It is your responsibility to find
an IUP faculty member willing to guide you through the thesis project and give
you a grade at the end. This person is
called your thesis director. How do you find such a person?
First, your topic and director have to be a
match. If you want to do a thesis on
forestry in Northern Burma, you will need a director who will be able to help
you. In some cases, the topic you are thinking of may not have an exact match
among the faculty. What if you want to work on suppression of spirit mediums in
Late Yi Korea? We don’t have any experts on Korean popular religion, but we do
have faculty who work on contemporary Buddhism and on social reform in China.
Most faculty are very willing to help you out, but they also know that past a
certain point they really can’t give you useful advice. There may be some
topics where it is not possible to find a faculty member to direct a particular
thesis. Then you will need to find a new topic.
How do you know which professors
have which expertise? The Asian Studies
website will give you a general idea. The courses that faculty teach and their
publications are also good clue. Often the best information will come from your
academic adviser because faculty colleagues always know each other’s work well.
Second, your thesis director should be someone with
whom you think you can work well. Professors and students are no less human
than anyone else, and some personalities and learning styles match better than
others. In many cases, you will already know your director well from prior
coursework, and he or she will know you. If you do not know each other well,
you each may want to spend some time in conversation before making a
commitment. Remember that the professor is making a large time commitment to
you, just as you are to the project. You both need to feel good about what you
You should not be hesitant about approaching a
professor. Most professors love to have thesis students, and they will consider
it a compliment that you are asking them to be your director. It is, of course,
possible that they may already have taken on as many thesis students as they
can handle, or made other commitments that make it impossible to work with you
in any given semester. But, the vast majority will be eager to work with you if they
can possibly manage it.
Professors who may seem distant or even daunting in
other circumstances can become suddenly enthusiastic when they find out that
you are passionate about the very same things that they are. Just as in other
human relationships, common interests and common tasks make a good foundation
for cordiality and mutual respect.