The State and Ethnicity: Causes and Consequences of Ethnic Minority Policy in Southeast Asia
Nicholas Limburg, Asian Studies, 2015
Thesis Advisor: Professor Il Hyun Cho

Q: How and when did you select your advisor and the thesis committee members?
A: Professor Cho was kind enough to serve as my advisor. I asked Professor Cho if he would consider being my advisor during the last several weeks of my Spring Semester Junior year. For the committee, I was told to have one in-department reader and one out-department reader. After considering what Asian Studies Program professors were available, I sent an email to Professor Stifel in the Spring of Junior year to ask him if he would be willing to be a reader. I then sent a reconfirmation email in Fall Semester of my Senior year. He replied yes to both. I met him in person during Spring Semester to discuss my thesis. For my out-department reader, I asked Professor Phillips during my Spring Semester Senior year. I had taken a writing class with Professor Phillips the previous semester and believed he would be able to provide great insight to improving my writing.

Q: When did you start thinking about your thesis? How did you select your topic?
A: I began thinking about thesis topics during Spring Semester Sophomore year in preparation for my study abroad to China and Southeast Asia. I hoped to find inspiration while abroad. Eventually, towards the end of my study abroad, I realized a personal interest in two potential subjects: the diversity of ethnicities in Southeast Asia countries, and the differences between Theravada Buddhist practices across countries. Returning to Lafayette, I began wondering about a third subject which would focus on another personal interest for me: elders and elder care. In that case, I thought I might examine elder care in Thailand and explore the idea of a benevolent Buddhist King supporting his people. I ultimately chose to look into the variations in ethnic policy in Southeast Asian countries because my advisor was more familiar with those concepts than the other two.

Q: How did you start tackling your thesis project at the very beginning?
A: At the very beginning, I began by reading an assortment of books, papers, online articles, etc., about the history, governmental structure, environment, and culture of the four countries I chose to use as my case studies. After amassing a wide array of knowledge, I began looking for patterns and forming my own opinion. I then turned to previous writers to refine my thoughts on the subject. After weekly discussion with my advisor, I finally had a rough analytical framework for my thesis.

Q: Did your advisor explain the structure of a thesis project to you?
A: Professor Cho outlined a suitable roadmap for my thesis structure. He advised me to have an introductory chapter which would introduce the subject, say what other writers have expressed, explain my approach to the subject, and very briefly describe what the remaining chapters would entail. The next two (or three) chapters would be empirical analysis, breaking down the specific cases to demonstrate how my thesis applied in each situation. Finally, I would end with a conclusion chapter that would summarize my previous chapters, and proceed into the discussion of theoretical and policy implications of my thesis.

Q: Did you have to do a literature review? Had you ever done one before?
A: I was not informed that I had to do a literature review for the thesis. I have done a literature review before but not for any project of this magnitude.

Q: Do you remember receiving correspondence from the library about your honors thesis?
A: I received invitations from the library to attend RefWorks training sessions and to request help from a personal research librarian. Over the course of the thesis, I worked and talked with Lijuan Xu, who was very helpful in getting me started on locating sources for use in the library and online.

Q: What did you find most challenging about your thesis project?
A: The most challenging part for me when writing my thesis was writing. At first I was daunted by the sheer volume of writing I was expected to pen. I was also distracted by my other school work and personal affairs. But my advisor helped keep me on track by asking me to just do 5 or 10 pages at a time for each draft. After 5 draft revisions, I had a 25 page introduction chapter on which to build the rest of my thesis. I took the same approach—not trying to do everything at once, but to focus small to build big—for my remaining chapters.

By dividing my chapters and working on sections of them at a time, the entire project become much easier, and I was better able to maintain my focus. It also was very beneficial for me to meet weekly or biweekly with my advisor. Knowing myself, I tend to procrastinate. By having deadlines imposed by another person, I was able to make steady, if at times minimum, progress.

Q: What did you find most rewarding about your thesis project?
A: I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the cultures and history of my chosen countries, and I felt immense relief when I finally submitted something I had worked so hard on, but being told by my committee that I did a good job was probably the most rewarding experience. To know that people had read my work and approved of my effort.

Q: What assistance did your advisor/department offer you throughout the course of the year?
A: Professor Cho acted as a soundboard to refine concepts and guide me down a path to yield an idea suitable for a thesis. He would suggest articles to me that he believed would benefit my understanding of the topic. He continually pushed me to revise and refocus my argument. He would point out clunky sentences and suggest I use alternatives. Though I personally dropped the ball several times, not keeping pace with the expected schedule, Professor Cho kept pushing me onwards to finish in a timely fashion. He provided a great deal of support, guidance, and inspiration for my thesis.

Q: Did you meet with librarians in the course of conducting your research? How many times and at what stages of your research?
A: I met with Lijuan Xu two or three times at the beginning of my project when I was first gathering materials.

Q: What other kind of support did you rely on throughout the year to accomplish your thesis (IT, parents, friends, etc.)?
A: Support from my family helped me throughout the year.

Q: Were you able to get access to all of the research materials you wanted for your project?
A: Except for resource materials in other languages, I was able to find all of the information I desired using the library’s resources.

Q: Would you do anything differently if you went through the process again?
A: If I went through this process again, I would have started earlier. I started on my thesis beginning of Fall Semester and had a rough analytical framework by the fifth or sixth week. If I had started gathering materials and decided on a topic over the summer, I would have been better off.

Q: What advice would you offer other honors thesis students, especially in your department?
A: I’d offer two related pieces of advice. First, work on the thesis in small portions. It will be better for your stress level and the writing itself if you work on small sections followed by revisions over a week or two rather than trying to do 20 or 30 pages in a day.

Second, start earlier rather than later. Like the first piece of advice, time management is crucial. You do not necessarily need to plan out when you work on the thesis over the week, but if you keep pushing it off at the beginning of the week or semester you will fall behind. Try to set targets for yourself but do not be disappointed if you fall a tad short. Starting earlier means you have more time to fix things later.