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10-year anniversary Master Thesis Lab: A decennia of supporting students with thesis troubles

On Monday 6 February, 2017 it is exactly ten years since the FSW Master Thesis Lab was set up. And the Faculty is proud and delighted to mark the anniversary of this special facility for master’s students.

Pieter Krooneneberg (l.) and Frits Meijerink.

Stimulating and supporting

“Speeding up and improving the process of writing a master’s thesis,” is how emeritus professor Pieter Kroonenberg sums up the aims of the successful initiative. As one of the founding fathers, he remembers how it all began: two little rooms side by side in the Institute of Education and Child Studies. One room provided six study spaces, and the other housed a permanent supervisor. A welcome solution to the problems encountered by both students and lecturers.

Too much pressure, too little time

Back in 2002, there was no denying the facts and figures: the number of students who successfully completed their degree was too low, and the pressure on lecturers, who had more and more students to teach and theses to supervise, was too high. Added to that, as a consequence of the EU decision that all university degree courses should be structured according to the bachelor’s and master’s system, students had a strict schedule to meet. They had just one year for their whole master’s programme, so they needed to complete their thesis in record time. What could be done to help both students and lecturers?

Jacquy Bouwer (r.) receives a token of appreciation from SAM Mi-Lan Woudstra.

Institute to Faculty

“The unique thing about the Master Thesis Lab is that it’s a place where students can really concentrate on their thesis. There’s always a ‘SAM’ (the Dutch acronym for Scriptieatelier Medewerker, the staff of the Master Thesis Lab) on hand to provide professional support or feedback”.  This support mainly relates to advice on structuring the thesis, and using computer programmes like SPSS. There’s also a ‘Stat SAM’ to help students with their questions about statistics. 
It wasn’t long before students from other Institutes started to request the same support. It was decided that the initiative should be expanded to a Faculty-wide facility, so a bigger space was found: the present Lab on the sixth floor. This provides 22 workspaces where students can sit and write. In addition, the Master Thesis Lab website is now a great source of information about research literature, methods, and statistics.

SAMs – technical assistance 

“So tell me, what’s your thesis about and what does your data look like? This is a question students often find difficult to answer. Yet, the SAM discusses them with the students and encourages them to think through the methodological or statistical hurdles on their path,” Kroonenberg explains. “The SAM never takes over the supervisor’s task; the support focuses on the technical problems with the thesis. And students have to get permission from their supervisor to register with the 'Master Thesis Lab. Not just because it’s important that supervisors know where their students are getting advice – it’s also a way to make sure that the Lab’s facilities are reserved for students who are actually working on their final thesis.”

Creativity, quality, and exchange

The idea of a lab or studio shows we view writing a thesis as more than simply carrying out research and writing down the findings: writing is a creative process. And it’s not all statistics, by any means. The Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, for example, offers a SAM for qualitative research. A recent innovation, from the start of this academic year, is that students can now also get advice on writing in English. With their supervisor’s permission, they can make an appointment with the Faculty’s Lecturer in Academic English to discuss their particular language problems and get useful writing tips.
The Master Thesis Lab also offers students the opportunity to exchange feedback  with one another. On the fifth floor we’ve set up a small seating area – with the seascape in the background – where students can talk thesis troubles together.

Students’ needs in 2017

And now we are ten years down the line. Two years ago, Professor Kroonenberg retired, after 40 years of teaching and research in statistics. He’s delighted that the support provision he pioneered – his ‘hobby’ – has now grown into a successful facility. “I’m curious to know whether the needs of today’s students have changed. They probably all have their own laptops, so maybe they don’t need a workspace with a computer?” But the small scale of the Master Thesis Lab and the permanent availability of support are still an important stimulus for students in 2017. This is an important milestone that will be celebrated on Monday 6 February, 2017 at a reception for all those involved in the Master Thesis Lab over the years.
 

(Text and photographs by Sabrina Otterloo - February 2017)

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