COLUMN: Thesis formatting is needlessly complicated

Thursday morning, I successfully defended my Master’s thesis and was genuinely happy for the first time in a few months. I only had a couple more tasks to accomplish.

It seemed easy enough. A few signatures here, a few edits there, and I’d be kicking back in a recliner, listening to my Zeppelin albums, sipping some whiskey, while all of my friends popped in to say congratulations and bask in my academic mastery.

My uncharacteristic flirtation with hopefulness has probably helped you guess where this is going.

The malevolent force that conspires against me (an entity I’ve taken to calling the Central Michigan University College of Graduate Studies) decided I’d be better suited learning every imaginable function of Microsoft Word to properly format my thesis.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure, the College of Graduate Studies provides a 34-page PDF, chock full of confusing and sometimes contradictory-seeming guidelines, to assist graduate students in preparing their theses and dissertations for online submission.

As stated in the file, pretty much any sort of slip-up in formatting will result in the return of your thesis document to you for revisions. You say your page numbers are not exactly one inch above the bottom margin?  Hahaha, trolololo, you need revisions! Hope you graduate on time!

And, really, as a graduate student, it’s not like I have hours and hours of homework every week and can’t dedicate a boatload of time to meticulously going over guidelines.

Oh, wait, the opposite of that is true? I must have forgotten how to distinguish between fantasy and reality, what with all the arbitrary thesis-formatting guidelines floating through my head.

I’m willing to share some blame with the College of Graduate Studies. I probably should have gotten an earlier start on formatting (perhaps on a night  when I only had six hours of literary theory homework, instead of eight), and the staff has been fairly helpful when I’ve managed to get a hold of someone.

However, there’s no reason that every graduate student should have to transform into a computer expert for the sake of formatting a thesis.

Why isn’t there some sort of Microsoft Word template available that would allow us to easily ensure the correct formatting?  This school spent more than $900,000 upgrading its website a few years ago; couldn’t it throw a few hundred at a computer science student to create a template or macro?

That probably won’t happen anytime in the foreseeable future, so I want to offer some advice for future graduate students who need to submit a thesis: Start early on formatting, make a tech-savvy friend and buy a Magic Eight Ball for when things get really tricky.


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