by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Writing”

Terminology

Posted 22 May 2008 in by Catriona

According to an e-mail I just received from the Theses Office, theses are now no longer “examined” by thesis “examiners”—and yes, the quotation marks are theirs.

Apparently, referring to the process of examining a thesis as, well, an examination led to a couple of misconceptions: that the theses were assigned grades, for example, as in the coursework programmes; that the candidate had to be present for some form of examination; or that the assessment was “summative and adversarial”—in the words of the Graduate School website—where it is “formative and collegial”.

(As a sidenote to this, I’d hate to think that I have a “summative and adversarial” attitude towards the work I assess for undergraduate courses. Perhaps some further terminology changes are in order?)

None of those concerns have ever occurred to me, even though I’ve had one thesis “examined” and assumed up until this afternoon that the other one was currently “under examination.”

I’m unconvinced, though, that a terminology change of this nature would make any significant difference to the likelihood of making the misconceptions outlined above.

Sure, having a thesis “assessed” makes it less likely that you’d need to be present.

But how does “assessing” work imply a formative and collegial process rather than a summative and adversarial one? Or suggest that the work won’t be receiving a grade, when all your undergraduate assessment is graded?

And, really, once you’ve got to the point of submitting a thesis in pursuit of a higher degree, is a simple verb going to throw you for a loop?

I’d suggest that the only really scary term is “thesis defense”: now that’s a phrase to strike fear into the hearts of candidates everywhere.

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