Thesis advisor requests

Note: I will be on sabbatical from July 2017 to July 2018. Therefore, I am unable to take on any new students at this time.

First of all, I apologize for communicating with you through my website rather than email. However, this is much more efficient for me.

Second, I appreciate your interest in working with me.

Third, unfortunately(?) I already have some students who will start Fall 2016 and anticipate a number of additional advisor requests. I do not think I will be able to accept all requests. Therefore, if you would like to ask me to be your thesis advisor, you should first read the material below to make sure you know what you are asking for. After that, if you are still interested, you should write and send me a copy of your CV and your initial draft proposal by August 29th (There is a description of what I expect below). I will review the proposals and select those I believe I will best be in a position to handle.

Fourth, over time I have come to realize that I am not as effective an advisor in topics outside my area of expertise. While many topics are interesting to me, I do not have enough of the theoretical background to provide guidance in some areas. I simply do not know the literature well enough to suggest where you should start. This is particularly the case for traditional IR topics. So, while I will consider all applications, I will be less sympathetic to topics outside my areas of expertise, which is, of course, as it should be. :)

Thesis resources

[Note: Any materials accessible via this page are for educational purposes only.]

The thesis is an undervalued exercise.

It is my contention that most students undervalue the role of the thesis in their education, generally perceiving it as simply a burden to overcome in order to get their degree. However, with a bit of effort the thesis can become the most rewarding project you undertake during the course of your master's degree. Here are some of the advantages:

  • The thesis can function as an independent study. As an independent study, the thesis can serve as an opportunity to teach yourself about a topic of interest. If no class or combination of classes has addressed the narrow area of your interest, which is likely in any program, your thesis is your chance to design your own course around that topic.
  • The complex task of writing a thesis involves, among other things, sifting through the endless literature and organizing it into a coherent frame of understanding, identifying a meaningful question that will contribute to general knowledge, exploring ways in which that question can be addressed, collecting and analyzing real data through surveys, interviews, or databases, drawing implications from often confusing analytic results, and stringing all this together into a cohesive, logical argument. It's hard. It requires struggle and frustration. But ultimately you learn skills that you will (probably unconsciously) use in future work. You may know that you are facing a social problem, like declining birth rates or commercial activities encroaching upon residential districts, but you still have to identify a pertinent question, organize what we know about that question, find a way to collect and analyze information about the problem, and then draw conclusions that can be turned into policies and programmes. The thesis functions as a dry run for the kind of work many of you will find yourself doing later.
  • Wisely designed, your thesis can also build a foundational network for your future. If your thesis is on an area in which you plan to work, you can think of the people you interview (if you interview) as a base professional network. If you have prepared yourself well enough to ask intelligent questions and engage the people you interview, you will leave a good impression. When your thesis is done, you can then write back to them to thank them for their help, indicate where they can download a copy of your masterpiece, and inform them that you are now on the job market in case they know of a available position for which you would be appropriate. Such weak connections are more likely to get you a job since they greatly expand the information available to you, since everyone in your immediate network typically has the same information (see Granovetter's The Strength of Weak Ties). In fact, chances are still slim. If they do not pan out immediately, however, the people you have interviewed can serve as a resource base for you to perform well in the position you do get.

Topics I'm interested in supervising

Though I am open to a wide range of thesis topics, there are some areas in which I am more interested, and therefore more likely to be of assistance to you. In addition, there are always a few specific questions I have in mind due to sheer curiosity or otherwise. This section will try to represent a current list of those topics, though it will surely always be incomplete! You may freely choose among these topics if you are interested.


  • Pretty much anything urban!
  • Relationship between urban growth and planning and economic growth, especially Korea.
  • What role did the 전세 system play in urban development? Can it be replicated elsewhere?
  • How has Korea adapted Western planning models?
  • Korean-led urban projects overseas.


  • Is the recent move toward aid effectiveness through eliminating overlapping aid an attempt to resurrect colonial empires? Or is it having the same effect?
  • Discourse analyses of development concepts. What do development professionals mean by "effectiveness", "sustainability", "poverty", etc.?

Other ideas

  • Compare risk communication techniques and effectiveness of 노무현 with regard to SARS and of 박근혜 with regard to MERS.

The Rules

Thesis guidelines

Doing your thesis with me

  1. You must look carefully through the materials on this page. They are designed to provide information about conceiving, structuring, developing, and writing your thesis. (They are also designed to save me time repeating the same thing over and over again, so that we can stick to substantive content when we meet.) [Note: I am aware that they are still incomplete, but I am working steadily to improve the page.]
  2. If you want to ask me to be your advisor, you should prepare a 1000--1500 word provisional proposal. The proposal should include: your question (or perhaps questions), why it is important, a brief literature review that addresses your topic and sets up your question, and a methodology for answering your question. This proposal will obviously not be a final one, but it will help us get on the same page and take our first steps.
  3. You must be a self-starter to succeed. This means that you have to actively explore the literature relevant to your topic (even before coming to me) and employ your resources teach yourself how to do research and select methodologies. My role should be to help you over stumbling blocks, not to provide information readily available on this page or in other places.
  4. As of 2015-01-27, I have decided that I will no longer help students "simply pass". This means that you have to be intent on writing a meaningful, respectable thesis that entails genuine research if you want to work with me. Theses that fail to meet this higher standard will not be allowed to go to defense or will be failed in the process. Be aware that this higher standard may result in an extra semester (or more!) of work. It is your responsibility to work in an earnest and timely manner to ensure your success. I am NOT responsible for your lack of quality. (Of course, I will do my best to work with you in the time allotted to make it possible for you to succeed!) If you are not interested in doing quality work, you can probably find another professor in the department who is less demanding.
  5. Also be aware that unlike many of my Korean colleagues, I do not have access to job opportunities. While some of the Korean professors are able to find positions for their students, I do not have the network necessary to do so. Therefore, working with me is likely to reduce your immediate chances of employment.
  6. Grades for the thesis class itself will be determined in consideration of your efforts to adhere to the schedule laid out below. This means that you are expected to have written up your question, literature review, and methodology chapters by the end of your third semester. A draft of these is due by 5pm on the last day of the exam period.
  7. If I detect plagiarism in any form at any time in the process, I will fail you for the semester and you will have to find a new advisor.
  8. Time I: My time is limited and advisees many. Therefore, your meetings with me (though congenial!) should be concise, focused, and brief. Write down your questions before you meet me. Make sure those questions are concrete. That is, do not come to me with questions like, "What do you think I should write about?" or "I'm interested in education and development, but I don't know where to start. What should I do?" If you have questions like this, you have not done enough background reading and thinking to sit down with me.
  9. Time II: Students (and professors!) always underestimate the amount of time it takes to do quality work. Therefore, you must start working hard early. You cannot complete a meaningful thesis in two months (unless, perhaps, it is the only thing you do). In your first semester you should devote as much---if not more---time to your thesis as you do to other classes.
  10. If you do not keep reasonably close to the progress indicated in the schedule below, you should not expect me to provide intensive attention to you as the final thesis due date approaches.
  11. Groups: Due to time constraints, I am experimenting with meeting in groups at fixed times throughout the semester (to be agreed upon). My hope is that these meetings will help you understand your own challenges better by thinking about and helping with the difficulties of others. If you don't have questions for me and the group at any scheduled meeting, you should still participate; we simply won't talk about your thesis.
  12. If you find other resources about writing theses, please let me know. I will be happy to include them here for future students.

Work schedule

Schedule: First semester (typically third semester students)

  1. Week 0: Submit a brief research proposal that identifies your question, relevant literature, and a possible research methodology. The proposal should be roughly 750--1,000 words that tells the reader what your question is, why it matters, describes the basic positions in the relevant (of course, citing relevant books and articles), and then a rough idea of how you might be able to answer that question.
  2. Week 4: Submit a revised draft question and literature review (roughly 2000 words total). (Note that this requires reading a lot of journal articles in your area of interest to begin to narrow the topic down. Start yesterday. Your question should be roughly one long paragraph that states your question, why it matters, and how it is related to the wider literature around your topic, which you will have summarized in your literature review.)
  3. Week 6: Group meeting (Bring a hard copy of the document you submitted in Week 4, including a bibliography. The bibliography does not need to be annotated.)
  4. Week 10: Submit a revised and near final literature review. (Note that this requires even more reading a lot of journal articles in your area of interest. Start yesterday.) Also submit a draft methodology. (Note that the "draft" methodology should be fairly complete, as you will defend it the following week.)
  5. Week 11 or 12 : Defense thesis proposal
  6. Week 11: Group meeting
  7. Week 13: Submit a revised and elaborated question (This should serve as your thesis's introduction), a finalized literature review, and an improved methodology. (Note that this requires even more reading.) If your methodology involves interviews or surveys, you should be including a draft of your survey or interview questions.
  8. Week 14: Group meeting
  9. Week 16 (Friday 5pm): Submit a revised question and literature review as well as a revised methodology. This should be considered almost final.

Schedule: Second semester (typically fourth semester students)

  1. Week 0: Group meeting
  2. Week 1: Submit draft findings
  3. Week 2: Group meeting
  4. Week 5: Group meeting
  5. Week 6: Submit draft discussion and conclusion
  6. Week 9: Submit thesis
  7. Week 13: Thesis juries
  8. Weeks 15 and 16: Get official signatures from professors for your final copy. They will be hard to track down after the semester ends.

General information

Technical concerns

  1. Please submit all documents in PDF format.
  2. Use intelligent file names. Generally, files should include your (last) name, the filename, and the date. I typically use the following format: LASTNAME_Filename_20150329.pdf. Alternately, it can be useful to put the date first, e.g., 20150329_LASTNAME_Filename.pdf.

Length and organization

Typically a thesis at KU is around 10,000 words and consists of a roughly six chapters, as described below. Note that word lengths for these sections are simply coarse estimates; there are no hard and fast rules about organization and length, though these pieces should be in your thesis somewhere.

  1. Intro 1000: Should include something to lure the reader in, a clear statement of the question to be addressed, an explanation of why that question is important, and a brief summary of the subsequent chapters.
  2. Lit review 2000
  3. Methodology 500--1000
  4. Findings 3500
  5. Discussion 1500--2000
  6. Conclusion 1000

Thesis proposal defense

  1. The thesis proposal defense is typically scheduled for fifteen minutes per student. However, you should attend the defenses of at least two others so that you can get updated about what they are doing.
  2. You should prepare five copies of one sheet of A4 paper that summarizes your question, the literature, and the method you will employ. Do not prepare a presentation; that will be a waste of time.
  3. You must also prepare and print the form for me to fill in and sign. You can get it from the office or I will email it to you.

Thesis juries and revisions

  1. Thesis submission
    1. As discussed above, follow the official GSIS thesis guidelines on the GSIS website. Note that your submission should include all the core components of your thesis (abstract, TOC, etc.). Leaving these out in the initial draft reduces committee members' expectations about the quality of your paper and leads to a generally lower evaluation.
    2. If you submit on time, you need to submit three hard copies. Don't waste money on fancy packaging. A simple stapled printout is sufficient. Some professors prefer electronic or hard copies, you might choose to check in advance. If you submit hard copies, however, the office will take responsibility for distributing them to the committee for you.
    3. If you do not submit on time, it is your responsibliity to distribute copies of your thesis to the jury members.
  2. Common submission mistakes
    1. No page numbers.
    2. No table of contents. Some professors like to get a sense of your thesis by reading through the TOC. Make sure it is good and informative. This should be easy if you are formatting your document using styles rather than manually.
    3. No abstract. Alternately, abstract fails to do its job of summarizing the motivation, question, literature, methodology, and findings.
    4. No bibliography. This can be problematic. But it won't be an issue for you because you're using a bibliographic reference manager, right?
  3. Thesis juries
    1. Though I—as your advisor—am ultimately responsible for selecting your thesis jury, I usually do so in consultation with my advisees. So consider which two other people you would like on your jury. Though not required, it is often easiest to draw them from our pool of full-time faculty, as you will eventually have to chase the person down to get a signature.
    2. For the jury itself, you should prepare a five-minute presentation that summarizes your question, your methods, your findings (very succinctly), and the conclusions you have drawn from your findings. This basically limits you to five presentation slides. While it is good practice to do a good job here, do not worry too much about this piece. In reality, your presentation serves two purposes for the jury. First, it refreshes our memory about the contents your thesis. (After reading 15--30 theses in a week, they tend to blur together a bit by jury day!) Second, it gives us a chance to review our comments on your thesis and decide what we are going to say.
    3. You will typically not have to answer any questions about your thesis. This disappoints me, actually, but there is no time to do so. So just be prepared to listen and accept comments. (Note: 2015-1 juries were much more interactive than past semesters. Maybe something is changing.)
  4. Revisions
    1. Bring a piece of paper and a writing utensil to the jury. Your should write down reviewers' comments, especially those involving the changes you must make to satisfy them.
    2. You should plan to consult with me on the Monday or Tuesday after the jury date to determine which comments and concerns you really need to address. That said, some will be clear, and you should probably start addressing them over the weekend before we meet, as there is little time before your revisions must be completed.
    3. You will have about ten days from the jury date to revise your thesis and satisfy your reviewers. I need your revisions by the second Monday after the jury. This will give me time to review your revisions and get signatures from the other professors on your jury by the end of the week. Formally, you should submit revised versions to the other people on the jury, but usually the others will not read the revisions. They will take my word that you have made the changes they requested.
    4. When you hand in your revisions to me (electronically), you should do two things:
      1. Include a separate document that is split in two halves. The left half should spell out the reviewers' revision requests. The right half should describe what you have done to address those requests and the page numbers on which you did so.
      2. Highlight the changes you have made in the revised copy.
    5. Once your grades have been determined (two weeks after the jury), if you have passed---as you probably will---then you have to run around by yourself to get signatures from all three jury members on the approval page to be incorporated into the formal physical copy that will be submitted to the library. The thesis guidelines will provide the format and type of paper to use. I am pretty sure you only need one copy, but most students as for three. Be sure to do this right away, since you have to find the professors while they are in their office and before they go away for the summer.

    Bibliographies and reading

    1. I strongly recommend that you download and start using a bibliographic reference manager like JabRef (if you use Libreoffice) or Endnote. They make your life much easier by formatting and building your bibliographies for you. If you use these, you no longer need to cut and paste from one paper to another and then select and change the format word by word. Do it. You will thank me.
    2. After you read an article, you should take 10--15 minutes to summarize the article in the appropriate field in your bibliographic reference manager. This does two things for you. First, writing it down will help you process it more fully. Second, it will help you remember what was in the article two months later when you've forgotten most of it. This will save you from having to reread the article, which takes more than 15 minutes.
    3. In your summary, you should include your own opinion of the method, argument, content, etc. (as appropriate). This will help you build your literature review.
    4. I also tend to include quotes that I think I might use later on...with the page numbers, of course.


    Note: All links to files below are solely for the educational use of my thesis students.

    General resources

    • Doing Development Research. Edited by Vadana Desai and Robert B. Potter (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2006).
    • How to Write a Thesis, Umberto Eco. Originally written for work in the arts and humanities in the 1970s, but contains much insight.

    Literature Reviews


    • Robert K. Yin. Case study research: design and methods. Applied social research methods series ; v. 5. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, Calif., 3rd edition, 2003, chapter 2. This chapter provides an excellent framework for methodologically organizing case study research.
    • When doing interviews, you should summarize them before you go to sleep. The sooner you write down your notes and observations, the more detail you will recall. If you wait until the next day 50% is gone. Also, use a standard form for recording your observations. Here are the items I include for every interview:
      • Name, position : 2016.xx.xx : general topic or title for future reference
      • Interviewee(s):
      • Date and time:
      • Location:
      • Impression: [This is where I record unique circumstances that will help me remember the interview or provide background information that might help me understand responses. Also, it is important to include here some general notes about the person. For example, were they hesitant, enthusiastic, scared, angry, irritated, impatient? These are useful contextual clues for understanding responses.
      • Highlights: [I include a quick summary of the interview's main points.]
      • Contents: [Summarize as much of the contents as you can. If you do it before sleeping, you are less likely to have to go back to your recording.]
      • Questions for future investigation: [I use this space to jot down questions that arose during or after the interview that I would like to pursue with that individual or with others.]

    Writing style and grammar: Tips and common errors

    • Numbers less than 11 should be spelled out, i.e., "ten", "seven", etc.
    • When citing an article or book, there is typically no need to include the title of the piece or the author's full name in the text. There is even less need to include biographical details about the author. Including such extended references tends only to distract the reader. Just use the author's last name and the year of the piece.
    • Write simply. Straightforward, direct language is the easiest to follow and will help you keep your ideas from drifting away. Readers know when you're bullshitting and trying to sound impressive. This advice is doubly applicable to non-native speakers. It is better to be simple and clear than complex and confusing.