Friday, November 23, 2012

A lot like life


Plunging into a semester of thesis writing is a lot like living. Okay, loving, too. 

First, you have to choose your topic. In a context where you are free to choose any topic you want, so long as you can justify its relevance to your program, this first hurdle is perhaps the toughest one.

Because it’s journalism, that field that talks about anything, and because you’re a journalist, which means you at least have a modicum of creativity, you more or less can decide to write about any topic that catches your fancy.

Then again, not all would-be topics are created equal.  There are things you like, there are things you like better, and there are things you can really get worked up about.

Does it follow that you can choose the thing that you are most passionate about? Not necessarily.

Sometimes, it is just not doable. Either the data would be nearly impossible to obtain, you don’t have much time, you don’t have the freedom and the means to travel for your research.

So you ditch the topic and look around for something you like well enough, and something that you can possibly finish within three and a half months. Remember, if you want to march in March, you have to deliver the complete package before the end of February.

If you find it – as you are bound to do so, because you’ve come this far, because you’re good – then you settle. You commit. Midway into the semester you may have an epiphany about a better project, or realize that what you wanted to do was, after all, doable. But you’ve made your choice and there is no turning back.

You begin writing your proposal, hope it is airtight, and draft a plan. You defend it, and when you get the green light, you take the plunge. You pore through journals, stay online for hours, think about other areas you may have missed. You cut back on dinners out with friends and episodes of Suits or The Big Bang Theory and will yourself to be productive.  

You sink or swim. You do a good job or you botch it. You stick to the plan or procrastinate.
Sometimes, and heaven forbid, you get a streak of bad luck. The sources won’t cooperate, the data is incomplete, nothing falls into place. You remember you still have a job and a household to run. You get distracted and disheartened, and take the easy way out – stop. Or give excuses for your failure.

But who’s banking on that, really?

We hope for an outstanding finished product – the kind that is published and that wins awards. We crave that A and imagine ourselves receiving honors on graduation day.  We want to be able to look back to the past few months fondly. After all, when we started out, we did not know for certain what would happen. 

Success – as is love, or happiness -- is a combination of hard work and serendipity, or as others will call it, God’s grace. 

A Master's project, indeed.  

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