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  • Thesis/non-thesis

    Dear All:
    The excellent posting on the merits of thesis vs. non-thesis was quite
    revealing. I believe, though, that the merits of the non-thesis option
    were not touted as they should have been and some students might be
    mislead. Most of the responses were for engineering-related disciplines,
    for which the thesis appears be the only viable option. However, for other
    disciplines -- exercise science for example -- this may not be the case. It
    also depends on what is done in place of a thesis. I think most agree that a
    couple of courses cannot substitute for what is learned in doing a thesis and
    makes for a poorer education. Yet, an internship or the like substituted for a
    thesis can provide students with a great deal of practical knowledge, insights
    to the corporate world (such as what skills are really valued by employers),
    valuable job experience to put on a resume, contacts outside academia, and
    often times, a job upon graduation. An internship may be done along with
    a thesis, but in our experience a thesis commitment limits the internship
    opportunities for students for obvious reasons.

    There is no question that the most important things learned from doing a
    thesis are resourcefulness, writing skills, perseverence, and organizational
    skills. Some of these skills can be learned while on internship, others
    may not. Conversely, many master’s theses provide very little domain-specific
    practical knowledge that is readily transferred to the corporate world. For
    example, my master’s thesis on single motor unit control provided topical
    knowledge for one thing – pursuing a Ph.D. It did nothing to help me get a
    job in exercise science after getting my M.S.

    Another benefit of not doing a thesis is time. Suggested by some as being the
    fast and easy – and thus unworthy – way to do a master’s; but we are all
    too familiar with students lingering for years only to have an incompleted
    theses and no master’s degree. Yes, the non-thesis route generally provides a
    more sure, and thus often faster, way to finishing. For some students their
    individual circumstances dictate that this is really the only way. Students
    move, get pregnant (as is the case of one of my students who may now never
    finish her thesis on time), get a job, or other life circumstances change that
    makes the non-thesis option a better choice. Indeed, some of our students have
    started out with the idea of doing a thesis and then choose a non-thesis option
    because it became a better choice for them. If the student plans to pursue a
    Ph.D., then of course, the thesis is the only route.

    In sum, as long as the non-thesis option provides more than classroom learning
    I think it can be a viable, maybe even a better, alternative to the thesis.

    My $0.02.

    Jeff Ives, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor
    Dept. Exercise & Sport Sciences Email:
    Ithaca College Phone: 607-274-1751
    Ithaca, NY 14850 USA Fax: 607-274-1943

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