Poll: Thesis credit

Dec 14 2010 Published by under [Education&Careers]

There are a lot of factors that go into a successful thesis, including input of the advisor. Having been involved in multiple thesis committees I have been struck not only by the variability between theses, but by the perception of what a thesis says about the student / advisor relationship. I am curious what the readership thinks about the advisor's contribution to the thesis, so I am trying a poll for the first time (this is not my forte, so feel free to use "other" and explain below).

In answering, envision attending a defense or reading a thesis in our field where you know neither the history of the student, nor the advisor.

How much responsibility do you asign the advisor for a studnt's thesis

17 responses so far

  • Barbara Lovitts's research on grad school completers and non-completers suggests that a fundamental role for the advisor is seeing that the damn dissertation gets FINISHED.

    I agree with that (would like to scream at my husband's various advisors some days), which suggests an option you don't list: the advisor is indeed tasked with ensuring the student has what they need to succeed (up to and including a swift kick in the pants if necessary), but the quality of the result rests substantially on the student.

  • Soli says:

    I voted for the last option, but indeed when you say "I have been struck [by] the perception of what a thesis says about the student / advisor relationship", the relationship between both is often what makes the best and worse theses...

  • Patchi says:

    Without a history: d
    Assistant prof adviser: c
    Associate/Full Prof: b
    Full/Emeritus Prof: a

    I've seen it all and I'm not even a professor yet...

  • ianqui says:

    In my opinion if the student does a great job, the advisor should get little credit--good students usually do the bulk of the creative work. But if they do a bad job, the advisor usually has more a hand in it, for better or for worse. The question is whether or not the advisor could have hounded more and more to make it better work, or if there are just limitations. Most often there are just timing limitations--it could have been better, and the adviser could have made the student make it better, but they ran out of funding or maybe if they're lucky they got a postdoc or something.

    I worry a lot about imperfect dissertation work, and what the perception of the committee will be of me as the chair. In fact, I have a situation like this coming up next week. The work had potential, but could have been better. My student finally ran out of time though because thankfully, she got a postdoc.

  • Ecogeek postdoc says:

    I voted for "equally weighted" specifically because it said thesis rather than dissertation. Maybe I read too much into the choice of words, but MS students often seem to need a bit more help with focusing and moving forward than PhD students. They're also more likely to be handed projects and have to meet preconceived ideas of what they're supposed to be accomplishing...

    If the intent was for "thesis" to mean "thesis or dissertation", I want to choose my vote to "every thesis is different"...

  • ex-hedgehog freak says:

    Interesting to see how many people are voting for the fourth option. I agree completely with ianqui - while there are exceptions, for most bad defenses the responsibility rests with the advisor, not the student. The advisor is there to ensure it doesn't get to that point, as is the thesis committee (whatever form it takes).

    And if there are bad students, and I have seen them, frankly its the responsibility of the grad program to weed them out earlier. I remember one person in particular who should never have made it past the proposal phase giving a truly horrendous defense after 7 years of demonstrating again and again that they just didn't grasp the basics. I think everyone on the thesis committee just wanted it to be over, but in the end, is it really right to let that person have the title of PhD?

  • drugmonkey says:

    wow. I'm in the namby-pamby majority and I am shocked that it is getting the most votes.

  • Hope says:

    And if there are bad students, and I have seen them, frankly its the responsibility of the grad program to weed them out earlier.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    On a somewhat-related point: I’ve gotten the advice, from several trusted sources with PhD’s themselves, that you should totally let your advisor set the bar for your thesis. In other words, just do the minimum that will allow you to graduate with his/her blessing and get out of grad school ASAP. Makes me wonder, since option (a) is the next most popular choice.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I don't do close supervision, so I was successful with students who did not need close supervision, and did my best to avoid those students who did need close supervision. I think a MS thesis topic is in some ways more difficult than a PhD dissertation topic. The MS project needs to be consequential, doable in less than a year, with not a huge investment of resources. A PhD dissertation is less constrained, usually in both available time for completion, and available resources.

  • I don't know if I will follow the path proposed by Patchi, but as an assistant professor, I will certainly do close supervision with my first couple of PhD students...

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I would be really curious about the breakdown of career level of those that think the PI or "system" should kick people out more. I'm guessing it would be dominated by folks who haven't had to directly supervise a PhD student before....

  • In my field, at least, only the student's name appears on the thesis. And in my opinion, that means it is and should be primarily the student's work, for better or worse.

  • Hope says:

    I would be really curious about the breakdown of career level of those that think the PI or “system” should kick people out more. I’m guessing it would be dominated by folks who haven’t had to directly supervise a PhD student before….

    Ahahahaha! That’s really funny, considering you’ve been a prof all of what, 1-2 yrs? Have you even graduated your 1st PhD yet?

    I’m sure you will, though, even if that person doesn’t deserve it. Because what’s another unqualified dolt with a PhD, as long as you get tenure, no?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'd be interested in generational and career timeline effects, Prof-like.

    I predict that PhD students want more kicked out because they imagine that competition from mindless dolts with the same degree as them has an impact on their job prospects

    People nearing retirement in a professorial career come in a close second because in their day almost everyone who had a PhD could find a professorial job w/in three years. So the competition from idiots idea holds water.

    People in the junior faculty and late postdoc ranks understand that the mere fact of a PhD means very little to how competitive people are in the academic/professorial job market and grant game, therefore idiots-with-PhDs are of very low concern to them..

  • chall says:

    I think it is a hard decision to make who is "to blame for a bad thesis" but in the end I would think it is up to the student. It's not fair, it's not "what I thought it would be" and it's not "what I would want it to be" (if we are talking about an advisor who isn't interested in the student's thesis) but end line is > your name on the thesis - your responsibility. You as a student can ask for help from other people than your advisor, and in most cases I would think the relationship is fairly ok between advisor and student?!

    Disclaimer>I didn't have a honky dory relationship with my advisor, it was quite bad at times, but it got better afterwards... once my thesis was written, papaer published it was better...

    I have seen students getting kicked out, left the program and break down completely and half the times it might have been the advisor to blame - half the time the student wasn't ready. But all the times were hard, noone liked it and it was usually too late in the program to be a "good ending". With that, the student doesn't want to give up, you as a supervisor/advisor/mentor don't want to take away the idea that _some_ students can turn around and succeed after a bad start BUT _some_ won't. And the last kind, they would probably be better off in the long run not being chewed to pieces and staying in the program for a longer time with no results... that said, there are few people who wants to decide what is possible and not if the student is hellbent to keep going.

  • Grumpy says:

    What is meant here by "thesis". If it is just the document that you submit to get approval for PhD then I would say that (for my institution/field) the thesis doesn't matter much at all and therefore if the student goes out of their way to make a beautiful thesis then they deserve all the credit for having wasted their time.

    Responsibility for publishing lots of good papers falls on all members of the team.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Grumpy, I don't mean good thesis in the sense that the grammar and spelling are impeccable. I am talking about the research and interpretation that leads to the document. In my experience, there is often a strong correlation between the quality of the work and the final product.

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