What did attending to thesis seminars teach me until now?
So, the thesis seminar is basically the time when everyone you know from your degree gets together and judges you cruelly and make you cry, right? Well not quite actually!
I was the type of masters’ student who got incredibly nervous about presenting her thesis and was so sure that everyone could point out the worst they could find. Well, I learned that this is not the case, and wanted share a bit of my experience in the seminars. So you guys don’t have to freak out as much as I did.
1.The most important thing is to be able to show that you understand the basic rules of how to conduct research.
OK, what does this even mean? It means nobody expects you to write a ground breaking paper. The masters’ thesis, at best could be turned into a journal article and no more than that. It is a practice for applying your knowledge of theory and methodology. It is an exercise of systematically answering a question. The results do not need to be statistically significant. All the hypotheses could fail, it is of no importance. The goal to be able to select a question, design a research to systematically answer that question, motivate every research decision that you make throughout that process, and make a contribution to the literature in the end.
2.You know the shortcomings of your research better than anyone.
True that there might be very “fancy” professors present in your thesis examination. But, there chances are very high that they are not experts in your area, and do not forget it is you who spent months reading about this topic. It was you who conducted this research not them. So, just be clear in communicating every obstacle you encountered, every difficult decision you made, any shortcoming you think your thesis could have. What I learned is that a thesis only gets better as the author communicates any hard decision they had to make, telling both the advantages and disadvantages of their choice. So, if you see a problem in your research and somehow cannot find a solution for it just write it in your paper. Any display of critical thinking is very welcomed!
3.Know your contribution to the literature and “stay in balance”.
Again you probably know what and how your research contributes to the existing literature better than anyone. So, here comes a twofold advice: do not hide or downplay your contribution but at the same time do not claim to be doing what you are not doing. OK, let me explain…In one of the seminars I attended, the author clearly developed a new theory, and she had hidden hypotheses in the text that she tested one by one. But she abstained from stating her hypotheses clearly, maybe because she was scared of her expectations failing. So, she never laid out her assumptions clearly and never mentioned her theoretical contribution. This was recognized by the audience and I really thought that she was downplaying a good paper. If we come to the “stay in balance” part, what I mean is that do not oversell or market your paper. If you have an empirical contribution, definitely state that but do not oversell your paper saying that you have both an empirical and a theoretical contribution, if you don’t have. What I learned was that doing justice to your own research in the first place is important.
And lastly, of course keep in mind that these seminars are just an opportunity to take your research to the next level. A little stress is probably inevitable, but none of my nightmares became reality. Everything was more informal than I thought. So keep calm, stay sane, defend and most importantly learn from others :)