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Writing an MA Thesis - Should I?


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Hello everyone! 

For my Theory & Methods course this semester, we have to compose a "plan of study," essentially outlining our intended field, classes we want to take, etc., and how the Masters degree will help us in our future endeavors. In thinking about this, two of my school's options came immediately to mind: the teaching internship and the thesis. I love the research process and genuinely enjoyed writing a thesis as an undergraduate. Unfortunately, the Masters thesis is considered dead in my program. By dead, I mean that very few (if any) students write a thesis. 

Should I still write a thesis, despite it being "dead"?

Edited by historygeek
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17 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

What do you mean, a dead end? Terminal in the program? That's fine. It would be very strange if a thesis was not seen as a stepping stone to a PhD. Do you want to do a PhD?

I do want to do a PhD. 

Sorry, I should have clarified: "dead" at my program means that not many people (if anyone at all) in the program write theses in the program. 

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I recommend not writing a thesis, especially if it means completing your MA sooner. Seems like a waste of time. 

Edit to say I have two MAs. I wrote a 120 page thesis for one and did not do a thesis for the other. 

 

Edited by latecalifornia
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5 minutes ago, latecalifornia said:

I recommend not writing a thesis, especially if it means completing your MA sooner. Seems like a waste of time. 

Edit to say I have two MAs. I wrote a 120 page thesis for one and did not do a thesis for the other. 

 

It will not mean completing my MA sooner. 

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FWIW, I produced a master's report that ended up being, I'm told, longer than many thesis. (I've not had coffee this morning, I can't remember why I picked the report option over the thesis option.)

The report served as a writing sample that helped me get into another program when I 'transferred' and (to @AfricanusCrowther's point) the job I currently have, which is bean counting and writing reports about beans.

If you pick a good topic and frame it well, your thesis can help you get your head around what you want to do for a dissertation. On the other hand, you may end up with an advisor who may want you to pick a different topic for your dissertation for reasons that are vague, if not self serving. (But I'm not bitter.)

(I am rambling. Coffee needed.)

TLDR. The thesis can help you be a more competitive applicant for doctoral programs, provide invaluable experience performing research and crafting historiographically significant arguments, and help you in the job market if you leave the Ivory Tower. But I recommend that you pick a topic informed by the understanding that you may face obstacles if you want to use the thesis as a basis for a doctoral dissertation.

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2 hours ago, psstein said:

If you want to continue to the PhD, it is in your best interest to do a MA thesis. The fact that the thesis is "dead" at Villanova is, in my view, very strange.

It depends. A master's thesis is kind of a camel - too long for an article, too short (and too early in your career) for a book. That's a lot of work for little purpose.

A thesis may help you focus, which seems to be something of a constant refrain, but if you decide not to do it, I would try to have an article under review instead by the time you apply to PhD programs. This is what I did.

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25 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

It depends. A master's thesis is kind of a camel - too long for an article, too short (and too early in your career) for a book. That's a lot of work for little purpose.

A thesis may help you focus, which seems to be something of a constant refrain, but if you decide not to do it, I would try to have an article under review instead by the time you apply to PhD programs. This is what I did.

Okay, now I'm curious. In your view, what's the thesis' purpose?

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2 minutes ago, psstein said:

Okay, now I'm curious. In your view, what's the thesis' purpose?

There's not much purpose to it these days, unless you're trying to figure out what you want to do with history. A vestigial appendage from when you didn't necessarily need the PhD to go into academia.

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49 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

It depends. 

I think that in the specific case of the OP, a thesis could send a signal of intentions and capabilities as the other option centers around teaching -- an activity that many (arguably too many) established academics consider inferior to researching and writing.

 

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5 hours ago, historygeek said:

Hello everyone! 

For my Theory & Methods course this semester, we have to compose a "plan of study," essentially outlining our intended field, classes we want to take, etc., and how the Masters degree will help us in our future endeavors. In thinking about this, two of my school's options came immediately to mind: the teaching internship and the thesis. I love the research process and genuinely enjoyed writing a thesis as an undergraduate. Unfortunately, the Masters thesis is considered dead in my program. By dead, I mean that very few (if any) students write a thesis. 

Should I still write a thesis, despite it being "dead"?

Have you chatted with your advisor about their thoughts, keeping in mind what you would like to do in the future? Do many of the people in Villanova's MA program typically go on to pursue a PhD? What would a teaching internship give you that will strengthen your PhD applications (assuming that's still your goal)? 

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2 hours ago, underthewaves said:

Have you chatted with your advisor about their thoughts, keeping in mind what you would like to do in the future? Do many of the people in Villanova's MA program typically go on to pursue a PhD? What would a teaching internship give you that will strengthen your PhD applications (assuming that's still your goal)? 

I haven't talked with her about this quite yet! It seems like a few go on to do their PhDs (my first contact was a PhD student at my undergrad who got her MA at Nova), but it doesn't seem to be a general rule. The teaching internship is something that I'm interested in for practical purposes- although my focus is primarily on research, a teaching internship will give me experience in teaching undergrads.

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24 minutes ago, historygeek said:

I haven't talked with her about this quite yet! It seems like a few go on to do their PhDs (my first contact was a PhD student at my undergrad who got her MA at Nova), but it doesn't seem to be a general rule. The teaching internship is something that I'm interested in for practical purposes- although my focus is primarily on research, a teaching internship will give me experience in teaching undergrads.

If possible, I would try to find out if there's a difference in outcomes between students going onto the PhD without the thesis and students who continue to the PhD after the thesis. It may be the case that students who write the thesis make their way to better programs. Or it may be the opposite. I don't know.

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46 minutes ago, psstein said:

If possible, I would try to find out if there's a difference in outcomes between students going onto the PhD without the thesis and students who continue to the PhD after the thesis. It may be the case that students who write the thesis make their way to better programs. Or it may be the opposite. I don't know.

Similarly, I would perform research on potential advisors and decision makers in doctoral programs of interest. Did they write master's theses? (Because professional academic historians are often drawn to the familiar -- academic pedigree, fields of interest, paths traveled.)

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I almost spit out my wine just reading that the thesis is considered "dead" in your program.

Do investigate the outcomes of students who did the thesis and those who did not, and whether those who went onto the PhD did do a thesis.

Do know that teaching does take up a LOT of time. If you're thinking of teaching instead of the PhD, find out the licensing requirements of your prospective state.

Do know that not everyone is passionate about research as you are. Those who take the teaching internship are in the MA just to teach in 6-12, not much interest in the PhD.

If the PhD is what you want, then who cares what other students do?  Just find a supportive thesis adviser who will help you see this project through. One of the toughest things one has to learn in a PhD program is to move away from the pack of group-thinkers and fly solo.

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I was able to get 2 peer-reviewed publications out of my MPhil thesis, one of which served as my writing sample for my PhD applications. Obviously speak to your advisor to get their opinion, but from personal experience my Master's thesis did a lot for me personally and professionally and I'd heartily recommend it.

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