It seems like all the thesis topics by my seniors are all quite cheer (profound). I’m thinking of doing thesis but I’m not sure how to get started, and it feels very stressful.
Here’s what I wrote:
Well, when it’s your turn, you’ll be writing another thing that will be just as cheem (profound). Haha! Anyway, Honours Thesis in FASS is 12000 words max. That’s the equivalent of about 5x 2500 word term papers. So you can just structure your thesis as if you’re writing 5 term papers that are related to each other. That’s not too bad right?
Yes, if you want to write a really good thesis, you should ideally plan long before you are in your Fourth Year. I started planning mine when I was in Year 2. If you’re in your Third Year, it’s still not too late. You should start planning now.
There are a few ways to approach this. One is to find a supervisor whom you click with very well (and make sure he/she is not going on sabbatical when you are in Year 4), and find a research area that your prof does that interests you a lot.
OR, go look at the stuff you’ve been inclining yourself towards. Those are probably the topics that interest you a lot. Spend time talking to your peers, seniors, and profs, and of course, go read up more about these topics. You should read journal papers and books relevant to the topics to understand the context of the debates and why scholars find it significant. These will give you ideas.
Anyway, at Honours Thesis level, we’re not interested in you saying anything new. That’s not what’s expected at Honours level. Minimally, you need to demonstrate your ability to comb through the literature that’s out there and show that you are able to critically assess them to form your own judgement about the matter to prove your point. If you can say something brand new, then good for you. If not, that’s ok.
Disclaimer: This is very generic advice since I don’t know your major (or who you are haha).
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.
After four exhausting years of toil, of literally blood (having gone to the hospital thrice and getting needles injected all over my body), sweat, and coffee, I’ve survived university and graduated!
Well, as some of you know, I’ve been pretty busy finishing my Honours Thesis in my last and final semester.
My thesis was entitled, “Notions of Harmony in Classical Chinese Thought.” In it, I set out to investigate and reconstruct all the various notions of harmony that could be found in the Analects, Mozi, Daodejing, Mencius, Zhuangzi, and the Xunzi. The problem with much of the scholarship on harmony is that scholars have often assumed harmony to be more or less the same idea across thinkers throughout Chinese history. My project was to demonstrate that this is not so. (If you are interested in reading it, please leave me a comment, and I’ll e-mail it to you!)
The final week before the Thesis submission deadline was extremely stressful as I was up almost every night until 3-4am trying my best to edit and polish up the paper.
Friday, 26 April 2013 was the thesis submission deadline and thankfully, I managed to finish my thesis by then.
That day was, for me, a very momentous occasion – it was the big day where after one entire year of researching and writing, the time has finally come for the paper to be printed and submitted! Wow… You know, I never thought it would ever have been possible to write such a lengthy paper. My thesis was approximately 12000 words, and it consisted of 42 pages! That’s right! 42! The number, the answer to life, the universe, and everything!
Somehow, the entire day felt like a momentous victory! I met a friend at the library who was more than happy to help me photograph the momentous occasion while I printed my thesis:
It was somewhat unfortunate that I didn’t have the time to bind my paper into a hardcover book (which was the tradition for submitting theses). Oh well, I didn’t have the luxury of time to do it. But that’s ok. Hardcover isn’t a submission requirement.
With the Honours Thesis out of the way, I felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders.
But I could not heave a sigh of relief yet as I still had exams to study and sit for. And so, after a day of rest, it was back to the books.
Unfortunately, the exams didn’t end on a very happy note. My last exam was an engineering module (for the life of me, I still don’t understand why on earth did I decide to do an engineering module). It wasn’t an introductory module either (I really have no idea why I put myself through such pains). Anyway, it was the last exam of my undergraduate life, but the paper was so difficult, I was faced with a very real possibility of failing the paper. I counted the marks of the questions where I think I would have gotten right, and I only had just enough to pass. If bell-curve moderation was not in my favour, there was the very very real possibility that I would have failed this paper, and worse of all, I would have to repeat a semester. Gosh… It was a very horrible feeling to have while walking out of the exam hall.
But no matter. A few days after that traumatic experience of the final exam, I was out of the country for a holiday to Penang (I’ll write more about it later). Then it was off to Kuala Lumpur to run some errands and enjoy a bit of holiday by the side. The Girlfriend’s grandmother came down to Singapore some time back and discovered the wonders of the Internet, specifically YouTube, and she wanted to have this amazing Internet in her home. So I volunteered to go down to KL and help buy and set up a computer and an Internet connection. And after Kuala Lumpur, I was off to Bangkok. These three places were amazing in their own way, and I think I’ve grown and learnt a lot while I was there. (But I’ll keep all those thoughts for another blog entry here).
Let me just fast forward by about 2 months to the last seven days leading up to my graduation ceremony.
Gosh… It was quite an exciting week! I was given the opportunity to present a section of my Honours Thesis at an international philosophy conference. It was the 2013 Joint Meeting of the Society of Asian Comparative Philosophy (SACP) and the Australasia Society of Asian Comparative Philosophy (ASACP).
Not only was I busy helping out with some of the logistic matters, I was also rushing to edit and present my paper for the event. It had been two months since I last wrote papers. It felt good to be writing a paper once again. I had a cup of coffee by my side, soft piano music playing in the background, and I was all ready to write my paper all the way into the midst of the night. So for three consecutive nights, there I was sitting before my computer, typing away until 3am. It was tiring, but it felt so good to be engaging in this paper writing ritual. There’s something so comforting and wonderful about the experience.
Monday, 8 July 2013. At last, it was the day of the Conference. I had to present my paper on the first day, in the afternoon before many academics, some of whom were really really BIG names in the area of Chinese Philosophy. It was intimidating, but nonetheless, a huge honour!
The paper I presented was entitled, “Reconciling Culinary and Musical Models in Classical Chinese Thought.” There’s been some sort of academic debate where there is disagreement as to whether the culinary and musical models of harmony have merged into a single unified notion or remain as two separate models in classical Chinese thought. In my paper, I attempted to present a new way of looking at the relation of the two models and how they can be reconciled together into a single theory despite remaining as two separate yet distinct models.
It turns out that my paper presentation was a huge success! Everybody present enjoyed it and they found the contents very interesting!
The biggest WOW experienced I had was during another panel’s Q&A session. One professor (Prof. Alan K. L. Chan), who is quite a big name in Chinese philosophy replied my question saying that he actually had read my Honours Thesis during his flight to Singapore, and he found it (to quote him), “an enjoyable read” and that it “was very interesting.” Immediately after that, the people sitting on my left and right turned to me asking if I could send my thesis to them.
WOW! If writing an Honours Thesis is meant to make one feel honoured, I think it’s working! I felt so honoured at that moment. Wow…
Anyway, the conference was really amazing. I had the chance to meet so many amazing people. It was also pretty amazing to finally see the faces of people whose books and papers I’ve read and cited in my papers. To be standing amongst the greats in Chinese philosophy from around the world… Woah… All I can say is that it was very inspiring and really awesome to see a bunch of people who are just so passionate about what they’re doing. It was lovely.
The conference went on for three whole days! On the fourth day, Thursday, 11 July 2013, it was finally the day of my graduation ceremony!
Four years of hard work has finally led up to this epic moment:
Let me now present you with the fruit of my labour – the fruit that took four years of coffee, blood and sweat (no tears thankfully):
You know, it’s crazy… Ever since my first year in university, I never thought that it would be possible for me – a person who came from the science stream and who initially majored in Computer Engineering – to be able to get this.
But with lots of hard work and the encouragement and support from The Girlfriend, the wonderful professors in the NUS Philosophy Department, and all my other friends both online and offline, I was able to endure and persevere all the way till the end.
So what’s next? Well, if you asked me this question two months ago, I would have only been able to shrug my shoulders and sheepishly reply, “I don’t know.”
But since last month, I’ve slowly come to realise that my true calling is in academia, and especially in (Chinese) Philosophy. In the past months, I’ve been looking through job ads after job ads, and I was never really interested in what was on offer. The greatest tragedy perhaps, was the constant thought of never having to pursue philosophy once again. Every time I contemplated that thought, a part of me dies. It was painful.
It was only at a recent farewell party for a professor that I realised that I should do whatever I can to pursue philosophy. There and then, we were having a fantastic time discussing philosophical issues. My heart was on fire once again after quite a period of dreaded boredom. The pursuit of wisdom has left me thirsting yet for more.
The pursuit of philosophy is an arduous process. It is mentally and even physically exhausting staying up late just to research, think, and write. But it is a process that I value so greatly. These four years of my philosophical pursuits have transformed me in many wonderful ways. And I wish to continue to be transformed, and shaped by the pursuit of wisdom, just as how it has transformed and shaped the professors in the Philosophy Department here in NUS. I’ve interacted with many of them, and all I can say is that I feel like I’ve been interacting with wise exemplary sages.
I want to be as wise and awe-inspiring as they are, and continue to pass on this most splendid and awesome tradition.
But in the mean time, I’ll take a year’s break from study to work. I intend to focus on publishing at least one paper in an academic journal. That would help me get a better chance of securing full funding for a PhD scholarship. And by next year, I shall be off to some other country to pursue my studies in Chinese Philosophy.
It looks like I have a really exciting life waiting for me in the years to come. I look forward to that as I take life one step at a time.
I’ve not been updating this blog for a while. I’ve been quite busy writing my Honours dissertation.
I’m just happy to say that it’s almost done. All it needs is several rounds of editing before I can declare it as the greatest accomplishment of my life.
Anyway, there’s four days left before the submission deadline. I hope to get over and done with this as soon as possible because I still have exams to study for.
Here are the books that are currently stacked up next to me:
This is only half of my final bibliography. The rest of the books are in the library. I don’t drive, so it’s very difficult to carry huge heaps of books in my bag pack.
The dissertation is currently 45 pages long. My current word count is 13,147 words. I need to keep everything below 12,000 words. That’s the word limit. It’s a strict limit, so I don’t have the luxury of exceeding it a little. I’ll need to find some ways to shave off those excess words without affecting the presentation of the paper.
Yup! That’s how life has been thus far. I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that I can finish this by tonight.
The second week of school has just ended, but it has already been quite an intensive week for me.
I’ll be officially starting on my honours thesis next semester. However, my supervising professor will be away for a while during that time, and it would be quite inconvenient to attempt a thesis under such conditions. So, I figured it’s better that I begin my research now while the hell of assignments hasn’t yet been unleashed onto me. I hope to finish as much research now, so that I have the luxury of time to write and do more stuff when I begin my thesis officially.
This was how my table at the library looked over the past few days:
Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. One of these books has Chinese words! I’m researching on an ancient Chinese text known as the Chung-yung (中庸, famously known as the “Doctrine of the Mean” or more accurately as “The State of Equilibrium and Harmony”). It’s written in classical Chinese.
What I’ve been doing the past week, was simply reading through the entire book in its original text, and comparing the various translations that I could get my hands on. Classical Chinese is a unique language in that it has a lot of ambiguities (it’s a unique feature of the language that allows the author to do a lot of amazing things, e.g. embed several different meanings onto the one same phrase). The problem with translations is that authors will have their own subjective biases, which affect the interpretation and thus, the translation of the text. In each translation, you’ll have different things missing while the translator focuses on one interpretive key. Hence, the importance of comparing translations along with the original text.
I’m glad I’ve made quite an effort over the holidays to work on my Chinese. I used to fail Chinese (or just barely pass it) back in secondary school and junior college. Now – I’m quite surprised at myself – I am able to read the entire text in Classical Chinese. That’s quite a marked improvement.
Well, with the week over, I’m more or less done with one little portion of research. Reading the original text and its translations is just the first step. More books and journals to read in the coming days. I expect my usual table at the library to be stacked with even more books.