Advice For Th.M. Students

by Reita Yazawa, ’08 Th.M. 

1. How to Study

I think in American classroom culture, especially in Th.M. courses, it is very important to learn critical thinking or analytical reading. I sometimes call it “Wait a Minute!” reading. While you read assignments, you keep asking questions: “Is this true?”; “Is there a better way to approach this issue?”; “Wait a minute! What the author says here contradicts what was said in the previous chapter. What is going on here?”; and so on.

Typically, Th.M. course assignments have the following grading proportion: Class Participation (10%); Weekly Reflection Paper Assignment (30%); Book Review (or something equivalent as additional requirement for Th.M. students-20%); and Research Paper (40%). Critical thinking and analytical reading should operate in all these assignments. In other words, professors are looking for not a summary of the material, but your own observations, responses, or reactions. What inspired you? What made you wonder, frustrated, intrigued, or uncomfortable? One thing I think would be helpful is to start each bullet-point entry in a weekly reflection paper by a phrase like “I think…,” I was struck by…,” “It is strange to me that…,” “This doctrine reminds me of an event that happens a few years ago…,” and henceforth.

2. How to Manage Your Time

I have found it helpful to manage schedule in three terms: long term (semester); medium term (month and week); and short term (today). With Google Calendar function in our student account, we can add tasks and events, and manage all these three dimensions of our schedule. At the beginning of a course, a course syllabus will provide all the descriptions of assignments and due dates. You immediately put those dates on your calendar and retroactively set up a date to start working on a specific assignment.

For example, a book review assignment may start 4 weeks before the due date. In my case, I had to start working on a research paper project from the first week if I want to get it done by the due date with a satisfactory result. Especially for international students who use English as a second language, we need to throw away an illusion that we might be able to get the paper done in a week or so. It will not happen. Besides, family responsibilities, church ministries, and other emergencies come in between these schedules. In order to take advantage of services from Rhetoric Center, the final draft needs to be submitted 7-10 days prior to the actual due date. Given all of these, it is important to start working on each assignment well ahead of time, keep monitoring the progress, and make necessary adjustments on weekends.

3. Importance of Research Methodology

Finding a good topic, crafting a viable thesis, conducting solid research that collects only data necessary to prove your thesis, writing in cogent and lucid logic, sentences, and structure -learning these skills will be a life-long project. It took nine months for me to receive approval for my dissertation proposal. I am still struggling to learn and appropriate these skills. In this sense, it is critically important to work on your Th.M. methodology course seriously and diligently. It will provide you with very basics for conducting a solid research and writing well. Craft of Research and Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers will be your companions throughout your study in this program and beyond. Determine to do well in the research methodology course.

My conclusion: If you are in God’s providential care in this vocation, God will get you through this! “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13) Best wishes.