Culminating Experience Options in English: Thesis

Culminating experiences are the final requirements graduate students complete to demonstrate their learning. The English Department offers four options: thesis, creative thesis, curricular artifact, research project. In a four-part series of blog posts, I will expand on each of the culminating experience options offered to English graduates to assist students in determining which direction to take their degree.

The academic goal of a culminating experience is to ensure that all English graduate students complete their studies with a high-impact learning experience that enables them to apply the learning components of their studies to a tangible creation of their own. A graduate degree that ends with a culminating experience project admits the graduate student as a peer scholar. At first glance, the undertaking of a thesis project may appear intimidating to some students. However, it’s rigor is balanced by the doors it opens.

What is a thesis?

A thesis is an original paper written and defended by a student prior to graduation that details the conclusions of their independent studies on the topic of their choosing. The College of Graduate Studies and Adult Learning has compiled a comprehensive guidebook outlining acceptable formats and technical requirements of all Millersville University graduate theses.

Working closely with their committee members (comprised of a thesis advisor and two faculty members), a student should develop and execute their research plan, carefully proofread and edit their drafts, and prepare and schedule for their defense. A defense, usually lasting an hour to an hour and a half, is where a student presents a brief summary of their work, conclusions, and answers committee or audience members’ questions.

At its core, a thesis should display a student’s ability to execute independent research on a narrowed topic and illuminate their aptitude for applying techniques employed in their specific field of study. Beyond highlighting technical mastery, a thesis, especially at the graduate level, should attempt to amend or advance the current body of scholastic knowledge in its particular field of relevance.

What will a thesis help me accomplish beyond graduation from my program?

A thesis reveals a student’s capacity to successfully carry out independent, field-relevant research projects, which institutions of higher education (doctoral programs) and employers will be utilizing in order to gauge a candidate’s potential in their program or with their company. It demonstrates academic rigor; students who graduate with a thesis defense are often viewed as more competitive than those who did not have the opportunity to participate in any culminating experience during their graduate career.

The undertaking of a thesis project showcases a student’s ability to collaborate with more experienced faculty at the university level and with professionals in their field, while branching out to advocate for their own perspectives and conclusions within their written work. The thesis process, itself, is an invaluable learning experience for students. It imparts a strong work ethic, time management and creative problem-solving skills, and the ability to lead a discussion centered on their work. The thesis elevates a student to the level of peer researcher— peer scholar— no longer ‘just’ a student.

How should I begin the thesis process?

If all of this sounds a bit daunting, Director of the University Honors College, Dr. Elizabeth Thyrum, who oversees the undergraduate thesis process for hundreds of students from diverse studies each year, reminds students that they are not alone in the undertaking of this culminating experience. If you do not already have an original idea for your thesis, she suggests taking the first step in the process by locating someone you would like to with more closely. “Having conversations with an academic advisor can often set the path for moving into a thesis. Reaching out and connecting with faulty in the major department can be helpful.”

For students who have already identified an area of personal interest and secured a thesis advisor, the English Department and College of Graduate Studies websites are invaluable tools. Working with their thesis chair, students should first work through the thesis Proposal process. Students are encouraged to read over the thesis guidelines— beginning with selecting a subject of study to distributing final copies of the thesis— under the Graduate Student Resources tab located in the Student Research section of the English Department website.

The thesis option may be one of the most challenging aspects of the English M.A. program, however, it has the potential to be the most rewarding as it affords students the opportunity to create a tangible representation of their efforts in academia.