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AbrahamJ84

Master's Thesis defense status: fail

8 posts in this topic

I wasn't sure where to post this but I just failed my MS thesis defense. I'm not sure how to feel. One of my colleagues said that he thought I got shafted at least to some degree. The issue is some corrections that I did not make that one commitee member wanted. The revisions involved some organizational problems she thought my thesis had in which I put my conclusions before my data. I felt like saying here I what I think and here's why I think that was a perfectly logical way of approaching it and that is what I planned to say in my private defense. I never got a word in edgewise. When I tried to broach the topic she said basically "that's the way I have been telling you to do it, and that is the way you will do it!" in a very snotty tone of voice. My advisor was upset because the copy he got came off of the printer crooked, and that apparently shows that "I just don't give a s**t!". I just wondered what you all thought and if you had had a similar experience. I'm just so burnt out right now and sad.

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Hey Abraham,

 

Sucks to hear. Out of curiosity, why did you put your conclusions before your data? I know with the faculty at my institution, that would raise some pretty hefty red flags as well.

 

Luckily, you get more than one try. My best advice moving forward is to appease your masters. I cut two entire chapters from my thesis in order to get it to where it needed to be to defend and was only able to convince myself that was ok by remembering that my research is an ongoing thing. I can always come back to those projects and do some transformative work when I 1) Am more knowledgeable and better at writing, and 2) when my Master's degree isn't on the line. Fight battles that need fighting, if conforming to an organization pattern was the only thing wrong with your thesis, then you should be in pretty good shape the next go around.

 

Also, I recommend booze.

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Sorry to hear about this!

 

I think that the whole process of defending a thesis means you have to trust that the committee members are more right than you and what they suggest is actually correct. Of course, not everyone is perfect, which is why it is a committee, not just one evaluator. But, in practice, in order to actually "win" a disagreement with one of your committee members, you need either your advisor (ideally) or at least one other committee member on your side. Example: When I defended my MSc thesis, I got the standard pass result--pass under the conditions I make the requested revisions. I read through the revisions and did not agree with some of them so I asked my supervisor for his opinion and we came to the conclusion that we don't think the revision should be made. In the end, my thesis was approved without those changes. 

 

This is common for the rest of academia--when we submit papers for peer review, we have to address every one of the reviewer's comments to their satisfaction. We can disagree and write a reason why but if it's something like a matter of style, we would need the editor (or another reviewer) to be on our side, otherwise, we have to trust that the review process works. Of course, this is a little bit different since a degree isn't on the line and generally a "peer review" is done by someone that is a "peer" not in an instructor/professor-student type relationship. But what I mean is that in our line of work, we have to be open to criticism and in some cases, we just have to make the changes to appease whomever is reviewing the work.

 

Knowing only what you wrote here, I would also wonder why you chose to put conclusions before the data. In my field, this is not how science is written up. Although it's worth debating whether or not scientific research has to always be written up in the same format, I don't think your thesis defense is a good place to challenge the norms of your field!

 

My thoughts are that, in the interest of academic integrity, you should be able to ask your committee members for a reason for a change and defend your point of view. I think the normal way this is done is like my example above--generally start with your supervisor and get their opinion. However, if you expect your committee to keep an open mind and really hear and consider your counterargument, make sure you keep an open mind yourself and listen to their reasonings as to why they wanted the change. 

 

It sounded like you got the committee's suggestions, and then submitted/resubmitted your thesis without some of the changes and did not explain your decision until a private meeting with this person? I'm not sure what exactly happened. Perhaps the committee member was upset with you because they thought that you just ignored their suggestion since the norm in my field would be to contact this person (and/or your advisor) and ask for clarification about any changes you were not sure about before resubmitting the work!

 

I hope you get another chance to defend! 

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Thanks for the support. I guess I just thought that presenting something as "Here's what I think, and here's why I think that" was a logical way to organize a thesis. I guess that's wrong.

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Thanks for the support. I guess I just thought that presenting something as "Here's what I think, and here's why I think that" was a logical way to organize a thesis. I guess that's wrong.

 

I would say the norm is more like: "Here is the question I am considering (and why people care), here is what other people have done, here is what I did, here is what I think now that I have done that, and here is why I think it's important." In the thesis, these might be "Introduction/Motivation", "Theory/Previous Work", "Methods", "Results", "Discussion" and "Conclusion" chapters.

 

I would say it is not like what I learned in high school English where you introduce your "thesis statement" in the beginning and then proceed to defend it. I actually got the same comments from my advisor when I first started writing (i.e. "why are you putting your conclusions in your introduction?!")

 

I find that in science, instead of making your claim and then backing it up with examples/data, the proper way to present your work is to show the data (which is a "fact") and then draw your own conclusions from it and back up your conclusions with other work where appropriate. If you do it the other way (make an argument and then find data to support your statement), there is more danger of sounding like you are cherry picking your data to prove your point. This is why, I think, it's much better to lay out all of your methods and data (which is more or less objective if you do a good job of explaining your methods) and then go into the subjective parts where you draw inferences etc. This way, if someone disagrees with your interpretation, they can still use your data/results and interpret it differently and get different conclusions!

Edited by TakeruK

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I would say the norm is more like: "Here is the question I am considering (and why people care), here is what other people have done, here is what I did, here is what I think now that I have done that, and here is why I think it's important." In the thesis, these might be "Introduction/Motivation", "Theory/Previous Work", "Methods", "Results", "Discussion" and "Conclusion" chapters.

 

I would say it is not like what I learned in high school English where you introduce your "thesis statement" in the beginning and then proceed to defend it. I actually got the same comments from my advisor when I first started writing (i.e. "why are you putting your conclusions in your introduction?!")

 

Even in the humanities, you will often find that at the academic level, many scholars' thesis statements are the question they are going to be exploring/asking/investigating and then many will hedge to say what they will conclude from asking that question, but the general concept is still -> idea -> evidence/examples/theories/other scholars' thoughts/your argument -> concluding point derived from the aforementioned things. I had a seminar professor be a stickler about identifying the thesis in every single article she required, so I would highlight it and the conclusions and they're not always the same thing.

 

You might introduce your statement right away, or you might pose an open question which you intend to answer. The difference of course, is the interpretations and analysis are going to differ from Hard Science quant/qual data, giving English or the humanities more freedom to identify their conclusion up front. Still, in any field the method of reaching that conclusion is important and well, it's a conclusion. You have to put the reasons why you came to something before what you came to, even if you do identify where you are headed early on. 

Edited by m-ttl

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No offence, but handing in a thesis with crooked text does sound like a "I don't give a shit." Like seriously? How hard is that to fix?

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Having your own thoughts about how to organize things isn't what you did wrong. Having a committee member tell you to fix something, and the blowing it off, is. I mean, that's about as basic as it gets.

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