Re-evaluating graduation theses as research texts in TS
May 26, 2007
Graduation theses are by definition written by students. As such, their social status in the academic world is low. Interestingly, when the work they report is summed up and published as papers in journals or even in conference proceedings, it may achieve a far higher status. Theoretically, this makes sense, as peer-reviewing is assumed to gate-keep the publication space for quality. In most established disciplines, the rationale also carries over reasonably well into practice. In the world of TS, however, things are a bit more complicated:
In the TS training environment, most of the students who write graduation theses wish above all to become professional translators or interpreters, not academics. If they are sharp and motivated, their graduation thesis may be very good, but once it is accepted, they will not wish to invest more time to sum it up as a paper, and the fruit of their good research may remain hidden to the TS community on the shelves of their respective universities. On the other hand, in the TS academic environment, for reasons which will not be discussed systematically in this text, journals and conference proceedings often publish papers of mediocre quality. In other words, the theoretical difference between the quality of graduation theses and published texts does not necessarily correspond to reality.
Beyond the ‘overall quality’ aspect as discussed above, other features combine to suggest that perhaps graduation theses should be given more consideration as research texts. One is that most students devote considerable time and effort to them, perhaps more than many experienced authors in TS whose teaching and administrative workload does not leave them with much time to engage in renewed systematic legwork for innovative research. Inter alia, this leads to a much higher rate of empirical research in graduation theses than in other types of texts. I should hasten to stress that I do not consider empirical research The highest form of scholarly research, but I do consider it valuable, if only as a means to test theories and to provide a basis for further theorization in a field where the balance between theoretical research and empirical research is not quite satisfactory. A third feature of graduation theses is that they are the product of collaborative work between a student and a supervisor, who does have the experience. Such cooperation can raise the overall quality level of the relevant research spectacularly when the supervisor is conscientious and the student sharp and motivated.
All these factors combine to turn many graduation theses into interesting texts as research texts. Unexpectedly, I have also found them useful under a different angle: in their literature reviews, they help me brush up my knowledge of the relevant publications on the topic, fill gaps and correct misperceptions, and they often point to findings, statements and methods to which I did not pay enough attention when reading them initially for my own research purposes. If you want to get richer, reading graduation theses may be a good investment. J