.

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.

  • Susan B.

    Yeah.,…thesis……..take a good break and pray and rethink it all…….but yeah……thesis. I suspect there is doctrinal work in your future and better to be safe than sorry. Thesis…………?? Yeah……….thesis….

    • CWtheology

      Susan,
      I’d hope that further education or not, that doctrinal work would be in future! Now doctoral work, that might be a different story. LOL! Best typo ever!

  • Susan B.

    Hahahahaha….yup, when I make a typo it is usually a classic!! hahaha When I am this tired I should not be allowed near a keyboard!! Glad I could give you a chuckle, even an inadvertent one. haha

  • Elizabeth D.

    One pretty good piece of advice I got at some point was to choose (this for a PhD diss, but I think it still applies here) your second-favorite thing. Because at a certain point, yes, you’re going to hate it. You might even grow to hate it so much that you don’t want to work on it any more afterwards. So I sort of feel like the main question isn’t “do I love this enough to spend so much time with it?” because (for me, at least), there are tons of those things. I’ve got more “oh I wish I could write a book about X” topics in me than I’ll ever have time to write in a long career. But the real question is “can I live with it if I get to the end of the next year/five years/etc. and never want to think about this again?” Now, maybe there will still be much enduring love for decades to come, but in case there isn’t you don’t want to feel like you’ve spoiled your favorite toy.

  • Erin

    Hmmm..well, I think you’re totally capable of doing a thesis, and it certainly would look good on PhD applications!

  • Alison

    Personally – I plan to do the thesis option in my MA program, even though there’s a decent likelyhood that I may not go further (would have to be an online and part time program because I don’t intend to change careers or leave my T-T librarian position) but that’s because I would feel like I took the easy option if I didn’t. I think part of it comes from my “guilt” that my library science program didn’t even allow us the option (before my time they offered a choice between a thesis, a comprehensive exam, or a capstone portfolio, but apparently everyone was picking the portfolio so they decided everyone would do that) so I feel like I graduated with one Masters degree without writing a thesis, I’d better not finish another without writing one!

    But for more general (not specific to me or you) thoughts on the subject – I also think for everyone that it’s always best to choose the option that gives you the most options later. Even if someone was absolutely convinced they wouldn’t want to go on for the phd, I would still probably suggest to them the thesis option just because it leaves that door open for them later.

    I don’t actually have a lot of specific thoughts for you personally – other than based on reading your blog for a while, and your interest in such things, I have the feeling you might feel regrets later if you went with the other option. (Plus like you said – I also really do wonder if the thesis option might not actually be “easier” in some ways (I’ve thought that about my own program as well)… at least you can spread things out better and gear your schedule to your own life)

  • http://twitter.com/RtRDH RodRogueDemonHunter!

    Amanda,

    A thesis will be so much better for you in the long run. Trust me. :-)

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