A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Yes. It deserves it's own blog post.
Oh no reason, you know, ASIDE FROM THE FACT THAT IT WAS LITERALLY A TWO WEEK FULL-TIME ENDEAVOUR THAT BASICALLY MADE ME WANT TO KILL MYSELFJust kidding (not really!)
So I don’t know how it works for other majors but the MSc Political Science degree at Leiden University requires this thing called a thesis. Which is fair enough. I mean I knew what I was signing up for when I registered. What I didn’t realize was that in order to get to the part where you start writing your thesis you have to submit a thesis proposal. Which I guess is still all fine and dandy. Except it’s not.
My ‘proposal’ ended up being 6000 words. Yes folks. It’s also pass/fail. Which means if I fail I can’t continue on with that topic. Which is actually a bigger deal than it sounds. I think there are two types of students when it comes to writing your masters thesis. The first type is the one that’s like “eh – just want to write this and get it over and done with”. And then there’s the “I can finally write 16.000-20.000 words on this fascinating topic that I am completely obsessed about and someone (namely my poor thesis advisor) has to – is forced to -read it” (the latter type being me). So yes, failing and having to change/modify your topic is a big deal.
So here are some tips and tricks for those going through the process/will go through the process/has decided not to go through the process because of this post:
Start thinking about your topic early. And I mean really thinking about it. Figure out what makes you ‘tick’, what excites you, what draws you to your laptop and makes you want to find out more. Start thinking about your topic way before you’re going to start writing. This is really important. Like a good bottle of wine, you really need to let the topic sit with you, give it time to resonate, mull it over. It’s a process – don’t try to rush it. Getting this step right is probably the most critical thing you can do. Otherwise you might end up writing half your thesis and then finding out you’re already bored of it.
Be realistic when you’re coming up with your research question. Make sure it’s not so big that you can never full answer it. Likewise, don’t constrain your research to the point where writing three pages would be enough to answer it. Make sure it’s measurable, and interesting! No one actually wants to know whether a watched pot never boil.
Research research research! Once you’ve somewhat formulated your research question start reading about everything you can on your subject. The more you teach yourself, the easier it will be to put the pieces together when it comes to writing your proposal.
Find a unique theory to use! I mean this. In Polt-sci we are mainly taught the big three theories: realism/liberalism/constructivism. There is so much more out there! Don’t restrict yourself to what you learned in your textbooks. Explore, seek new horizons. This is your time to be creative.
Speaking of being creative – do not underestimate the importance of your research design. Honestly, this section took me the longest to write. And the reason is simple. You’re expected to determine how you will operationalize your variables before doing the research. It’s a painful painful process, one that requires patience and researching exactly what data you will use. Which is where your creativity really comes into play. Don’t be afraid to stretch the boundaries! Find correlation in the most unexpected places!
Now that you have your sections figured out (literature review, theory, research design), really hone in on how you’re going to captivate your reader. As cliché as that sounds I really mean it. You need to show why this research is important. Even if your reader doesn’t care about the issue, you need to make them. So make your intro and conclusion count.
Give yourself enough time to write so that you’re not rushing to meet the deadline. You need time to write a draft, edit, re-write, edit again. Be really satisfied with your end result.
Don’t take the process too lightly. Yes it’s only a proposal. But you should take it seriously. And not for school. For yourself. You’re old enough to know that the work you put into something is to better yourself, not to just pass a class. So make sure your proposal is something you are proud of.
Finally, make sure to proofread and hand it in on time (don’t underestimate the small things! I realized I had written my student number wrong right as I was handing in my proposal – it happens).
Finally! You’re done! Go celebrate! Get drunk for a week straight until you find out whether you’ve passed or failed!
If you fail, repeat the process.