A Second Quarter Stretching Part 2: Praise, Prejudice and Thesis Advisers

What?  Why would you feel anxious about meeting?  I’m your adviser–step into my office!

Hello MAPHsters, thanks for making the pilgrimage back to Maphmatically Yours!  In this second part of our look at MAPH’s second quarter, Bill Hutchison and I once again attempt to provide some perspective for those in the program as well as suggest that a healthy dose of fear is an entirely appropriate response for those considering MAPH.  As those prowling the halls of MAPHmatically Your’s Tree-top Fortress will know, much of MAPH student’s time effort and energy during the second quarter is focused on the selection, courting, and securing of a thesis adviser and working up an initial pass at writing the thing.  At this point in the school year students are, at least numerically speaking, supposed to be about half done with their thesis or about fifteen pages written.  In honor of the end of the second quarter, part two of this Second Quarter Stretching series will be focused on those folks that contribute most to a successful thesis–other than the person who actually writes it–thesis advisers.

Praise, Prejudice and Thesis Advisers


I’ve already written extensively about my thoughts on the proper selection and cultivation of a thesis adviser so I’m not going to repeat myself here–anymore than necessary.  I have nothing but praise of the way the MAPH program facilitates the pairing of students and advisers.  It was not until I spent a lot of time speaking to Ph.D. students telling their horror stories about the difficulties of forcing advisers to read drafts, getting answers to emails, and even finding readers willing to schedule final defenses that I began to appreciate how streamlined and easy the MAPH version of this process is.  As philosophers, Bill and I had access to a particular adviser willing to make love connections on our behalf with professors in Chicago’s philosophy department.  While Bill’s adviser was already waiting for him in the English department, I know that having someone already familiar with my work vouching for me was invaluable in securing an adviser of Robert Pippin’s stature.  Also, because of the time frame involved, I get the sense that most Masters students actually have more access to their thesis advisers than even Ph.D. students can expect–as the time frame of a Ph.D. allows professors to put off meetings until weeks more convenient to them.

My particular experience working on my thesis differs markedly from Bill’s.  Bill had an idea when he came into the process and has been working steadily to further refine that idea through the many drafting/workshop days we’ve had scheduled.  In contrast, my first meeting with Dr. Pippin made me consider my topic from a profoundly different perspective than I had originally intended.  As a result I had at least three false starts trying to do a treatment of my thesis in accord with what Pippin wanted to see and really burned through the first half of the allotted thesis writing schedule with very little to show for it.  Now, at the midpoint I finally have thirteen pages that codify what I intend to argue and make the necessary conceptual and terminological distinctions to focus the project.  My relationship with my adviser is really just beginning, because I was too afraid to meet with him when I didn’t have all my ducks in a row–an unintended consequence of having a Rock Star professor for an adviser.

I don’t know how it will end up during the last quarter, but the first and second quarters have been markedly different experiences for me. I think that’s likely a result of the difference in the work from one quarter to the next. Because I started my work with my thesis adviser in the first quarter, which I think is a bit unusual, I was transforming a long paper written for that class into an early draft of my thesis while I was still taking a class with my adviser. Last quarter, I wasn’t taking a class with her and was working on my own more. I met with my adviser a couple of times and she gave me some good feedback, but the need to work on my own has definitely increased. That’s my biggest realization about thesis work – an adviser is precisely that. It may sound obvious and naïve, but the thesis writer drives the project. When I have something to talk to my adviser about or need feedback, I get it, often by email. I’ll admit that she hasn’t been as available or responsive this last quarter, but she’s got at least one other MAPH advisee, at least one undergraduate advisee, and likely some PhD students. On top of that, she’s on sabbatical next year, so I expect preparing for that consumes some of her time. As much as I sometimes want a cheerleader, ubiquitous and offering hot cocoa when I’m not sure where the hell to go next, this is far better training for doing the kind of academic work I want to do, which relies precisely on being self-driven. My perception of her hasn’t changed: I still think she’s really, really cool. And smart. And she tells very funny stories, sometimes by accident.
I have supplemented my adviser with, as the MAPH program dictates, working with my small precept group. I have found their comments and those of my preceptor to be invaluable additions to my adviser. Each of them – including MAPHman – offer their thoughts from very different perspectives than the others. Some don’t know my source material, so that gives great help in ensuring my clarity. Others, like MAPHman, do know my source material and come well-armed with all sorts of hole-pokery when we meet.
Also, HALF-done? Are you kidding me? I have been 40 percent done for weeks, and somehow, every time I get a little further, I find that I am still only 40 percent done!
Up tomorrow – Part 3: Men on a Wire.

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