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Incompatible Supervisors & MA Theses


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Hi Gradcafe,

Long time reader, first time poster.

I'm in my first year of an MA program, and I've come to feel that my supervisor and I aren't at all on the same page. While this individual seems to be a fantastic person, we approach history in completely different ways -- our perspectives are different, our interests are different, etc. The only thing that connects us is our shared historical interest in a specific time and place. I believe my supervisor feels the same way about me, although I doubt they would ever say as much.

I do not want to switch away from my MA supervisor, because I am scared of the potential for 'bad blood'. That said, I also do not want to stay with my supervisor at the expense of my eventual MA thesis.

I guess my question is, can you write a quality MA thesis under a supervisor who holds fundamentally different historical perspectives and interests? Have any of you ever found yourself in this boat, and if so, how did it turn out?

Thanks, Gradcafe.

Edited by LandWhale
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The answer to your first question is "yes." Indeed, you may be in a better position than you realize. If you can find ways to let this person's view of history inform your work without co-opting your vision, you may have the opportunity for intellectual synergy. Two of the keys for synergy will be your ability to bend when doing so advances your knowledge of the subject and the person's professionalism as a historian. (You can assess the latter if he/she has reviewed works with which he/she disagreed. If such reviews exist and your potential supervisor was balanced, you may well be GTG.)

The answer to your second question is "sort of." For my master's degree, the two scholars on my committee were only tangentially interested in my subject. One was ambivalent towards me personally. The other had offered critical comments of my ah...attitude. (He wanted me to take the craft more seriously.) Neither had the historiographical background to show me how to split the hairs more finely. Ultimately, none of these issues mattered. I was so focused on the research and the writing that the project essentially drove itself. Some letters to a mentor, a phone call to a SME, and lots and lots of time with secondary works took care of the hair splitting. For their part, they were seasoned professionals. They focused on making sure that my writing was clear and that my central arguments were sound.


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