Factors that Facilitate or Hinder The Completion of a Thesis/Dissertation

What is it about a dissertation or a thesis that makes or breaks a student? Great students who are eager to learn, prostate who excel at their classes and desire to work in the world of academics are motivated and goal-oriented. And then comes the thesis (or dissertation) and everything stops. I have friends who have been ABD for 10 years. I have friends who get to the thesis component of their MA and flip out of the thesis track and replace it with extra courses. Is there a way to better prepare students so that they not only survive the thesis/dissertation component of their degree but actually enjoy it and flourish from the experience?


Jane Ho, with Lilian and Paul Wong, did a study, Helps and Hinderances to Thesis Completion, looking at what helps and hinders a student in completing their thesis.

Ho’s list of helps and hindrances should be required reading for every student before they enter the thesis/dissertation of their program, as is the list of suggestions for both the student and the supervisor. I summarize them below.


Factors that Hinder Completion of a Thesis:

  • student employment
  • difficulty balancing personal and academic obligations
  • insufficient training for thesis research
  • problems within the thesis committee (including lack of prompt feedback, conflicting and inconsistent feedback, and unhelpful advice.)
  • problems with administrative bureaucracy
  • complexity of the thesis process
  • the time-consuming nature of the research process
  • procrastination
  • Thesis blocking — “a situation wherein the interviewees had (a) finished their graduate coursework; (b) found the experience of working on the thesis more negative than rewarding; (c) according to their own estimates, spent an inordinate amount of time working on the thesis; and (d) considered themselves to have experienced thesis blocking.”


Factors that Help Completion of a Thesis:

  • good working relationship with the supervisor
  • a structured supervisory system which included a written task specification, weekly deadlines, weekly monitoring, weekly feedback, and added incentives.
  • Support from family, friends and fellow students


Suggestions for Students:

1. Set deadlines and stick to planned schedule

2. Manage your time and priority

3. Set goals for and after the program

4. Find support from peers, family and friends

5. Take advantage of available resources

6. Know your learning styles

7. Get to know your professors/supervisors

8. Find meaning in your thesis work

9. Do not procrastinate

10. Read, write and be prepared

11. Resolve conflicts quickly

12. Be organized

13. Exercise self-care

14. Be your own project/thesis manager


Suggestions for Supervisors:

1. Set Goals and timeline with the supervisees

2. Collaborate with other professors

3. Increase research-related courses; decrease irrelevant courses

4. Set up thesis proposal and writing as a course

5. Make resources more accessible online

6. Provide more explanations on ethics approval process

7. Enforce the program guidelines and deadlines

8. Provide opportunity for students to get to know their potential supervisors

9. Provide realistic time frame for the program

10. Minimize the number of supervised students for each supervisor

11. Provide more opportunities to learn from others

12. Provide more accessible resources and better equipment

See: Jane Ho, Lilian and Paul Wong, WHAT HELPS AND WHAT HINDERS THESIS COMPLETION:A CRITICAL INCIDENT STUDY. International Journal of Existential Psychology & Psychotherapy vol. 3 (2010): 117-131.


Thinking about MOOCs

In his essay on Christian practices and education, pharmacy Paul Griffiths talks about how liturgical practices incorporate lament and stammer. In the same way, he argues, Christian education can and should do the same thing.

Lament and stammer are not popular in our culture because they are messy and represent weakness and imperfection. We try to do everything in our power to scrub them from our church services, and from our culture. Think about the overly scripted mega church services. There is no room for hiccups, or mistakes. We even take the “real” pastor out of the equation and replace him with a slick video presentation of his sermon, one that can be reshot, edited, and molded to remove all glitches and slipups.

In education, “lament at one’s own incapacity for study and one’s failures as a student [and I would as a teacher and scholar as well] is intrinsic to learning.” (p. 120).


A mook: slang term for the hordes of standard-issue, disposable bad guys whom the hero mows down with impunity. Mooks/MOOCs is there a connection?
A mook: slang term for the hordes of standard-issue, disposable bad guys whom the hero mows down with impunity. Mooks/MOOCs is there a connection?

This has got me thinking about the shift in distance education to MOOCs. These massive open online courses are supposedly going to revolutionize higher education. They will be low-cost or even free. They won’t require an abundance of professors, but rather, the top scholar in the field will have their lectures recorded, and then graders will mark the students’ assignments.

I would suggest that MOOC’s will eliminate the practice of lament and stammer.

Students learn from lectures that go badly. Sometimes the professor fails to communicate concepts and ideas and yet in that learning takes place. It gives opportunity for students to ask questions, and it gives opportunity for the professor to try to clarify and reframe the discussion in a way that the student will grasp the concept. With a MOOC, the student is left to interact with a grader or TA, and that interaction is removed from the “now” of the lecture.

Students learn from professor’s struggles. One of the most profound teaching moments is hearing a professor admit “I don’t know” when it comes to a topic. By only hearing the “top scholar” the student may learn that “I don’t know” is a bad thing in academia.

Students also learn that studying and research is labour, a labour of love, but a labour nonetheless. If all they see is the “top scholar” who gets up and give a lecture on his area of expertise, a lecture that is edited and molded to be “relevant,” then the student may get the impression that research and teaching is easy. What they do not necessarily see is the years of rough drafts, rejection letters, and failed lectures that the scholar probably went through in the ascent to being top in their field. (How many people have seen actors on television and thought, “that’s so easy, I could do that” and don’t realize that for every successful actor there are hundreds more doing nothing more than working at Starbucks?)

Ultimately, what it comes down to is an understanding of the purpose of education. Is it merely about communicating information, or is it about formation of the student and the teacher? I’ve written before about the embrace of online education by Christian schools, and I think the caution I concluded with there, also applies in general to the development of MOOCs:

…online Christian education should not simply be an adoption of generic, secular online education models which are then just “baptized” as Christian.

Though MOOCs appear to the “wave of the future” I would caution that MOOCs might in fact be nothing more than a fad. Before blindly jumping on the bandwagon, we should prayerfully, thoughtfully consider the why and how MOOCs might be embraced in a way that the lament and stammer that can be retained, and encouraged.

Amanda’s 9 Tips for Writing a Term Paper

The college students have hit the middle of the semester. Mid-term exams are in full swing, view so now is the perfect time to talk about those term papers that aren’t due until the end of the semester. Here are my 9 tips for writing a term paper.

1. Start Now. True there are still 6 weeks left in the semester, generic but leaving papers to the last minute is a very bad idea. At the very least, prostate choose a paper topic.

2. Writing a good paper takes more than a weekend. A good rule of thumb: the number of pages the assignment, the number of days required to write it. So, if your professor wants a five page paper, then budget at least five days to write it. If your professor wants a ten page paper, then budget at least ten days to write it.

3. Run your paper topic by your professor. By doing this the professor can tell you if you’re on the right track, and may even be able to point you to research materials you hadn’t considered.

4. Have someone else edit your paper. This is not cheating. Having a friend or fellow student edit your paper is the smart thing to do. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be edited by a person who knows the topic. Even just having someone edit your paper for grammar and spelling will go a long way to improving your grade.

5. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. If there is a point or a sentence that is unclear in your paper and you brush it off saying, “It’s okay my professor will know what I mean”, then that’s a definite sign you need to rewrite the sentence to make it clearer.

6. Step away from your paper for a few days. After you’ve written your first draft, put the paper away for a few days and go work on something else, or even just go and have a nap. Very often, “brilliant” ideas you had in the caffeine-induced haze of writing the paper turn out to be only “mediocre” or “down right terrible” ideas once your head has cleared. Of course, this requires that you write your paper well in advance of the due date (see points 1 and 2).

7. Follow the instructions in the syllabus. The syllabus should be your “bible” for your entire semester. It contains instructions and tips and tools for writing your paper, so don’t ignore it. If the professor writes in the syllabus that she wants you to use Turabian style for your references, don’t just go ahead and use APA style because you like it better. Likewise, if the professor says he wants a ten page paper, don’t hand in a six page paper and think that that will be close enough.

8. Don’t fudge the margins, line-spacing or font size. The professor can always tell. You’re not fooling anybody.

9. Pay attention to the comments that the professor writes on your paper. Don’t just turn to the last page and look at the grade. The professor has invested time and energy to actively engage your paper, and those comments will help you in writing your next term paper.

Embodied Education and Online/Distance Learning — Some Preliminary Questions

James K.A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, purchase Worldview, cialis and Cultural Formation sets forth an argument for embodied, hospital wholistic Christian education. He argues that the dominant modern understanding of the human person is the human as primarily a “thinking person.” Christian worldview scholars, particularly from within the Reformed tradition, have cast humans as primarily “believing persons.” And while this is an improvement on “thinking person” it still casts the human as a primarily cognitive being. Smith suggests that the more wholistic approach is to adopt an Augustinian anthropology, wherein people are primarily “desiring people.”

In setting forth his case for the “desiring person” understanding of humanity, Smith explores the impact and power of liturgy or practices, be it secular or sacred, and how it impacts not only what we think (or believe), but also what we do and how we do it. Thus, humans are “liturgical animals” oriented by what they love (or desire). Our “thick” practices shape us, often in ways that we don’t consciously realize or acknowledge.

In light of this, Smith argues that Christian education should be primarily about formation, but in actuality, the majority of Christian education is instead merely about information. The result is that graduates from Christian and non-Christian institutions don’t really look all that different from each other. The college grad in North America gets a job, buys a house, gets married and lives their lives, becoming productive cogs in the wheels of the economy. And Christian grads don’t really look any different from their secular counterparts. Smith goes so far as to say that education that is baptized as “Christian” but is the same as secular education could in fact be “a way of domesticating the radicality of the gospel.” (218)

What does it mean to be Christian? Smith’s answer is to point us to the wise words of Stanley Hauerwas:

We are Christians not because of what we believe but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices. (220)

Smith then offers some examples of what embodied learning could look like in a Christian college that adopted “a liturgically informed pedagogy.” Each of the examples are based on the traditional classroom model, but my question, after reading his examples, is this:

Can a “liturgically informed pedagogy” be used in an online learning environment? How could an online class foster formation of the whole student rather than just being a means of transmitting information?

I’ve taken quite a few online/distance education courses over the years. Some have been fairly low tech: read the required textbooks, do the assignments. Some have been “mid” tech: listen to podcast lectures or watch video lectures, read the books, do the assignments. Others have been highly interactive: required online discussions in a forum setting that promotes dialogue not only between the student and the professor, but also between the student and the rest of the class. But, no matter which format was used, the desired outcome of the course was always, “do you know and understand the course material?”

I can’t really say that any of the online classes I have taken have formed me, or have had an embodied component. If anything, online classes are inherently disembodied. Being in a physical class, on the other hand, has definitely formed not only my thoughts (beliefs) but also my desires and my educational posture.

And yet, there are other areas in which online discussion has had an embodied element. As I continue to blog and to tweet, community is being formed, and the liturgy of the online world shapes my practices. That leads me to think that it is indeed possible for online education to be an embodied practice. I think the key is to not come at online education from the perspective of “technology is the wave of the future, let’s be innovative”, but instead the key is for the educators and developers of online Christian education to keep the question of embodied liturgical pedagogy front and centre. That may mean that each online class will look just a bit different from other online classes. It may mean that a cohort model is employed, like IWU’s online M.Div program, or it may mean that there is an emphasis on collaborative group work (like contributing to a blog or creating an online encyclopedia on the course material). Either way, online Christian education should not simply be an adoption of generic, secular online education models which are then just “baptized” as Christian.


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Sometimes (A Student Reflection)

Sometimes, discount we learn because of our teachers.

Sometimes, ed tests, papers and assignments accurately demonstrate what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, tests, papers and assignments don’t accurately reflect what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, we learn with our teachers.

Sometimes, the learning comes after the class has finished, once we can get some distance and a chance to process what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, we fail to appreciate what we’ve had to learn.

Sometimes, the learning process is painful as it tears down our preconceptions and shakes our worldview.

Sometimes, the learning process is a healing balm, nourishing our souls, and fertilizing our minds.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it.

Sometimes, we don’t want it to ever end.

Sometimes, it’s overwhelming and beautiful and intense.

Sometimes, it’s boring and frustrating and rote.

Sometimes, we learn in spite of our teachers.

Sometimes, the learning comes not in the classroom, but in the community of learning.

For all the sometimes, there is most definitely an always: The learning experience always shapes our character. For good or for bad, we have been changed.

Tips On Presenting in a Seminar-Based Class

You’re in a class that is seminar style. This means that the prof is not going to stand up every week and lecture. Instead, viagra each member of the class will be presenting and facilitating class discussion. Usually this is done with each student being assigned a chapter in one of the required textbooks. What is the best way to approach this if you’ve never done it before? Here are a few Cheese-Wearing tips:

1. Don’t just read your assigned chapter. Let’s say you are to present on chapter three of a book. The arguments in chapter three are probably built upon the foundations laid in the previous chapters, so it’s important to read the previous chapters carefully, looking for key definitions and for the methodology that is being employed. Don’t rely on the fact that other students are going to present on chapters one and two. You also may have to read the chapters proceeding your chapter to know where the argument is going, especially if the author is presenting one side of the argument in one chapter, and another side of the argument in the next.

2. Don’t criticize what you don’t understand. Part of presenting in a seminar-based format is to offer a critique. But often times critique and criticism are confused. You can’t critique what you don’t understand, and if you try, your critique becomes a misplaced criticism, that is more likely to make you look silly rather than intelligent in front of the professor. It is okay to frame your final analysis as ‘questions you have’ rather than a sustained critique. Doing it this way shows that you are making an effort to engage and understand the text.

3. It’s okay to look at other sources. If you don’t understand what is being said by the author go and read what other people have said about the material you are presenting. Scholarly Book reviews are great for this. Look for a minimum of two reviews that generally agree with the author, and two that generally disagree with the author. It’s okay to use their arguments to form your critique/questions/analysis so long as you cite your sources.

4. If you still don’t understand, it’s okay to have a chat with your professor. You’ve read the chapter. You’ve read the rest of the book. You’ve read what other people have said about the book, and you still don’t get it. At this point it’s okay to make an appointment with your professor to chat about the chapter. They want to help you give a good presentation. Bad presentations make for painful group discussions, and don’t help the class learn. (The key here is to do all your reading first. If you just go to the prof without having actually read the material, they may not be as helpful).

5. Use whatever aids will help you communicate the material. Maybe do a powerpoint. Maybe do a handout. Maybe do a handout that has fill-in-blanks. Write out your presentation essay-style as a way of bringing your thoughts together, and then prepare lecture notes based on your essay.

6. Don’t wait until the night before to start working your presentation.

Do you have any tips to add to the list?

College and the Entitlement Generation

From the Globe and Mail:

But don’t take his word for it. Many students openly admit their goal is to succeed with the least amount of effort. And many universities make this easy for them. It isn’t hard to find courses where you can get good marks even if you don’t show up. Professors say it’s not uncommon for 30 per cent or 40 per cent of their students to skip any given class. And students strenuously object if they don’t get the marks they feel entitled to. “They got 80 per cent in high school and, diagnosis when they get 62 per cent, they’re mad,” says Prof. Coates. “They bring assignments in late and think we’ll mark them without penalty.”

Just thought I’d post this BEFORE the mid-terms and papers start rolling in for all my professor friends.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

How different would the Top 50 Biblioblog list look like if it included a few of the blogs found on this top 200 list.


Oh look, treatment something we knew all along: Bettman’s expansion of hockey into southern states is a financial failure.

The report declared the NHL’s foray into new markets in the southern United States a failure, with the franchises consistently suffering from low fan interest and low revenues, and pointed to Canadian cities as far stronger markets for hockey.
“The biggest criticism of this report should be that it’s stating the obvious,” Keller said. “There’s just no question that these markets could support NHL teams and could generate higher revenues than the average team in the sunbelt, even the average team in the entire United States.”

And there are rumblings that the Coyotes will make their way back to Canada next season. Too bad it won’t be to Hamilton, but Winnipeg is a good place.


Grant McMillan asks Is University the New High School?

Now when provincial governments say that 70 percent of all new jobs will require post-secondary education I begin to wonder what’s driving this. As the person in my university who is responsible for admissions policies, and as someone who is highly motivated by enrolment management goals, I look forward to increased enrolment as a result. It may be a little hypocritical for me to complain, but it appears to me that the goals of university education have shifted and the goals of the government may be shifting with it.


Canadian television host Michael Coren has a new book out called Why Catholics are Right.
From Charles Lewis’ article on the book:

In his just released Why Catholics Are Right, his 13th book, the broadcaster and columnist does battle with the myriad enemies of his beloved and adopted Catholic Church. It is thoughtful and logical but built on a well of impatience and anger with those who feel they can kick around his religion.
“There is no languor and lace about me,” he said from his home in Toronto. “I don’t like it when people refuse to think.”
In Why Catholics Are Right, he is pugnacious, perhaps channelling something of the spirit of his late father, Phil, a London boxer, cab driver and Royal Air Force veteran who was the son of Polish Jews hounded out of their homeland by pogroms.

Christian Universities and Academic Freedom

Last March I posted about the CAUT “investigating” Christian universities. They have recently served notice to Redeemer University College that they are investigating whether or not there is true academic freedom for the faculty (since they have to sign statements of faith as part of their employment contracts). Interestingly, check none of the schools that are being investigated are members of CAUT, for sale so it seems really weird that CAUT feels compelled to investigate.

The Hamilton Spectator has a story about the investigation at Redeemer.

David Koyzis has blogged about it.

If you are a professor in a Canadian university or college (Christian or secular), pop on over to the Faculty Statement on CAUT and add your name to the petition to have CAUT cease their unnecessary and uninvited investigation:

We, the undersigned faculty members in private or public colleges and universities in Canada, reject the invasive and unwarranted investigations by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) of supposed infringements of academic freedom at post-secondary institutions possessing a religious or faith-based mandate.

We repudiate the bullying that is evident in CAUT’s publicized report (October 2010) regarding the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, as in its prior attack on Trinity Western University [see TWU’s response here] in Langley, BC.

We object in principle to CAUT’s arbitrary restriction of academic freedom to individuals and its failure to consider the corporate dimensions of that freedom. We note that the very concept of academic freedom arose historically in religiously founded institutions. In a time when colleges and universities are under great pressure to serve the interests of commercial and political initiatives, religious institutions can play a special role in preserving academic freedom.

We also observe that the missional specificity of religious institutions is not without analogue in public institutions, which may contain within them institutes or research centres with their own acknowledged pre-commitments. Both remain free associations of scholars.

We call on CAUT to cease its harassment of these institutions, for which there is no mandate from the membership at large. That harassment is inconsistent with the ethos of religious freedom affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada and human rights law.