11 August 2016

Master’s theses should be published

Mark Humphires has a nice post about the difference in research conducted at private organizations versus universities. His argument is that universities have screwed up scientific research because of those pesky wrong-headed incentives. (You know, the ones that scientists create for themselves.)

In the middle of a good article, I find this aside:

(Last semester, we even got a Faculty-wide email encouraging us to write up our Master’s students’ project work for publication. Because what science needs right now is more unfinished crap.)


It’s terrible to characterize master’s theses as “unfinished crap.” It shows how little regard you hold for master’s students and their work. What have master’s students done to warrant their research being treated with such contempt?

I wish I could say this was surprising, but I have seen over and over again this disinterest in master’s students, their work, and their degrees. Research universities view master’s degrees as the exit route for bad doctoral students. Funding agencies don’t want to support them, because they buy into the “failed doctoral student” narrative, and because master’s are not terminal degrees.

This is another one of those biases that works against the stated aim of many institutions to increase diversity in science. As Terry McGlynn has often noted, under-represented students come from under-represented institutions. Many of the under-represented students we say we want to recruit may not have immediate access to an institution with a doctoral program. They may want to gain research experience in a master’s that may not have be available to them as undergrads (but that undergrad students at the more swanky universities may have already had).

In my role as grad program coordinator, I have been the person sending those emails asking, “Why we are graduating so many master’s students with thesis, but we are not seeing papers being published based on that thesis research?” I send them because we have always had in our program’s guidelines that a master’s thesis should represent a publishable peer-reviewed journal. My rough and ready guide is that a master’s thesis represents one paper, and a doctoral dissertation represents about three papers.

If you think your students’ work is “unfinished crap,” let me suggest to you that it is not always the students’ fault. Maybe it’s the fault of professors who didn’t mentor the student, didn’t support the work, and can’t be bothered to do their job right.

Related posts

The cages we scientists make for ourselves

External links

How a happy moment for neuroscience is a sad moment for science
Disadvantaged students come from disadvantaged universities

1 comment:

Nieky said...

I couldn't agree more! MSc research work should be of publishable quality and preferably should lead to a journal paper, or at least a high level conference paper.