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Author Topic: doing a thesis
swirrlygrrl
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posted 11 March 2004 06:22 PM      Profile for swirrlygrrl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, I decided to take the plunge and go the thesis route for my MA (which is ever so surprising, as one of the major reasons I chose Carleton was because they had the research essay and the course work option, so I wouldn't have to do a thesis). But I've got a topic, and an advisor, and a few other possibilities for my supervisory committee, and a year of my life to kill. Of course, I can always back out later, but I'm wondering if any babbers have any advice or experiences to share that might help me in this new journey on which I am about to embark.
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beverly
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posted 11 March 2004 06:24 PM      Profile for beverly     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Choose your thesis committee VERY VERY CAREFULLY. It can get very political and very ideological; and one year can turn into two..... then.... because someone on the committee can't decide on the tone, or that sentence, or using that quote because it doesn't fit their own views, adn then they just start fighting between themselves. And you are like the kid whose parents are fighting and you are hiding in the crawl space under the stairs. And check out the committee members acutal rate of getting students through. Talk to others who have had them. Specifically ask about rewrites. How many and for what reason....

Other than that I think you've now brought back enough painful memories for one day don't cha think?

[ 11 March 2004: Message edited by: kuba ]


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 11 March 2004 07:24 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Oof. I'm happy to say that my experience in these matters is not at all like kuba's.

When it comes to PhD committees, the only thing people worry about is making sure that the external examiner isn't known to be completely opposed to the approach taken in the thesis.

But if you can't find 2 or 3 people who can work with your thesis supervisor in a professional manner that puts your interests first, you have to start asking questions, such as:

1) WTF?
2) WTF am I doing here?
3) On what grounds do these people call themselves intellectuals?


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DrConway
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posted 11 March 2004 09:15 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Hee. In chemistry it's so much easier. You just pick the guy who you think you can put up with for a couple of years, blast out some decent research, and just hope you don't get total jackasses for questioners at the thesis defence.
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SamL
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posted 11 March 2004 09:28 PM      Profile for SamL     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I think you've all scared me out of ever *considering* grad school...
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Stephen Gordon
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posted 11 March 2004 09:47 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Nonononono

You just have to choose the right discipline and the right school.

The gains are worth it. Imagine being paid a very decent living *and* having the liberty and time to pursue whatever ideas you think interesting. I consider myself extremely fortunate.

That said, I know that in many respects, I've won the academic lottery. Not everyone is so lucky. But if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win.


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Performance Anxiety
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posted 11 March 2004 10:45 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My advice: be careful, and do not push the boundaries too much unless you are willing to pay the price. It is at times like these I think about Canada's most bizarre censorship case pitting a Quebecois MFA theatre student against Alberta's (and Canada's) top right-wing economist. The Alberta Human Rights Tribunal has been conciliating for over a year with no results, and are now appointing an investigator to impose a resolution consistent with Canadian law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As I said, BE CAREFUL!

[ 11 March 2004: Message edited by: Performance Anxiety ]


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 11 March 2004 11:07 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The fact that Mansell happens to be an economist is completely irrelevant in this case; he was responding to complaints made by people in the Department of Drama.

Edited to add:

The fact that you've heard of him does not make him a 'top' economist - his name meant nothing to me. And after looking through his CV, there's nothing there that is obviously ideologically-driven.

[ 11 March 2004: Message edited by: Oliver Cromwell ]


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Performance Anxiety
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posted 11 March 2004 11:40 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I disagree OC - what would an economist know about drama? The position of authority (Dean of Graduate Studies) comes with the field. I mean seriously, could you imagine a theatre artist being authorized to stop an economics student from completing their project, communicating with their peers, or using a calculator to carry out their work?

Furthermore, the student's theatre is highly activist, often against economic structures like the WTO, something the Dean obviously didn't appreciate. It is really a fight between extremes of left and right, between art and economics, and between cesorship and freedom.

Were the Dean from a more enlightened field such as Liberal Arts, Philosophy, or Political Science I imagine he might have actually sought the student's opinion, who hadn't even been at the University for well over a year before this situation occurred. Labelling someone as "mentally unstable" from across the planet (the student was in Ireland when this happened) with nothing to back it up but a collection of documents collected off the internet (which were presented by bumbling theatre professors) is disturbing. Rumour-mills should not override human rights - ever.

I'd say the Dean's background in economics was a hinderance from him thinking critically on the topic.


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 11 March 2004 11:43 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Indeed, economists know virtually nothing about theatre - which is why Mansell followed the advice and counsel of the Department of Drama.
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Performance Anxiety
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posted 11 March 2004 11:44 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
The fact that you've heard of him does not make him a 'top' economist - his name meant nothing to me. And after looking through his CV, there's nothing there that is obviously ideologically-driven.

OC - he's in the oil and gas business and was the mentor to both Harper and Klein. He also has anti-Quebec biases, which he has no shame in admitting in right-wing media:

quote:
Robert Mansell, the man who has done more than anyone to demonstrate how much more Alberta pays into Canada than it gets back, says he does not extrapolate any political opinions from his data. But the University of Calgary economics professor is passionate in his denunciation of the attempt to equate Alberta with Quebec. "Studies have consistently shown that if Canada broke up, Alberta would gain and Quebec would lose," he points out. (According to Statistics Canada, Quebec got $5.9 billion more than it paid out in 1998, a per capita benefit of $797. Other winners were Saskatchewan ($1,657 per capita), Manitoba ($2,288), New Brunswick ($3,607), Nova Scotia ($4,382), Prince Edward Island ($4,774) and Newfoundland ($5,982). Other losers were British Columbia (-$564) and Ontario (-$1,559).)


"Every place where there's the possibility of rigging [the system] so you get as much out of Alberta on a net basis as you can, that's what Ottawa does," Prof. Mansell says. "Employment Insurance takes a massive amount out of Alberta. In discretionary federal spending Alberta (and B.C.) get screwed. When they reduced the tax for large corporations everybody got the benefit except the energy sector--Alberta is getting screwed again. How is it that Ontario has a higher per capita income and four times the population, yet Alberta ends up paying far more?"


To the argument that the current have-not eastern provinces bailed out the West during the 1930s, Prof. Mansell responds, "Yeah, right. Prior to the 1960s there were very few of these federal transfers. So what are they talking about? Some charity that may have happened, with no records, during the Depression? That's very nice, but how does it compare with the almost $200 billion in net outflows [from Alberta] over the last 30 years?"



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Performance Anxiety
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posted 11 March 2004 11:50 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Indeed, economists know virtually nothing about theatre - which is why Mansell followed the advice and counsel of the Department of Drama.

I'll agree that economists know very little about theatre, but as the Dean he had a responsibility to uphold the university's principles of conduct - which means ensuring a positive learning environment for students, and respecting Canadian law and enshrined human rights.

Following advice to violate human rights is reprehensible - even if that advice comes from theatre teachers. A good Dean would have investigated both sides of the story before taking action.

Which is why I say - BE CAREFUL.


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Stephen Gordon
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posted 11 March 2004 11:56 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Or how about DON'T TRY TO MAKE YOUR DEPARTMENT A LIVING HELL.

[ 11 March 2004: Message edited by: Oliver Cromwell ]


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Performance Anxiety
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posted 12 March 2004 12:01 AM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

In the arts, especially in extremely conservative places like Calgary, sometimes it is necessary to stir it up a little. The choice facing the student was to direct pre-approved traditional theatre (and maybe go on to become a Regional Theatre artistic director, who could kiss corporate ass for funding), or to push the boundaries and engage in experimental and activist approaches to the field. I think he made the right choice, despite the negative consequences.

Like I said, if you want to push the boundaries, be prepared to pay the price.


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Mandos
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posted 12 March 2004 12:35 AM      Profile for Mandos   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I am in some ambiguous state that consists of either having written parts of my Master's thesis, or preparing to write my thesis from scratch. I have to be done by August so I can start my PhD somewhere else. I have two papers submitted to conferences so far, so I guess I may have the core of a thesis by now.

I don't know exactly who will be on my committee. Committees are formed in my programme only after one has submitted the Master's thesis. I have a reasonably good idea of who will be on it, though. I have slight trepidation about one of them, but maybe it's irrational. Problem for me is that I am unfashionable in my field, and so my thesis might hit them kind of out of the blue.


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Dr. Mr. Ben
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posted 12 March 2004 12:44 AM      Profile for Dr. Mr. Ben   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm also very interested to hear what advice shakes loose, as I'm currently in the process of applying to MA programmes. My experience writing an undergrad honours thesis has been/is really awesome, but I am not certain how comparable that process is to the grad school one.
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Performance Anxiety
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posted 12 March 2004 12:45 AM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What's your field?
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aRoused
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posted 12 March 2004 08:59 AM      Profile for aRoused     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Echoing what kuba and OC said, particularly about picking a committee carefully if you can. But don't worry too much about it, as you may find that everyone in the running gets along famously and don't play games with their students.

As for writing the sucker, I find it useful to think of each chapter as a separate essay that just happen to be interlinked.


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Dr. Mr. Ben
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posted 12 March 2004 09:11 AM      Profile for Dr. Mr. Ben   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
My field is comics, but there's no such thing as a department of comics studies yet. So, depending on the school, I'm going into either communication or cultural studies.
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Michelle
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posted 12 March 2004 09:16 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Oliver Cromwell:
Or how about DON'T TRY TO MAKE YOUR DEPARTMENT A LIVING HELL.

Oh my, Oliver. As a relative newbie here, you haven't made the acquaintence of our resident theatrician. You will never win this argument. Donovan and his friends can and will argue forever and ever about this case. They live to argue about their treatment at the hands of this drama department.

Just ignore it and it'll stop. Really.


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Tommy Shanks
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posted 12 March 2004 10:18 AM      Profile for Tommy Shanks     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Like I said, if you want to push the boundaries, be prepared to pay the price.

And your issue is?


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Alix
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posted 12 March 2004 10:37 AM      Profile for Alix     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Try to find people who will actually show up for your thesis examination.

Or not - my partner ended up with his M.A. without having to defend, as the only person who showed up was his advisor!

And only one of the people who didn't show up ever bothered to contact him and apologize.


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Performance Anxiety
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posted 12 March 2004 02:33 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
You will never win this argument.

I don't think its so much a question about winning an argument Michelle, it's really more of a case of whether or not Canadian students should be entitled to fundamental human rights, artistic and academic freedom, and whether or not they should be able to pursue their ideas and theories in the highest levels of academia. In this case serious questions are raised about the integrity of our education system (oops - make that "Learning" system - it is Alberta after all).


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 12 March 2004 02:51 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
The choice facing the student was to direct pre-approved traditional theatre

"Pre-approved traditional theatre" = "anything other than Car Stories"


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Performance Anxiety
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posted 12 March 2004 03:01 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
No - the student was planning on Romeo & Juliet - in a rave. They nixed that one pretty fast. Then came McDonagh's The Lonesome West - a very fine play that needs no subversion - but that was nixed when the student was doing research for it in Ireland. In fact it wasn't only these plays that were nixed, it was also the student's "permission" to do ANY theatre! How can you get a degree in Drama if you can't do theatre? In any case, the Car Stories performance really is more in line with the student's theories, and was, in fact, the cause of his being "probated" - even though it was done in Montreal!

Like I said, it is one of the most bizarre cases I have come across, and it makes me think twice before ever considering doing a Masters degree. It sounds more like a "Servants" degree to me - serve the capitalist worldview - pay fees, jump through hoops, stay in the bounds, and be a good servant - or else! Is this what our education system has really deteriorated into?


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Mr. Magoo
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posted 12 March 2004 03:05 PM      Profile for Mr. Magoo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You really have this sense of yourself as "being held down by Da Man", eh? Like anything in the world that isn't Optative Theatre is licking the boots of the KKKapitalist Overlords or something.
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beverly
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posted 12 March 2004 03:07 PM      Profile for beverly     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Or not - my partner ended up with his M.A. without having to defend, as the only person who showed up was his advisor!

Great for your partner but doesn't say much for the department, or academia for that matter.


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vickyinottawa
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posted 12 March 2004 03:12 PM      Profile for vickyinottawa   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
back to the topic.....


1) be realistic. Remember it's a MASTER'S thesis. A lot of people pick topics that are way too big, then get bogged down and find it difficult to finish because they can't possibly cover everything within the confines of an MA thesis. I've seen some MA theses that really should have been PhD dissertation topics.

2) if you find you have bitten off more than you can chew, work with your advisor on refining your topic to make it more achievable

3) don't expect a lot from your supervisor. Of course, some people luck into great mentors, but most of the time their approach is either 1) impossible expectations and nitpickiness or 2) benign neglect. Develop a coping strategy appropriate for the type you get.

4) stick to your timelines. don't aim for perfection - you'll never get it, and you'll never finish


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Alix
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posted 12 March 2004 03:33 PM      Profile for Alix     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It was fairly mind-boggling.
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Performance Anxiety
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posted 12 March 2004 03:42 PM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
5) pay tuition, pay service charges, but books, buy materials, invest tons of your time, quit making a living, pay lip service, pay, buy, pay, buy, pay...


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swirrlygrrl
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posted 12 March 2004 06:45 PM      Profile for swirrlygrrl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
PA, you are completely not helpful, and I don't appreciate the highjacking of a thread in which I was hoping for (and have from a few people recieved) some valuable information that I can use to ensure my academic success and personal edification.
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Stephen Gordon
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posted 12 March 2004 08:43 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
In that spririt, I want to echo vickyinottowa's post. That's very sensible advice, especially about keeping things simple enough to finish in a reasonable time.
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Mush
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posted 12 March 2004 10:18 PM      Profile for Mush     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I agree with aRoused. For what it's worth, when I did an MA all of us students were wrappend right around the axle about the terrible possibility of having the "wrong people" on our comittees. We were petrified of inadvertently choosing people who sat on opposite sides of some ill-defined ideological fence.

In the end, after that MA and damn near a PhD I can say that I haven't yet seen or heard of an actual instance of faculty members taking their ideological (or personal) differences out on a candidate. Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't believe anyone is going to give a student a hard time just to make a point to their colleagues.


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Marc
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posted 12 March 2004 10:36 PM      Profile for Marc     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
PA is a shameless self-promoter who is more interested in plugging her crappy theatre and trying to shame others than helping anybody.

[ 12 March 2004: Message edited by: Marc ]


From: Calgary, AB | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Stephen Gordon
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posted 12 March 2004 10:43 PM      Profile for Stephen Gordon        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If you changed the word 'his' to 'her', you'd probably get much broader support for that position.
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Marc
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posted 12 March 2004 11:08 PM      Profile for Marc     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Changed...thanks!
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Performance Anxiety
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posted 13 March 2004 02:37 AM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I'm wondering if any babbers have any advice or experiences to share that might help me in this new journey on which I am about to embark.

Don't ask for the truth if you can't handle "hijacking". What shall I say? OK; how 'bout this:

"Best of luck in your academic pursuits! Work hard, follow the Old Boys Club, and you'll be AOK."


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aRoused
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posted 13 March 2004 06:56 AM      Profile for aRoused     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"It's at times like this that I think about...."

Feh. PLONK!


From: The King's Royal Burgh of Eoforwich | Registered: Dec 2001  |  IP: Logged
Michelle
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posted 13 March 2004 07:41 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Alix:
It was fairly mind-boggling.

Alix, was this at Queen's?


From: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
beverly
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posted 13 March 2004 05:58 PM      Profile for beverly     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
In the end, after that MA and damn near a PhD I can say that I haven't yet seen or heard of an actual instance of faculty members taking their ideological (or personal) differences out on a candidate. Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't believe anyone is going to give a student a hard time just to make a point to their colleagues.

You're naive.

It might help this discussion if we knew what your MA might be in? Biology is probably different than doing an MA in Contemporary Political and Social Thought.


From: In my Apartment!!!! | Registered: Feb 2004  |  IP: Logged
aRoused
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posted 14 March 2004 05:37 AM      Profile for aRoused     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
For me it's Anthropology at the University of Manitoba.

And I've heard stories of kids being jerked around by their advisors and committees, but just stories: I've never met one in person. On the basis of that, I say be aware of the possibility, but don't waste time worrying about it. For all we know, swirrlygrrl will be doing an MA in a program that won't even require an oral defense.


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swirrlygrrl
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posted 14 March 2004 05:32 PM      Profile for swirrlygrrl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Nope. I gotta defend (if I drop down to a research essay instead, I don't have to). Which I'm not all that worried about - I'm okay under pressure if I'm prepared, and after spending a year doing intense reading, writing and research, I have a feeling I'll know my topic better than anyone else (in large part because its academically understudied, and mine will be the first major Canadian work on the topic).

And I will seek out and talk to some people my prof has advised in the past, and before I officially ask anyone else to sit on my committee. I've worked with him in the past, and he's been good, but a year of biweekly sessions versus a few meetings during a semester are apples and codfish.

Thanks (most) everyone!


From: the bushes outside your house | Registered: Feb 2002  |  IP: Logged
aRoused
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posted 15 March 2004 05:37 AM      Profile for aRoused     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
You will, most likely, find that you know more about your topic than your committee or advisor, if not initially, then almost certainly by the end. It came as a surprise to me at the time, good to see you're already prepared!
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Alix
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posted 15 March 2004 11:04 AM      Profile for Alix     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Michelle:

Alix, was this at Queen's?


No, Concordia.


From: Kingston | Registered: Feb 2002  |  IP: Logged
The Hegemo
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posted 15 March 2004 04:54 PM      Profile for The Hegemo   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
There was a Ph.D. student in my (former) department at Queen's a few years ago whose external examiner forgot to show up for her defense. When they finally tracked him down at home in Ottawa, it was too late for him to come to Kingston, so he dictated some questions over the phone. They had one of the department secretaries sit in and ask his questions as the external...

As for the original question, I second all of vickyinottawa's advice -- keep the topic manageable, keep timelines, don't aim for absolute perfection. The biggest thing with any graduate degree is just getting through it. Obviously you want to do good work, but trying to do too much or trying to do it too perfectly has bogged down so many people I know. Best to focus on just getting it done, and assume that you have the rest of your life to keep pursuing any related topics, or the same topic in more depth.


From: The Persistent Vegetative States of America | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
vickyinottawa
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posted 15 March 2004 05:38 PM      Profile for vickyinottawa   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
although I have long abandoned my half-completed dissertation, I still have this Matt Groening cartoon up on my bulletin board.

Hm. Perhaps I AM the bitterest person in the world!

[ 15 March 2004: Message edited by: vickyinottawa ]


From: lost in the supermarket | Registered: Apr 2001  |  IP: Logged
Performance Anxiety
rabble-rouser
Babbler # 3474

posted 19 March 2004 02:04 AM      Profile for Performance Anxiety        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ha! Great cartoon! Very enjoyable, and very true!
From: Outside of the box | Registered: Dec 2002  |  IP: Logged

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