2012-08-10

Supervising a thesis or a dissertation

It is frustrating and depressing that even more than a decate after I finished my doctorate I still find it quite difficult to write academic articles. Although I have never given birth to a child (nor will I be able to), I feel as if I had undergone the pain of a childbirth every time I finish one article. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to write an academic book, which I would like to start planning during my sabbatical in the next academic year.

But no less difficult than academic writing is supervising a thesis or a dissertation among all the responsibilities of a full-time faculty member in the university. Of course, this does not mean that the other obligations, including teaching, come especially easy to me, either.

What makes it especially difficult for me to be a thesis or dissertation supervisor is that I have to take on so much responsibility for another single individual. This is in marked contrast to racking my brain to write my own article, which is totally my own responsibility for myself alone.

What I am not so certain of yet (or probably even less certain of) even after having two MA theses and one PhD dissertation I supervised approved is in which areas and how much I am supposed to "interfere" with a thesis or a dissertation. This difficulty derives partly from the fact that I received virtually no advice for my MA thesis and only general advice for my PhD dissertation.

But one of the few things I am fully certain of is that a supervisor is not supposed to be a coauthor of a thesis or a dissertation. This means that I am supposed to take care neither of grammatical or lexical mistakes or inexactitudes of my student nor of processing of data, which is the very basis of any academic work.

I have also learned a lesson from a mistake I made. I will never agree to supervise a thesis or a dissertation if a student comes to me with no precise topic in advance. In my opinion, finding a topic on one's own is probably the most important thing in writing a thesis or a dissertation, so someone who cannot meet this very fundamental academic requirement and asks his or her potential supervisor for a topic is unfortunately destined to fail.