Monday, June 20, 2005

Okay, so what is a thesis...anyway?

From the perspective of academics in native English speaking cultures we know that:

The distinguishing mark of graduate research is an original contribution to knowledge. The thesis is a formal document whose sole purpose is to prove that you have made an original contribution to knowledge (Prof. John W. Chinneck, from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.) The previous link takes you to the Spanish version of JC's paper.

  • you have identified a worthwhile problem or question which has not been previously answered or answered in the manner in which you intend to answer it
  • you have solved the problem or answered the question

Your contribution to knowledge generally lies in your solution or answer.

Well, that was easy enough...wasn't it? :-) So this takes us to step 1 in thesis writing.

  • What is the question or problem that we are going to address?

Once you have identified your question or problem, then you create the thesis around the research that provides the answer. Feel free to ask questions about the this process.



Gladys Baya said...

Remember I'd told I'd read a book by Umberto Eco (Cómo se escribe una tesis)? I remember there he made a distinction between a "thesis as a compilation" (which he recommended for people starting a specialization, like me), and the kind of thesis you describe (I don't remember what he called it). He insisted one shouldn't try the latter before middle age and having achieved a certain degree of expertise in one's area. Have you ever heard of a similar distinction in American academic contexts?

sharon said...


What a great question you have posed because it opens up an opportunity for exploration into cultural perceptions!

A bit of background on native English speaking cultures before I answer the question -

In the past 20 years NESC have changed dramatically from the perspective of education and the work force. Why? The age of technology has forced NESC to "step up the pace" in order to keep up with the dramatic impact that technology has placed on these cultures.

What are the results?

The percentage of those who engage in post secondary education is steadily climbing here in the USA. In the past ten years the number of college grads in the USA has gone up 10%.

The trend now is towards life-long learning, which means that a college degree no longer will suffice to insure that an individual can compete in the work force. Those who have one degree are returning in numbers for additional degrees that will help them keep up-to-date in a very competitive environment.

In the native English speaking culture, one doesn't have the time to savor experiences, reflect and then go back into the educational setting. So the observations of Eco that the thesis is something that should be created as a compilation of experience in middle age is one that was popular in this culture before the age of technology accelerated the "need to know."

It is not unusual to meet young people here who graduate university and then go directly on to graduate degrees before they start to work 9 to 5, 5 days a week basis. The downside of this is that they are "not well seasoned" as Eco recommends and perhaps their work does not reflect the depth that personal experience would provide. On the other hand, they need the academic experience in order to compete. It's a double-edged sword.t

It could also be that Eco's description of a thesis may relate to what we consider the doctoral degree. In the course of doctoral research one spends many years compiling data that results in a publishable book. This degree (doctoral) is a requirement for gaining tenure as a professor in universities and colleges here.

So the answer to the question is, yes 20 years ago, but not so common today.