How (Not) to Screw Up In Grad School

Communication? Miscommunication?


My biggest issue during the MA program was both a lack of and miscommunication with my supervisor during the thesis-writing process. I met with him only four or five times over the course of roughly ten months, while many of my colleagues would meet regularly with theirs (often bi-weekly). At the first meeting he made it clear that he didn’t want to receive my thesis ‘chapter by chapter’ and told me to produce a draft of the whole thing before looking at it. Not knowing any better I failed to see this as a big red flag. In addition to this, there was a gross misunderstanding early on as to what my thesis was contributing to the literature. My supervisor was expecting me to produce new data based on field research, and I was more interested in making a theoretical contribution to the discipline. At the time, methodology was a weakness of mine and I had difficulties articulating what exactly I wanted my thesis to be. Nonetheless, I should have made my intentions more clear because I ended up taking an expensive trip to the United States to do some interviews, which – while a great learning experience – turned out to be largely irrelevant to the final thesis because it ended up being a theory piece.

Upon completion of the first draft (which turned out to be over one-hundred pages) my supervisor told me to omit an entire chapter (about twenty-five pages of writing). We seemed to agree at this point that my thesis would focus on theory, but the interviews were already done and I had already analyzed the data; I thought it would be a waste to exclude them from the final product. The revisions and confusion pushed the deadline further and further back, and I very narrowly missed paying for the summer term. My completed thesis turned out to be almost one-hundred and fifty pages (not including the bibliography), almost double the minimum page requirement.

I would strongly recommend that new graduate students get to know their supervisor’s personality and work habits before making the commitment – and make sure they know you as well. While I was knowledgeable of my MA supervisor’s work, I did not take any courses with him and was completely unaware of his teaching style, general availability and commitment to students. Additionally, he was not informed of my capabilities. He was unfamiliar with my work and I could tell that he was skeptical of my ability to produce a strong theoretical piece; and so we opted for field research. Healthy communication is absolutely central for producing a thesis that satisfies both you and your supervisor.

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This entry was posted on August 26, 2015 by .
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