Warning: serious nerdery ahead.
On Monday, April 23rd, I trudged around Vancouver BC obtaining approval signatures, then submitted my project report to the SFU Theses Office. The next morning I picked up some of my favorite cinnamon rolls, closed my Canadian bank account, and went home.
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As a follow-up to my FAQ blog post about the SFU MPub program, I’m going to talk a little bit about the process of doing the project report in this post. It happens that on this topic I’ve actually been getting more questions from my fellow students than prospective students. Of the 20 people in our cohort, I believe a total of only seven of us have submitted our project reports one semester later than the program’s timeline. In other words, even after an extra semester, only 1/3 of my fellow students are done with the program.
Like many MPub classmates, I had basically taken the fall off to tend to other matters. I spent about three months working in my house so I could move back in. On the last day of December, some sobering circumstances led me to vow that I would complete my project report in the spring semester, which would mean handing in the final version by April 27th. As accountability helps me achieve goals, I sent a massive email asking friends to check in with me periodically, and I even wrote a blog post about my 750 word daily goal to get the rough draft hammered out.
Writing the rough draft in January was probably the toughest part of the process. It took a couple of hours agonizing that first day before I just decided to freewrite it: write all the ideas that had been percolating in my head, just to get them on paper. After that I started expanding as I could on this or that idea, adding words, and I was able to start structuring the thing to match the outline and proposal I had previously submitted. It was tough going, but the first draft got plopped into InDesign and sent out a couple days before January 31st.
InDesign was a bit of a pain until the very end—for every version I submitted, I needed to reflow all the text in the document, and I was having footnote numbering issues. In early April it took a friend and I several hours to unlock all the mysteries, even after receiving advice from one of my MPub professors.
Fortunately my senior advisor never sat on anything too long. Of course, I deliberately chose him because I knew we would have a great working relationship compared to my other option. And we did! Starting in January I clearly stated to him my intention of finishing in one semester, and I’d like to think that teamwork made it happen. Toward the end, he even gave me a little insider advice to get the quickest turnaround from one of my other committee members.
One thing that was never spelled out to me was this: while everybody knows you are allowed three submittals to produce your final product, only your senior supervisor will see it at first. Mine told me when I was “clear” to send it to the other two. This was slightly nerve-racking considering we were nearly in April at that point, and either of them might have had a lot to say about what I wrote.
Fortunately none of my drafts needed vast amounts of content work—most of it focused on my comparative section, which was weak because neither of the two organizations really helped me when I contacted the current staff. Once I sent my last draft to the other two committee members, I got very few content corrections, but many copy edits from our resident editor. Those took me about two days to work through. In the process I got a glimpse of the most common errors in my writing, which was a real treat. (Note to self: review that vs. which! Stop inverting sentences!)
Obtaining the requisite signatures in Vancouver was the best part of my trip. My senior advisor and other SFU advisor gathered in our program coordinator’s office and the mood was giddy. It was great to see them having such fun! Of course the tall Oregon microbrews and thank you cards I brought them probably didn’t hurt. Then it was off to Burnaby to wait in line at the Theses Office.
Dealing with the thesis office was more problematic. They have a series of guidelines available on their website which, like everything else on SFU’s website, were fairly difficult to understand. I started referring to one of the guideline lists as the “three easy steps” document—these “three easy steps” took about four solid pages of text, printed out, with a fair amount of that text in red, to provide an overview of the thesis submission process. Their help site has multiple types of instructions to cover different type of theses and dissertations, from the breadth of SFU departments. Our program gave us an InDesign template to use for our project report, but as I carefully combed through the Theses Office guidelines, suddenly I was questioning whether the typeface I had chosen was acceptable, among other things.
The reason I was being so careful? Of course, I didn’t want to drive from Portland to Vancouver only to be turned away for a minor detail I had gotten wrong. So the woman who runs the Theses Office got familiar enough with me that when I was finally sitting face-to-face with her, I only had to introduce myself as “the one from Portland.” After having sat in line for an hour and a half to see her (no, I’m not kidding), our conversation was slightly terse as she pointed out the two(!) errors on my cover page. There are only a few things they check during the intake process, and they are very exact about the cover page.
Planning to add a comma to “Faculty of Art, Communication and Technology” so the Oxford comma will be consistent with the rest of your project report, using the guidelines your department has set? Whoop-whoop! Call the thesis police!
It may have been the eyeballs popping out of my head and the flurry of detailed questions that followed, but we compromised—if I would fix my cover page and send it back electronically, she could reprint it in their office on archival-quality paper. This turned out to be ideal for me—if she had required me to reprint it myself I would have needed to buy a copy card to print out two sheets of paper. At a library that I would likely never find myself in again.
Originally I was planning to attend graduation, but last week those plans changed. When I was in Vancouver delivering my thesis, I asked various SFU staff if there were any other costs associated with being in the commencement ceremony. Nobody had reason to believe so, and I couldn’t find any mention on the commencement website, so I closed my Canadian bank account before leaving. Only after I confirmed my attendance online this week was any mention made, and I still had to proactively call the graduate studies office to find out that yes, for the past two years there has been a $35 charge for students to rent the regalia. Factoring in many other considerations and finally fed up with SFU’s poor communication to students, I requested to cancel my confirmation. On June 15th, my mom and I plan to attend a private graduation ceremony at a local restaurant and spend—you guessed it—$35.
Do you have any other questions about the project report process? Ask away!