Should I change my long stagnant thesis topic?
May 13, 2010 5:56 AM   Subscribe

Should I change my thesis topic... LONG after I should have been done with it?

I finished coursework in a master's program a few years ago, but as of yet, have not finished my thesis. It took me awhile to settle on a topic and I was never fully married to it. At this point, I'm probably 65% done with it (but that may be erring on the side of optimism).

I've been working in an unsatisfying job in the field my MA program was in since then and I'm now looking to move in a different direction and back to the field that my BS/sporadic freelance work encompasses and that I find more personally satisfying.

I have the idea that I should start anew on this thesis. I have some ideas on topics that would actually combine both the focus of the grad program and my new direction* pretty easily. I also feel like writing one of these new topics would be useful to me professionally in the future, whereas my old topic would essentially only help me complete the degree.

So I see a bunch of pros to the idea, but I can also hear some cons. The main one being "Just FINISH what you have, already. Jeez!"

There is no funding or anything tied to this. I am just working on my own right now and I would have to essentially reapply for a semester of thesis completion to defend.

Have any of you done this? Should I just finish what I have or is there really a benefit to exploring something else, even if it might add more time onto something already past due?

* Sorry this is so vague, but if I identified the fields, people who know me who read Metafilter would instantly know it was my question.
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total)
65% done? Just finish it. Once you're done, there will be far less focus on your thesis and far more on just having the degree.
posted by The Michael The at 6:01 AM on May 13, 2010

Finish it. No one really cares about a Master's thesis but you; the point is to get it done. You can do it! Read about strategies for procrastinators and FINISH IT!!!
posted by nosila at 6:08 AM on May 13, 2010

Yeah, just get it over with. But you'd better check with the program. "A few years" could mean you've gone beyond the time limit to finish, might need to petition or reapply to submit the thesis, etc.

Also, consider that your adviser is invested in your current thesis topic (if not other faculty members) and presumably approved it. Coming up with something different on your own and dropping it on her later is a recipe for lack of interest after a long gap unless the new topic is really smart and the execution excellent. Make sure it's even legal in the program's rules to change a topic after it's been approved.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:09 AM on May 13, 2010

The best advice I was ever given is "Don't aim for a good thesis. Aim for a completed one." Put me in the camp that says finish your degree and use your new ideas for further research down the road.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:22 AM on May 13, 2010

65% is most of the way there! I say go ahead and knock it out; who's to say you won't hit the same wall at 65% completion on the new idea? Then you've spend however long just to get back to the same place.

Don't think of this thesis project as the end-all-be-all of your academic career, perhaps view it as a stepping stone to writing what you want to write once you've received your degree.
posted by activitystory at 6:24 AM on May 13, 2010

is a recipe for lack of interest...

I'd argue that it's actually a recipe for outright hostility in many places. Presumably there was some conversation, if not debate, that led to your current topic. Changing it without repeating that entire process would, at a minimum, justifiably annoy the faculty involved. You have a limited set of options here:

1) Power through.
2) Change topic without notice.
3) Repeat whatever process generated the topic in the first place.
4) Don't finish.

Of these, #1 is by far the least bad. #2 is going to annoy people and just begs for your advisor/committee to respond, "nice work, bad topic, try again." Door #3, after your long absence, smacks of indecision, dilettantism, etc. and if I were your advisor I'd probably roll my eyes and dial my investment way back. If I knew that you were more than halfway done and decided to walk back to the start line, I would start questioning whether you ever really wanted to finish.

Everyone above is right. At the end of the day nobody cares what your topic was. They care that you finished.
posted by range at 6:27 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yep, just get it done. I've been in your situation, and really struggled getting my thesis done (and remember often considering starting over -- anything to get out of having to do it, and to help explain why it took me so long). So ... just get it done.
posted by AwkwardPause at 6:40 AM on May 13, 2010

"Don't aim for a good thesis. Aim for a completed one."

This is excellent advice and advice I wish I had been given during the course of my own postgrad thesis writing-up Dante's Inferno. Just finish what you have and explore your new ideas in further graduate work or on your own time. Don't let this turn into the never ending thesis - there's nothing more soul crushing than that.
posted by meerkatty at 6:42 AM on May 13, 2010

You're not alone. Almost everyone who writes a thesis of some sort reaches a point where they are sick of the thing and starting over anew sounds better than just finishing it. Take this as a sign that you're ready to be done with it, not that you made a mistake in choosing this topic - and as everyone else has said, just finish it.
posted by googly at 6:48 AM on May 13, 2010

If it's really 65% done, then, yeah, finish. Unless, your new topic is so exciting that you can progress much faster on it so that it will actually seem like less work. But that's probably an illusion created by the idealization of not being in the midst of it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:52 AM on May 13, 2010

I would go against the tide and say if your thesis topic is unwieldy and ill-chosen and you now have a topic that you feel could actually work, then change. On the other hand, if you old topic is workable, but just no longer of interest to you (as opposed to a topic that never should have been an MA thesis topic) then I'll join the choir with a hearty chorus of "Just Finish it Already!

Before you go any further, I would caution you to check with you adviser and/or thesis committee to make sure that you even can change your thesis topic. It may require going through more hoops to and finding new readers for the new topic, if they even allow you to change.

And those exciting ideas that will help you professionally? Nothing stopping you from writing them up as articles and trying to get them published. But first - Finish you Thesis!
posted by kaybdc at 7:49 AM on May 13, 2010

I changed my master's dissertation topic mid-way through and I'm glad I did. But, I talked it over with my supervisor, and the primary reason I made the change was that my new research plan had more readily available sources of data to support it, making it easier and faster to complete. Like kaybdc says, if changing it means that you'll finish faster then go for it.
posted by Kurichina at 8:29 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

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