Should I consider switching from a thesis based master to course based?
June 1, 2022 6:37 AM   Subscribe

So, I've been doing my master's degree in Computer Science in Canada for almost a year now. It's thesis based, but thus far I'm not sure if I like the way this has been going. They want to publish my research, but it has taken forever to get things moving, and I'm losing confidence in my supervisors. They don't seem to be interested or invested in helping me get through this.

To be clear, the source of all my problems is the postdoc they have in there. He's supposed to work with us new students to get us published. However, this person is lazy, unprofessional, clingy and needy. When he meets with us, it is often for 5 hours on end, nothing gets accomplished, and it turns into a pity party about all his issues and grievances. He sets deadlines for himself that he never keeps, and then when he does things wrong he never assumes the blame, he just blames everyone else. Thus far it seems like my supervisors are either incapable or unable to change this situation. I've talked to them about it, but it seems like they just can't do it or something.

There is a time limit for how long this can go (they could stop funding me by September, if there isn't any "progress"), as in after this semester, it is probable that I may not get more funding from my supervisors. This is crap in my opinion, because I've really done everything and more than what was asked, but I have a feeling that this won't matter anyway. The money won't be a problem though, a US contact of mine is offering me a job part-time, and the lowest figure they pay more than covers my expenses and even makes me a profit.

Going course based would eliminate all of this uncertainty. I can pay for it regardless, and I could finish this up by the end of December or next April, depending on the course load I take (4 courses for 1 semester or 2 courses in 2 semesters). The money I'll be paid will cover it regardless.

However, I'm hesitant to pull this lever. I've done a lot of work for my research already. I don't dislike my supervisors, and changing things up seems like giving up on one of the toughest challenges I've ever had. More than that, I feel like after this particular challenge is done, I'll be free to pursue whatever I want. Staying in Canada permanently is really a matter of time, even if I was 35 my score would be enough for me to do this easily. At this moment the only thing that is a major problem in my life is everything that is going on with this thesis nonsense. Like if my supervisors gave me assurances that I'd be out by next winter's end, then I'd stick to it.

The other thing that I just hate about all this, is that, once again I find myself in another insane workplace situation in which I end up having to make these choices. I really hate having to deal with these situations, and it seems like no matter where I go or what I do, I'm constantly plagued by these issues. It makes me think that there is something wrong with me and I also really really hate that I can't seem to stick to one thing and just finish it. Am I really that unlucky or am I just screwed up or something?

So anyway, this place has helped me deal with these situations. I guess decision time is coming and I will have to make a choice. I'm wondering what people think. Thanks in advance.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Switch to course based asap. He's shown himself. Do the research in your own time if you can.

I lost all my PhD funding due to a PI who was a similarly bad communicator, and have an oddly timed Masters, as a result of his failure to do paperwork without threat of a lawsuit.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:43 AM on June 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Hey there, I did a course-based master's in Canada. It's hard to say without knowing all the details, but based on the info in your post, I do think switching to a course-based master's makes sense in your case.

Grad school is really tough on mental health, and it's so easy to get "stuck" in a bad situation where you're not making any progress and don't know how to dig yourself out. There's a huge value to just getting your degree and getting out — so if switching to a course-based masters lets you do that, then go for it. This is doubly true when you're not a citizen: having that degree from a Canadian university opens up a much easier path to residency.

If you plan to continue in academia, there may be a small disadvantage to a course-based master's. However, literally nobody in the working world will care, especially in computer science. And even if you do end up going into academia, it's better to have a clean finish to a course-based masters rather than struggling for years to finish a thesis master's.

As a side note, some of your own struggles that you describe in your post sound a bit like symptoms of executive dysfunction and/or ADHD. I had a really hard time following through on projects during my master's, and several years later I ended up getting diagnosed with ADHD. It might be worth reviewing this Adult ADHD self-report checklist and speaking to a counselor and/or doctor at your school about your experiences. (Executive dysfunction can be caused by many things; one of those is ADHD but there's many other causes as well.)
posted by mekily at 7:02 AM on June 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: No plans for academia, not anymore anyway, especially after this. I don't have good opinions about what goes on in this industry.
posted by Tarsonis10 at 7:05 AM on June 1, 2022

If you don't plan to continue in academia, then absolutely yes, switch to course-based and get 'er done.
posted by mekily at 7:07 AM on June 1, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think there are two things that you have conflated and that you need to separate here: (1) publishing your research, and (2) writing your thesis. THESE ARE SEPARATE. Only (2) is required to complete your Master's. If (1) doesn't happen, that's not on you, it's ultimately on your supervisors. If you have already done the research that you need to do for your thesis, and the roadblock is in writing it up for publication (presumably involving integrating it with other people's research), then you already have what you need in order to write your thesis.

I suggest that you meet with your supervisor(s) and tell them, look, you are an international student, you've done the research, you need to graduate on time, you can just start writing your thesis NOW and have it done in time for the submission deadline (find out when this is as soon as possible!), and then they'll have everything written up anyway that they can use at their leisure to get the publication out with your name on it AFTER you've graduated.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:35 AM on June 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My view is also you need to focus on getting out with what you came to get. Either a submitted thesis for the thesis-based masters, or a course-based masters. If you don't plan to continue in academia then the publication is a red herring. If you think you can figure out from your supervisors what you would genuinely need to do to submit the thesis without publishing it and that sounds like it could very realistically be achieved by say November/December then do that. Otherwise switch to course based and be done.
posted by plonkee at 8:12 AM on June 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

I chose to do a course-based masters and never regretted it. The time I would have wasted on punctuation and wordsmithing to meet archaic writing standards was instead spent actually learning more information and applying it.

Nor did anyone care which type of masters I had done when I was applying for jobs in the non-academia world.
posted by ITravelMontana at 11:45 AM on June 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are most of the way there, so my comments reflect that. If your supervisor won’t help you and their supervisors won’t help you, go to the dean or the like. Why do this extra work to take courses when they are failing you? Start asking questions like, so what are the exact steps I need to get this published? What exact things do I need to get this thesis approved?
posted by Monday at 7:49 PM on June 1, 2022

Best answer: In a somewhat similar situation, I switched to course-based in literally one millisecond, even though I had been planning and doing the research needed to complete the dissertation for about two years.

The situation was, my major professor had been working to eliminate the doctoral dissertation requirement - or at least make it optional for our particular degree - since the day she was hired. She was near retirement age when I studied with her, so that was some decades.

I didn't know this, though. One day she walked in to her office and told me, "The Faculty Senate just voted to remove the dissertation requirement. I thought you would want to be the first to know."

I had finished my comprehensive exams that same week, so that was the time when we were able to start selecting our dissertation advisor, committee, topic, etc. We had been plotting for about two years how to get the dissertation part done in a reasonable time and way, given that technically you were not even supposed to start on it until you had completed your first 3 years of coursework and passed the comprehensives.

I hadn't done any of the writing, however. I had all of the basic research and data literally sitting in a box in my closet (it is still in the same box in the same closet, FYI).

But as soon as I was presented with a choice as to whether or not to write that dissertation, the choice was an easy one.

I could see that finishing the dissertation was going to be an indeterminate process involving a committee, a lot of time, and whole lot of uncertainty. Whereas doing a few extra courses and projects was cut and dried, with an absolute minimum of uncertainty. It helped that I was able to write a "research paper" that summarized the findings of the research and really accomplished everything I wanted from the research, without any of the uncertainty of getting a dissertation approved by a committee.

I don't know whether I would do exactly the same in your particular situation. In your situation, I would definitely try to talk to everyone up and down the chain and get the thesis process moving forward at full speed, if at all possible - and then take it from there, depending on what the outcome of that is. However - even if that process turns around and goes well, it might still be both faster and a lot less stress to just take classwork.

For me, the decision was easy. The degree is exactly the same either way around.
posted by flug at 12:41 PM on June 2, 2022

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