Thesis Writing Tips - Choosing and Working With a Thesis Committee

Thesis writing involves several processes which makes the entirety of the experience both exciting and challenging. From choosing a researchable topic that has not been done by other students and eventually narrowing it down to become a uniquely original work to soliciting the help of a research supervisor and in embarking on data collection and writing the paper, these are some of the tasks that almost all undergraduate and graduate students working on a thesis consider as stressful. In spite of the many challenges that students have to put up with, undeniably, the thesis project is an important project-based and challenge-based educational experience that helps in building character and in preparing students for their chosen career. One particular skill that is indispensable and which perhaps is unknowingly cultivated among students as they work on a thesis is the ability to work with a group of superiors.
If you ask around in the community of thesis writers and perhaps also solicit some advise from faculty members who guide students in the thesis writing process, there is a certain degree of agreement that working with the members of a thesis panel is one of the most challenging aspects of the experience and yet, it can also be the most rewarding.
Depending on the policy of an academic department and the rules and norms implemented for the thesis writing process, students are either assigned or they get to choose a group of 3-5 faculty members who will serve on the thesis committee. The main responsibilities of the panelists are: 1) to read and evaluate the thesis/research paper, 2) to provide comments and suggestions in improving the thesis, and 3) to recommend whether the thesis writer(s) have successfully followed and completed the expectations for the thesis writing project and are eligible for graduation and possibly for an award. Generally, feedback from the panelists are given to the student(s) during or after the thesis proposal defense and final defense.
Students often think that their working relationship with a panelist is limited to just being evaluated by the panel committee members for the proposal and final defenses. With this particular mindset, students feel extremely intimidated by their panelists especially with the thought that the panel members have a say whether they pass or fail. Also, students often dread the long list of comments and suggestions from the panelists that need to be incorporated in the final manuscript in order for it to be considered as passed or approved.
To successfully overcome the challenges involved in working with a thesis committee, students need to change their current mindset. First, the working relationship between students and their panelists can be collaborative although the students should always be aware that they are expected to carry the full weight and in setting the direction of their own work. Second, working with a panelist is good training in preparing students to work with not only one but a group of superiors who have a say regarding the outcome of the project being worked on. Being able to do so develops humility, patience, and interpersonal skills. Third, a thesis/thesis project is a creative endeavor. Creative input from the panelists should always be welcomed as input from different experts, writers, etc. who see the students' thesis/research focus from a fresh angle or perspective.
Understand your Panelists' Research Area
When searching and choosing prospective members for a thesis committee, it is important to understand their research area and expertise. This can be done by finding out about the current research projects being undertaken by the prospective panelists and also the researches they have done in the past. Make sure that the panelists are familiar with the topic that you are working on. They do not need to be as knowledgeable about the topic as your research supervisor but it helps in terms of getting as much input from them.
Understand your Panelists' Work Style
Thesis writers do not usually report to the panelists in the same way that they need to constantly keep in touch with their research supervisor. Even so, it helps to do some background check on the prospective panel members' work style. It provides thesis writers insight into certain work habits and peculiarities of their prospective panelists. Many students think that panelists do their job only during the proposal and final defenses wherein they evaluate the work presented to them. It is always strategic for students to do their homework in understanding their panelists. If it's possible, students should consult with their panelists regarding certain details about their thesis. If students collaborate with their panelists even at the very start and they are able to incorporate bits and pieces of suggestions and take into consideration the comments of the panelists, they do not have to wait for the proposal and final defenses in order to react to what the panelists want to be done in the research paper. This saves the students a lot of time and effort.
Understand the Interpersonal Dynamics Among the People Involved
Coordinating and collaborating with several committee members is not easy. There will come a point when students will see discrepancies in the working style, research values, methodological orientation, approach to research, etc. between their research supervisor and panelists and even among the panelists themselves. Beyond understanding the research expertise and work styles of the other people involved in the students' thesis, understanding the personality of the people involved is equally important. This is one of the most interesting things that students need to train themselves in. Students need to be able to communicate effectively with their supervisor and panelists in a way that conflict is not stirred. There could be existing workplace dynamics already at work among the panelists and with the research supervisor. Be extra careful about choosing panel members whose research orientation is very different from your mentor or other thesis committee members. It is important to keep the possibility of interpersonal conflict at a minimum.
At the end of the day, the goal of the students is to overcome such personality and even power dynamics and to be able to effectively work with all groups for the benefit of their own thesis.
The final outcome of the thesis process is not just a manuscript but students who are prepared to work independently and yet capable of synergistically working with other people whether it may be members of their team, their research supervisor, and the thesis committee. Writing a thesis is not all about writing a research paper. Much of it is about developing the character of the students to help them grow in their chosen career and to be able to work with different kinds of people.
Dr. Joseph Anthony Narciso Z. Tiangco teaches at Shu-Te University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. He is the author of The Way of Psychology: Nothingness and Relatedness in the Intellectual History of Psychology. His research interests are philosophy of social sciences, postmodernism, philosophy and psychology of the self, and English studies.


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