Dear Sherry: Irreconcilable Differences

Dear Sherry,

I am really close to finishing my Master’s degree in Canadian Studies. By close, I mean I am in the final edits of my thesis. It has taken me over two years to research it and write it. I can’t tell you how many times I wished it would just write itself already so I could submit it to my advisor and committee so I could graduate.

Part of what has taken me this long to finish writing my thesis is that my advisor is really, almost absurdly, picky. The grammatical corrections I can handle. Most of the editing suggestions, I understand. There are other changes he wants me to make that I just don’t agree with. They don’t make any sense. It is my research, my thesis, not his, and the changes he wants me to make don’t work. They are unnecessary. It’s like he’s trying to take over my thesis and make it his own. Eighty percent of my thesis is off for final proofreading. It’s the final twenty percent that I’m having difficulty with. Do I have to make the changes? If so, how do I keep my integrity?

Signed,
Irreconcilable Differences

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Dear Irreconcilable,

You and I both know the answer to your question. Yes, you have to make the suggested changes if you want to pass and graduate. You can talk to your advisor and argue your point, but if your advisor is firm in what he wants, you have to make those changes.

But that isn’t really the question. What you really want to know is how to live with the feeling that you’ve sold out. This isn’t that different from what a lot of writers, of fiction and non-fiction alike, face. It is difficult to accept a final thesis, book, or story, when it contains sections that aren’t your words.

You may not agree with the changes, but approach it with the attitude that your advisor knows best. Until the committee comes back to you telling you otherwise, the advisor does know best, and he wants you to have the best thesis possible so that you can graduate. You may not agree with the suggestions now, you may not see how the changes will benefit you and your thesis. Give it time. Chances are, in a year or two, you will see that they did.

What if your advisor is inserting his own ideas and research into your thesis, and not suggesting these changes for your benefit? What then? Accept the changes, graduate, set your thesis aside, and move on with your life. If want to pursue the publication of your thesis, then you have two options. The first is to take your completed, edited thesis, the one your advisor approved of, and submit it to publishers. Or, you can reverse the edits after graduation, so that the content of your thesis is what you want it to be, and then send it to publishers. Before you take this second route, I highly recommend you set the thesis aside — with your advisor’s edits in place. Stick in a drawer, a box at the back of your closet. Forget about it. After six months, maybe a year — longer if necessary but certainly not any sooner — take it out and read it again. You might be surprised how much those your advisor’s edits improved your thesis.

As for your integrity, recognize that you have not sold out. It may feel like it, but you haven’t. The bulk of your thesis is still yours. It was your subject, your research, which you chose because it was something you were passionate about to spend years on. The changes that your advisor wants you to make may be unnecessary, and they may be absurd. Do they change your research? Do they change the point you wanted to get across? If not, then it is still very much your work, and that is how you hold on to your integrity as an academic and as a writer.

Creatively yours, Sherry


Sherry Peters“Dear Sherry” is an opportunity to ask for advice on writer’s/creativity block, time management, the process of writing, and more. Sherry Peters is a Certified Life Coach who works with writers at all stages of their writing career looking to increase their productivity through pushing past the self-doubt holding them back. Her fiction has won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book award, and been nominated for the Aurora Award, Canada’s top prize for Speculative fiction.

If you could ask a writing coach anything, here is your chance! Send her an e-mail at coachsherry@sherrypeters.com.

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