The Thesis vs. the e-Portfolio: Which Option is Right for You?

CIRI Blog

Published: October 11, 2013 by Dr. Debra Hansen

All master’s level students at San José State University are required to have a “culminating experience,” to use campus jargon. SLIS students have two options: construct an e-Portfolio (LIBR 289) or write a master’s thesis (LIBR 299). Students often contact me about the thesis option, asking to discuss the pros and cons of taking on such a project. I thought I’d use this blog post to provide some informal reflections on why a student would choose a thesis over the e-Portfolio.

Pros

  • You have a great idea for the thesis topic and have a burning desire to do original research and scholarly writing.
  • If you are interested in going on to get a PhD, many doctoral programs require applicants to submit a sample of their academic work. Often the sample is the applicant’s master’s thesis to demonstrate their ability to do sustained scholarly work. Moreover, research and writing a master’s thesis is good preparation for a dissertation.
  • Some employers expect or encourage LIS professionals to conduct research and publish books and articles as part of the job requirements. This is particularly true in academic and research libraries.
  • If you are hoping to land a position working with researchers (say in an archives or special library) it’s good to have personal research experience so that you are speaking the same language as your clientele.
  • On a less practical note, but an important factor nonetheless, a thesis allows you to create something original and important that adds new knowledge to the field. You will have a tangible, permanent product that will be available and cited by other scholars. That’s very gratifying.

Cons

  • Writing a thesis is extremely challenging, even for seasoned researchers. You’re writing a multi-chapter book, which is a huge commitment.
  • The thesis invariably adds an extra year (sometimes more) to a student’s MLIS program. Remember, you’re writing a book! If you need to complete the degree and get started on your career as soon as possible, the thesis may not be right for you.
  • Student loans complicate the thesis process. Often students take only thesis credits (LIBR 299) during their last semester or two so that they can focus exclusively on writing their thesis. Unfortunately, many student loans require that students take at least 6 units to keep the loan active. This means that the student must take an extra class, which is distracting from the thesis. Also, the university frowns on students taking more classes that the degree requires.
  • The diverse specializations of SLIS’s faculty can make it a challenge to find people with appropriate expertise to serve on a thesis committee.
  • The e-Portfolio has its own unique benefits and rewards. It allows you to review your coursework and document your professional knowledge and skills. A well-designed e-Portfolio can showcase your academic and professional achievements for potential employers.

Next Steps

If you think that the thesis option is right for you, here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Read the thesis guidelines posted in the SLIS website. http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/current-students/courses/thesis
  2. Take LIBR 285 (research methods) and enroll in a section that focuses on the subject matter and/or methodology that interests you. In this class, you will write a formal thesis proposal.
  3. Once you have a thesis proposal completed, contact a suitable faculty member to see if that individual has the time, expertise, and interest to serve as your thesis advisor. Once you have found an advisor, he or she can recommend other appropriate faculty to serve on your committee. You need a thesis committee of three, two of whom must be tenure-track faculty members. For a list of tenure-track faculty, see: http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/faculty-advisors
  4. Start reading! Becoming familiar with the scholarly literature on your topic is among the most challenging aspects of thesis writing. The sooner you get started the better.