The relevance of a thesis for a master class in post-graduate education

It’s quite interesting to see that more and more master classes in post graduate education chose not to “impose” a thesis subject on their students. We’ve moved away from it in the context of the Master class Internal Audit at the Antwerp Management School as well. But in retrospect, I’m absolutely convinced we shouldn’t have. But my reasons are probably not the more obvious ones.

Do you bother or don’t you?

Asking a student to chose a subject matter which they will have to spend significant time researching – usually the case if the thesis requirements are a bit challenging and relevant – will require a conscientious student to make a considered choice. It had better be a subject matter they are interested in, or else more likely than not the student will not bother with the assignment and simply drop out of the class or at least the thesis.

An area of interest

I’ve heard the arguments from former students dropping out. “We have learned what we had to learn during the classes”, “the value is in the exchange and the networking during classes” … and that may be partially true, but they cannot judge what they failed or refused to invest in. In my mind not writing your thesis is an enormous missed opportunity for what is more than likely the biggest learning of the entire course.

Why? Because any subject matter chosen by an interested and motivated student for such a thesis is likely to reflect an area of true interest to them. In other words, this is something they are passionate about and be willing to invest more time in. The point is, they are not always aware they are interested in this subject matter until the opportunity to really invest some time in it, appears.

A remarkable difference

In the years I’ve supervised and read thesis, and I’ve read quite a few of them over the past years, the difference in quality between someone who cares and someone who doesn’t, is simply remarkable.

As a reader, you can quite easily identify the students that are truly passionate about their subject and the ones that are just going through the motions (and those are the ones that actually bother writing at all). I’m not talking about writing style either, because that tends to vary quite a lot. I have a lot of students who are really not that good as writers, but again, writing does take practice, and practice, and then some. It is not about style either. We never really grade on style, as we are not the language department. We grade on content, and I have to be honest, I have to date always graded on passion as well. And if a student really cares, the passion shines through.

So, how much do you, as a student, convince me that you actually care about the subject matter you’ve spent so much time researching? How strong is your conviction, how much time and effort do you want to invest in making the case to me, your teacher? Passion really shows, even through the sometimes horrible lay-out (thank you Microsoft Word!), the convoluted phrases and the effort to put a form of language not naturally theirs into a format which they are not necessarily comfortable with.

Insight in self is the most precious gift you, as a teacher can give a student

The passionate choice a student makes is a choice which provides a lot of insights in the dynamics and the areas of interest of the student him- or herself.

And yes, the passion shows. If there is one thing I believe a post-graduate education should offer a student, it is insight in their own selves, in their own dynamics. If I can deliver, at the end of the course period, whether short (in company) or long (open education) a student wiser than they started at the beginning, I’m one happy professor. And let’s be clear, the most valuable wisdom is wisdom about ourselves.