The Master’s thesis is a good springboard for a career in academia

Tommi Dunderlin, who is currently a researcher at the Finnish Literature Society as well as the Doctoral Programme in Philosophy, Arts and Society, tells us about his MA thesis “Shakespeare’s Confines: Patriarchal and Natural Space in King Lear and The Winter’s Tale”, and the process behind it.
Coming up with the topic

In his thesis Dunderlin explores the ways in which space is used and abused in Shakespeare’s plays King Lear and The Winter’s Tale, combining spatial theory and feminist ecocriticism. Dunderlin explains that he is looking at how patriarchal spaces are usually formed in inside spaces, how they compare to the outside world, and why women are often associated with that outside environment.

Dunderlin already had previous knowledge and interest in Shakespeare, and attending a course on ecocriticism in Shakespeare made him want to expand his knowledge even further. This led him to choose the topic for his MA thesis. The question of space and spatial theory, which he decided to combine with Shakespeare and ecocriticism, came into the picture when he found out that literary space had not yet been extensively studied - not even by some big names in narratology. 

Dunderlin acknowledges that the amount of research that has already been done in any given subject can be surprising and discouraging once you start reading background material, but that is why you always need to identify a gap in research, no matter how small it is. He says that academic research in the humanities usually starts out from something very small and very niche.

What to expect after the BA thesis?

According to Dunderlin, the main difference between a BA thesis and an MA thesis is the length. He also points out that in the MA thesis it is preferable to do more original research. The MA thesis will have more secondary sources and a more thorough theoretical background. 

Dunderlin thinks that, in a sense, the BA thesis was more difficult to write because he did not know how to do research back then. “Writing the MA thesis was easier because I had internalized a lot of techniques and strategies involved in doing research by then, so it was less of a hassle in that respect,” he says. In his opinion, that helped him focus on the actual content more. 

Turning ideas into text

Dunderlin felt like the writing process was quite natural to him: “For me reading, thinking, and writing are some of the favourite things I do in life anyway, so the overall experience was enjoyable.”  He considers himself lucky, noting that some might find the process more difficult, as it can be hard to find an interesting topic. And even if that is not a problem, there will still be some frustrating moments.

Dunderlin states that it is necessary to go outside one’s comfort zone during the process. He emphasizes the importance of setting a schedule for oneself. He himself used to start writing first thing in the morning at least for an hour or so, which helped him feel accomplished throughout the day and kept the process going.

Working together is effective

As for the peer support, Dunderlin points out that writing is a collaborative effort. Nobody should go through the process alone. He says that he found the thesis seminar very useful, because it helped him to stay on schedule by creating deadlines. He encourages people to get in touch with someone if needed, as the teachers and PhD students are always happy to help.

The community can also be a path to an actual career. Dunderlin thinks that there is a set of very accomplished scholars working in the department, who cover a wide range of topics. The primary thesis supervisor can be chosen according to one’s research interests, so it does not necessarily have to be the person running the thesis seminar. Collaborating with the unit’s researchers can be fruitful for the future. According to Dunderlin, the MA thesis is a natural way to the doctoral programme. “I have certainly gone quite far already because of all the helpful people here,” he notes gratefully.