Sunday, June 19, 2005

Thesis blues

In the middle of the week, I had a feeling of helplessness -- It has been about a month since class ended, and my pledge to myself to get my thesis proposal completed this summer is stuck in a rut.

The main problem is my inability to focus my thesis topic. I know I am interested in developing methodologies to pick apart Chinese media and analyze Chinese policy, but I cannot focus the topic more than that. I have considered nationalism, territorial claims, Taiwan, and other policy issues, but for various reasons I am having trouble shaping the topic and methodologies into a coherent thesis idea.

I began to ask myself, am I on the wrong track? Am I too wedded to my content analysis methodologies, and the idea of using Chinese media sources to study Chinese policy?

I also asked, is Chinese history my calling?

When you ask yourself these kinds of questions, and follow the logic chains to other possibilities, one alternative that presents itself is the idea of giving up. Considering this option is depressing, yet so seductive -- giving up ends the mental anguish of the thesis, frees up huge chunks of time, and allows you to concentrate on other pasttimes, family, and career.

Another possibility is giving up temporarily, and hoping a better thesis idea presents itself next year, or the year afterwards -- after all, with the five-year ALM deadline, I have until June 2009 to finish my coursework and thesis.

Both of these ideas crossed my mind, but then I gave myself a virtual slap in the face. I don't want to give up, and delaying would be fatal to my thesis -- I am doing well in my career and expect to have more work responsibilities two years from now. Also, I have two little kids now, which is really tough, but in two or three years these little tykes will need my attention and time in different ways -- help with homework, driving them around to various activities, etc. If I wait, a new topic may present itself, but by then I may not have the time to conduct the necessary reasearch and writing to complete a thesis.

But even more importantly, I confirmed to myself that Chinese history, Chinese media, and a computer-assisted content analysis really are what I want to do. Thanks to my background and previous studies, I have a unique set of skills, interests, and understanding that are a natural fit for this type of study. Furthermore, I believe this type of study would really contribute to the study of modern Chinese history. This is my calling.

With these thoughts in mind, I have decided that returning to the literature is my best course of action. I will reread two books on Chinese nationalism that I haven't cracked open since last year, and also check out some journal articles on Chinese media and computer-assited content analysis of media sources. Besides refreshing my memory on several issues relating to modern Chinese history and media issues, it may also give me new insight on methodolgy and research methods, and of course lead me to a solid research topic and thesis proposal.

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