Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing a Thesis in Chinese: A Chat with HNC MAIS Alumni

The Hopkins-Nanjing Center’s Masters of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) degree is the only master’s degree jointly issued and accredited by both a Chinese and an American institution. Our program is unique, but one thing that truly sets it apart is the culminating master’s thesis written in each student’s target language. The prospect of writing and defending a thesis in Chinese is daunting for most applicants, so we talked to a few MAIS alumni about the challenges and successes they encountered along the way, as well as what advice they have for students considering the HNC MAIS program.

What was your thesis topic?
• "Bei Dao and China's Misty Poets (1976-1980). China's Misty Poets were a group of young and energetic writers who came into the public light after Mao's death in 1976. They found each other in Beijing after the Cultural Revolution and exchanged works in private.” - Hannah Lincoln, MAIS ‘12

• “An investigation into whether or not events occurring early in the Cultural Revolution could be interpreted as the collapse of Chinese totalitarianism…looking specifically at the impacts of newspaper seizures by the Red Guard in early 1967” – Max Massa, MAIS ‘11

• “The effect of differing Chinese and American investment laws and strategies on the balance of power in Southeast Asia, using Cambodia as a case study” – Dana Lutenegger, MAIS ‘11

What challenges did you face during the process of researching and writing a thesis in Chinese?
• “Beyond being unanswerable in terms of language qualification, it pushes you to develop a good understanding of two different academic traditions. Most students, myself included, will be working with materials written by both western and Chinese scholars, and learning how to interpret both sets of writing and then synthesize them into a single work is challenging.” – Max

• “My biggest challenge was choosing a direction because there are so many interesting things about my topic, and it was difficult to pick a specific and narrow direction. As a result, I was often led toward other interesting aspects about these poets and their era.” – Hannah

What do you see as the value of completing a Chinese-language thesis?
• “Having a large research project written in Chinese is a testimony to my work over the past five years (since I started studying Chinese and China). It is a solid representation of this, and I am glad to have a solid document to reference in the future as proof of it.” – Hannah

• “I wanted to gain a really deep understanding of China and Chinese academia, and I feel that staying for two years and writing a thesis in Chinese has helped me to do that.” – Dana

Do you have any advice to share with students interested in pursuing the HNC MAIS.?
• “Variety will spice your academic experience here more than anything else. My thesis involved two fields of study in which I had no prior experience when I came to the Center, but being bold in class selection led me to a topic that I think is rich and exciting. Take advantage of the diversity of offerings, weave reading from one class into another, and make time to chat with your professors as they will know much, much more than is presented in class.” – Max

• “Think about what you are really interested in, what is feasible and what resources the HNC has. Pick a topic that a teacher can advise you on and that has research already available. Then your job is just to take the extant research to the next level. This tends to be more successful than trying to conjure an obscure topic out of the blue.” – Hannah

• “Begin thinking about what area you might want to do research in. Don't worry too much, though. There is a learning curve for everyone, and you will figure out everything as you go along.” -- Dana