thesis development

Mentoring Student’s Thesis

Just came back from another round of tutorial in thesis development. Have that eureka moment on how we could help student in developing their thesis, could look like this:

  • Stage I – Let Their Minds Run Free – 

    • I don’t intervene much at this early stage of development. It is after all, students’ thesis, not mine! More importantly, is to pay attention to students’ aspiration than guiding them right away. They usually have rather ill-thought-out ideas or even no idea at all for what they wanted to do, but that’s okay! They are students and they are here to learn!
    • I always like to ask students to sketch their ideas on whiteboard and make them explain to the rest of the group (sketching is perhaps because of Sunni Brown?). With this method, you will realise three things right away:
        1. They will need to visualise their ideas from sketching and explaining to their peers, it will help to know what’s in their minds and bonus for presentation skills.
        2. They will argue for ideas, this will reinforce what they have learnt and his to apply in their studies.
        3. Get insights on what they really wanted to do. Observe, ask and paraphrase on their ideas to get to the bottom of their thoughts and supply them with additional information on what they need to focus on.
    • After discussion, they usually will automatically take pictures of their sketches, which is a good thing – they will need to sleep with it in the months to come. Encourage them do some readings and talk to people; back to sketching again to get a clear picture on what they wanted to do.
  • Stage II – Accelerate and Give Them Something To Read –

    • Seeing your students after a few weeks or months is intriguing – you just don’t know what to expect. For some, they might come with better ideas and developing their thesis already, for some, they developed rather off tracked that you need to intervene right away, but very likely, the majorities are still in their voyages of ideas.
    • This is the stage to accelerate them. If they haven’t started, make sure they at least write a few paragraphs after the meeting, this will make sure they know what they are doing. Remind them, thesis won’t make any sense just by talking.
    • Another way to accelerate them is to talk about literature, show them where to look for papers and what journals they should look up for (they should be briefed payback in other classes already). Any thesis cannot go without references so it is time to make sure they have a set of literature can be referenced in their work. Of course, they should read papers right ahead of time even before Stage I, but I felt that it is more important for them to make up their minds for ideas first and then supply with papers.
    • For those really banging on their heads for thesis topic, now is the time to ask them to stop (cos it’s not working) and start reading papers and get inspired.
    • The goal is to accelerate them to actually start writing something. Usually they still not aware that time is running short  and in no ways you can finish a thesis just by a week for so. Try to accelerate them will benefit them (and us) immensely as deadline approaches.
  • Stage III – Reminding Them Why – 

    • By now, they should already have a topic, read some papers and perhaps added few more dozen of paragraphs in their work already.
    • One of the bottle neck at this stage is methodology, which they should have the method by now but haven’t started or only very few data for discussion. It will be good to ask them to do pilot testing in order to adjust their approach. Again, I prefer to let them argue around ideas and do something first before weighting in. After all, they are the ones to do it and building the sense of right and wrong is more important than the thesis itself.
    • Another bottle neck will be discussion and conclusion which is rare at this point, but if they have these, then it will be time going back to introduction to see consistency, other than that, it will be the details of their research that beyond the general guidelines we are talking about now.
    • It is also a good time to remind them the purpose of their thesis according to course handbook. Very often, they are sprinting to finish their work and can get on to every direction because of desperation – some will dig deep into things only remotely related to their work, some will overwhelmed by too many questions they needed to solve before reaching conclusion and some will just write something not even close to be qualified as a thesis.
    • These are very common and as in my case, and probably yours, the aim for their thesis is to demonstrate they could utilise what they have learnt from the course and develop an independent research from it. So it’s more about examining if they can identify a question, develop a study method, conduct data collection and writing it up as a study with enough number of words (e.g. 8,000~10,000) accordingly. So the importance is to remind them not to dig too deep, sideway or too shallow into their studies.

Hopefully this sharing would also benefit both teachers and students when overcoming the emotional ride of thesis development. For teachers, I am sure you have gone through all these already in your thesis writing for degrees, it will be up to us how to transcript these experiences and make student learn for these experiences. For students, it might be daunting or feeling mighty that you are on track to write something to shake the world, which I hope you do; but there are steps to follow. Good research comes from non-stop writing and don’t just came out of talking, write often and you will be on the right track in no time! 🙂

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