Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sometimes a Lousy Notion

We have a small MA program here, problematic for a bunch of reasons, but there we are.

Over the past three or so years, I've directed theses for some four MA students, each of whom has done their course work on campus, and then been pretty much absent while they write their thesis, usually working at some job so they can eat and have shelter.

We're lucky that technology helps us speed up some aspects of the work.  They can email me chapters, and I can email responses, and then pdf the notes I've written on the pages I printed out, and send them through email, too.

Hypothetically, these technological aids mean that things will go swimmingly.  But in practice, I find working with absent MA thesis students really difficult and trying.

The most important difficulty is that the students get busy with their lives, and the thesis isn't a big focus.  Until it is.  And then often enough, they really want my feedback fast.  And I understand the loss of focus, and it would be fine, except if they want me to attend to their work, it needs to be not crappy work, you know?

The second most important difficulty is that students either don't have real access, or don't use what access they do have to library resources. 

In combination, these two cause problems.  Seriously, I spent a good part of the morning reading what was supposed to be a chapter, but which was basically paragraphs doing close readings of bits of a play.  I know the student can write well, but I also know that zie has another job, and that the thesis isn't really a focus.  What I want to say to this student is that there's moral obligation to finish the MA, and that if zie wants to go on with hir life without it, zie probably won't miss it.

I think maybe it's easier to email a rushed, poorly written chapter than it would be to put it in my box in person, or especially to put it in my hand.  It's a lousy thing, though, and I'm coming to resent the time I spend responding to the student.  And I really don't want to resent my students, because that doesn't lead to my happiness, and it's all about my happiness!

1 comment:

  1. I understand - so many students freeze up at the prospect of writing an entire thesis or even a research essay of a certain length. Take them away from the structured environment of the campus and it's really easy to give into avoidance. That makes it even more difficult for them to make progress. When they feel as if they have to produce something, it's shaming to them, disappointing to the prof and a problem all around.

    The only advice that's worked, and even then, not always!, is to keep in regular contact and to ask for small, manageable elements of the bigger project. If it's only a response to ONE critic or an analysis of ONE section of a source or so forth? That feels more manageable to a student in distress and at a distance, physical and emotional.

    That still doesn't make it easy or manageable for anyone involved!