What’s the difference between choosing to do a thesis and choosing to do modules for Honours? Which one is better?

A student sent me this question:

What’s the difference between choosing to do a thesis and choosing to do modules for Honours? Which one is better?

Here’s my reply:

I will always recommend taking thesis. It’s hard work, but it is worth it on so many levels. It’s always important to remember that when it comes to thesis, YOU are the end-product, and not the thesis. The thesis you write is just a means to transform and mature your thinking and resilience. It’s hard work. You’ll burn a lot of weekends, and often times feel guilty for taking time off to relax, and even feel lonely because no one else is working on that topic, so you find it hard to talk to anyone about your work. BUT, it is very worthwhile, because you learn to deal with hardship on a whole new level. You’ll learn to think and process copious amount of readings and research. You’ll be challenged like never before. And you’ll come out a better, more critical person at the end of it all.

You won’t grow much if you just take modules for your Honours.

Also, you’ll have more options and prospects if you pursued Honours Thesis, because you will learn solid research methods that will come in handy when you work, or if you decide later on that you want to do grad school. If you only take modules (what we call coursework), then you close many doors. It’s difficult to go into a research Masters or do a PhD in the future if you didn’t do thesis. A friend of mine didn’t do Honours Thesis, and he wanted to do a research masters in HK. They rejected his application and he ended up doing a coursework masters. A bit of an early death to his academic aspirations because he realised he could not pursue a PhD with the coursework masters on the basis that he didn’t have any prior research experience.

Furthermore, what you do for your Thesis can open doors for your career. Don’t just research on a topic you like. Use the thesis as a way to demonstrate specific skills. For example, in my Honours Thesis, I wanted to show that I can read and translate Classical Chinese texts, that I could do textual analysis, and anthropological work. It was my thesis that landed me a job producing online videos on Confucianism (and do all kinds of fun exciting stuff with academics and policymakers from all over the world). Similarly, I wanted my Masters Thesis to show that I can do computer simulations, textual analysis, and juggle interdisciplinary stuff. That played a huge role in allowing me to teach GET1050 here in NUS.

So go do a thesis! You won’t regret it. :)

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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