Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thesis Etiquette and Communication

I am currently working on my Master's thesis and this semester has been spent sending my written work to thesis committee. How do you balance moving your thesis along while remaining respectful? I also discovered this semester that it is customary to give your thesis committee members a gift. I had not thought about it before and was grateful that a fellow student mentioned it. That set me to thinking about thesis etiquette and how I would like to improve my own thesis communication.

In addition to this helpful document from my current university-Steps to Theses Finalization, I have also found some other gems regarding thesis procedure, including lots of university specific procedures and general how-tos on selecting a thesis committee and writing a thesis. But very little on etiquette and no handy dandy manual.

I was on my own. Since etiquette is just appropriate forms of verbal and non-verbal communication, I've put together a few useful hints and will add to this post as I learn more! Comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

  • Establish an initial thesis committee meeting. This is not a necessity, but it would establish communication among all thesis committee members and ensure that you and your thesis committee are on the same page about the direction your thesis or dissertation is headed. 
  • Include your thesis adviser in all communications with your thesis committee members. For all e-mails, carbon copy (cc) or blind carbon copy (bcc) your thesis adviser. For phone calls, let your adviser know about the conversation (when it occurred and what was discussed). This will keep your adviser in the "know" regarding your progress and will allow your adviser to step in if one committee member is suggesting taking your research a different direction from the rest of the committee. 
  • Keep a record of all of your communications with your thesis committee members. Generally it is a good idea to keep e-mails that your thesis committee members have sent you and to print off a hard copy for your personal records. 
  • Communicate with your outside reader regularly. Some Universities allow for an outside reader, a professional in the field or at another university who can provide valuable insight on your project. Since these outside readers may not be located on campus and may not see you regularly, it is a good idea to let them know how things are progressing. Even if things aren't progressing (sigh) a regular e-mail will inform them that you would still like them to be involved with your project.
  • Establish a thesis defense timeline. If you can establish times of the year that are good for your thesis committee to attend a thesis defense, this will save you a lot of trouble. For example-some professors are not available during the summer months due to projects. Planning around sabbaticals is also important. Also there are numerous conferences during the year and it would be prudent to check with professors as your thesis defense approaches to ensure that there are no scheduling conflicts.
  • Write a thank you letter and give a gift to your thesis committee members. Several students have posed the question of what to give your thesis committee members on websites. A thank you letter is always appropriate and other suggestions have included getting members a book related to their field or interests and restaurant gift cards. For dissertations, a bound copy of the dissertation is a very traditional gift for advisers and committee chairs. Gifts should only be given after the successful defense of the thesis or dissertation. On a practical note, a great gift is leaving a clean work space after you leave. Clean your lab area and desk, and present your research notes, lab books and other information in an organized fashion. Also keep in mind that the gift does not have to be expensive, it is the gesture that is important.

Books on completing theses and dissertations-

Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish: Psychology and Related Fields

Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising and Finishing your Doctoral Thesis

Writing the Successful Thesis and Dissertation: Entering the Conversation

Finish your Dissertation once and for all: How to Overcome Psychological Barriers, Get Results and Move on with your Life

And a comic to lighten the mood-


  1. Well, a lot of people are certainly getting stress out while doing their thesis paper, and sometimes lose control of what they do. SO, it would really be good to have thesis etiquette to follow if you’re feeling that you’re on the brink of losing control of it. Anyway, this would certainly help student while doing their thesis

  2. Thank you for sharing such a informative information with us. Keep on sharing the blog like this.

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