My December blog dealt with key problems faced by those heading for an end-of-school-year graduation-completing a proposal, choosing methods, starting to write, and dealing with formatting. This month I step back and ask some bigger questions: what kind of exit paper or project you should prepare, why, and when?
What: The "what" question is an important one. Many programs offer at least two of the following options:
I typically advocate an alternative to the thesis. The thesis carries a mystique that no other exit option has. Too many students see it as needing to simultaneously express their innermost being and guide them clearly to their first job or a doctoral research program. That's a heavy emotional burden and it is unsurprising that many students doing theses fail to graduate on time with significant costs in terms of lost opportunities. Theses typically use up close to a semester's worth of credits, a large opportunity cost when there are many good classes to choose from. Even if you are considering a PhD, a thesis is not necessarily any better preparation for independent research than a project or paper with an additional class or two in research methods or advanced aspects of the field.
Why: The "why" question relates to the purpose of an exit option. There are several good reasons for choosing a particular format or topic and students should be clear about which approach they are taking. An exit thesis, project, workshop, or other option may achieve one of more of the following ends:
There's obviously not one right answer to the question regarding why students focus on a particular area. It is important, however, to see that the last reason-expressing one's core ideas and values-places a big burden on the student. The other purposes might actually achieve these ends but with less angst and more likelihood of completion.
When: For course-based options the issue of timing is fairly easy-as long as students work solidly and consistently they will finish at the end of semester. For individual projects, theses, and papers there are some choices. The following options assume a two-year degree with semesters but can be adjusted for other formats:
Obviously there are many options. All allow a student to finish on time and move on to doing good work in the world.
Next month-the proposal.