56 What Writers of Theses and Dissertations Should Expect

Students may reasonably expect the thesis or dissertation director to be a source of guidance as they develop the prospectus, plan research, and construct the argument. The director should guide the process, suggest avenues of research, question the writer’s assumptions, require a demonstration of competence in areas such as languages, etc., and make editorial suggestions, including expansion or cutting of the text. However, the ideas and argument must be the student’s own original contribution to scholarship and students should not expect the director to proofread their writing for them. Students may expect the director to read and comment upon drafts within a reasonable amount of time (two weeks to a month).

Students may expect the reader(s) to read and comment on the drafts; the readers in turn may question the strength of the argument or proofs offered, suggest additional sources or avenues of research, and recommend that the student address additional issues—in short, the readers can be as involved as if they were directing the thesis, though the degree of involvement may vary from professor to professor and should be a topic of discussion between the student, the director, and the readers very early in the process. The readers may make recommendations and suggestions and may require additional work. As with the director, students should not expect the readers to proofread their writing for them. The readers should read and comment upon the drafts in a reasonable amount of time (two weeks to a month), as should the director.

The committee will generally expect the following from the student:
  • Quality. They will expect the best possible work. Whether at the M.A. or the Ph.D. level, the thesis or dissertation director (and probably the readers) will be the primary source of letters of recommendation for Ph.D. programs, grants, fellowships, assistantships, and jobs, so students should work to ensure that the committee can give their highest, unqualified recommendations. For further guidance, see “Assessment of Portfolios, Theses, and Dissertations”.
  • Responsibility. The committee will expect the student to recognize that writing a thesis or dissertation is a major investment of time and energy requiring extensive reading, research, writing, and revising. Students must be self-motivated. They cannot expect constant hand-holding or nagging from the committee members.
  • Honesty.  Students should not promise more than can be delivered and should always deliver what is promised. This applies to everything from showing up for appointments to meeting deadlines to being realistic about one’s expectations of oneself and the committee. It goes without saying that the committee will expect each student to abide by the standards of academic integrity.
  • World-language competency. The committee may reasonably expect the student to have (or have a plan to acquire) the knowledge of any languages necessary to deal with texts in the original language. This is a must at the Ph.D. level and highly recommended at the M.A. level. 

Most directors and readers will communicate their expectations to students verbally in a face-to-face meeting.  Students should go to this meeting prepared to take notes on their expectations and they should not be afraid to ask for clarification about any of the expectations.

The director or readers may withdraw from the committee if the student does not meet their expectations. Note: Some readers will not commit to plans to complete a thesis or dissertation during the summer since this entails significant work that is neither recognized nor compensated by the university, so you should discuss your timeline and any possibilities of a summer defense with all readers.


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