The thesis journey: A perspective from an International student

By: Mahdi N. M. Albishi

I write this article to offer suggestions for UPEI graduate students, who are interested in completing a thesis-route master’s degree.  Based on my experience as a Saudi Arabian student obtaining a Master of Education at UPEI, herein, I describe what I believe are inspirational words of wisdom to ensure success toward finishing a graduate degree.

Supervisor’s Time is Valuable. During student’s thesis journey, he/she works with a supervisor who guides the research.  However, that student needs to remember that each supervisor has a host of additional responsibilities such as: supervising other graduate students, a large teaching load, research projects, publishing demands, commitments to committees, and writing proposals for grants and conferences, to name a few.  Because the supervisor’s time is so valuable, during each meeting, the students need to be disciplined, open-minded, keen to learn, and appreciative of the supervisor’s time. Students need to be well-prepared for every meeting and appreciate the supervisor’s time.  During the meeting, have your own thoughts in order with regard to your research interests, skills, knowledge, struggles, and perspectives.  When you have your ideas and questions prepared before a meeting, your supervisor is more empowered to help and guide you in a timely fashion.

Supervisor’s Feedback is Valuable. Based on my experience, when you start writing the chapters, you submit each chapter to your supervisor as draft and get feedback.  I cannot stress how valuable this feedback is both for improving the chapter and for the overall enhancement of future writing.  I suggest that you get a binder and save these drafts marked with feedback.  Doing so, you can review the feedback while writing future chapters, a process that can reduce your mistakes in the next submitted draft chapter.  Do not take your professor’s comments as a personal attack; in the end, you will realize that your supervisor’s comments were very helpful.  I know that you have read a lot of articles and books before you start writing each draft, but be aware that your supervisor has more knowledge than you think, so take the feedback seriously.

Tips for Writing Organization. As a graduate student, the importance of organization cannot be underemphasized.  For example, use RefWorks to organize and save your academic references.  To do so, visit the Robertson Library website, and open an account at RefWorks.  There are many advantages of RefWorks such as the ability to instantly add citations and references to Word documents and the automatic formatting of citations and reference lists.  Another suggestion for staying organized is to use Google Docs throughout the writing process.  I recommend Google Docs for graduate students, because it helps students to easily share their work with their supervisors.  Moreover, Google Docs helps you securely store multiple drafts of your work.  For instance, in case your computer is damaged or suddenly shut downs, if you used Google Docs, you will not lose your work or revisions.  Also, you could use Google Docs on your smartphone, so you can access your work anytime of the day.  Another aspect of organization is always keep up-to-date with your references.  When you write a chapter, ensure you have fully documented all references used in that chapter.  Do not leave all references until you finish writing all chapters of your thesis.

Quality Academic Sources and Writing Assistant. Choosing high quality academic sources supports and enriches your research.  I recommend you read and use peer-reviewed articles, chapters in books, and books.  Limit your reliance on Internet blogs, and do not overuse heavily personalized writing, which is sometimes seen in newspapers and magazines.  In terms of writing, regardless of whether you are a local or an international graduate student, every student can improve his/her writing.  I suggest you visit the UPEI Writing Centre.  Also, open an account with Grammarly in Robertson Library website in order to help correct grammar and spelling mistakes.  If you can, find someone who can read and edit your writing before you submit it to your supervisor.

Conferences, Seminars, and Facebook. I recommend graduate students participate in conferences and seminars related to their research interest.  Ask your supervisor to help you to choose the educational conferences and seminars that might be the best fit for you.  For example, my supervisor helped me to present at two local seminars and attend one conference during my thesis journey.  Also, subscribe to UPEI’s Faculty of Education International Students Association Facebook page.  In addition to communication about local seminars and conferences, this Facebook page provides information about local events, new books, and graduate student thoughts, experiences, and successes.

A Variety of Helpful Hints. I end by supplying additional ideas outside the university.  If you come to Canada with your family, make sure that you balance study and family.  For me, I viewed my graduate status as my fulltime job.  In general, I spent Monday through Friday working at the university and tried to give evenings to my family.  When you rent a house, make sure that snow removal is included.  Although time is tight, try to spend some time with a hobby or a social club that is not related to university.  As a non-local student, you might need specialized assistance for such things as renewing your study permit, finding a tutor, and looking for homestay.  For these and other challenging issues seek guidance from the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada and UPEI International office.

Crossing the Finish Line. Finally, remember that you are already the best that you can be.  Use this self-confidence and do not give up.  You will cross the finish line.  I end by quoting phrase written on the wall of Harvard’s Library. “The pain of studying is only temporary.  But the pain of not knowing—ignorance—is forever.”  I believe the value of a master’s degree is life changing.  Therefore, keep going and good luck!


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