The Day to Day of It All: Pursuing a Masters in History

Please note this was originally posted on my old blog ( on March 6, 2013. 

A couple months ago I shared my thoughts on how genealogists view those who are pursuing an academic degree in history. One fellow genealogist aptly called this “academic bias.”[1] I also said that I will be writing more about what genealogists can learn from historians. While I have written about the trials and tribulations associated with the pursuit of a graduate degree, introduced the concept of historiography and reflected on general lessons I fear I have neglected what graduate school is like on a day to day basis. Before I delve further, I feel the need to do address this neglect. My personal experience has been that more often than not people in general not just genealogists do not understand what a) is involved on a day to day basis and b) what an online program entails. I should clarify this is post is as always based upon my own personal experience with an online program.

First some background information: The current program I am enrolled in is through the University of Nebraska Kearney. It requires the completion of 30 credit hours for those seeking the thesis option (such as myself) or 36 credit hours for those who are not seeking the thesis option. I had to wait until I successfully completed 12 hours or more with a minimum GPA of 3.5 before I could apply to thesis portion of the program; this entailed finding a professor who would serve as my thesis advisor, submitting an application and the submission of a thesis proposal. Those who do not seek the thesis option have to complete a comprehensive oral exam. Revisions to the graduate program occurred this past fall, requiring thesis students to complete 36 credit hours.

Students must be enrolled in 4 credit hours per semester in order to receive financial aid. Most classes are 3 credit hours but 1 credit hour courses are also offered. The class load varies greatly from student to student. I have opted for the load of 6 credit hours per semester. As I started in the fall of 2011 this means I will graduate in December of this year, assuming my thesis has been deemed ready for defense by my thesis advisor no later than October 15th. My thesis has to be a minimum of 75 pages in length (I anticipate mine to go well over this) and utilize primary sources. After my thesis has passed this initial test I will have to sit (via webcam in my case) before a panel who will essentially pick a part and question every aspect of my thesis.  After defending my thesis I may have some revisions to make before it is all said and done.

This semester one the courses I am enrolled in is a Directed Readings course. It is an independent study course with my thesis advisor is overseeing it.  In a nutshell I am reading books that pertain to my thesis and writing a historiography paper based upon those readings that will serve as the introduction/historiography section of my thesis. This is the only directed readings course I have taken so far.

The other classes I have taken thus far have followed a similar pattern. Each semester is 16 weeks long. With the exception of the week of Thanksgiving in the fall semester and Spring Break in the spring semester, every week one book must be read for each class. The average length of the books is about 300 pages.  Although I have had weeks where I had only to read a book that was 175 pages long and weeks where the book I had to read was nearly 500 pages long.

Discussion boards are designed to replace classroom debates and discussions in the scope of content as well as time. The majority of my professors have posed a series of questions that we are required to write a lengthy response (if you want a good grade it better be of sufficient length, one paragraph answers do not work) and post to these discussion boards by Thursdays at midnight. One professor I had used the deadline of Wednesdays. A minimum number of responses must be posted by 11:59pm Fridays or Sundays depending on the professor. In addition to participating in the discussions on others threads I am responsible for monitoring my own thread. One professor I had had different students each week decide upon the question and serve as moderators- it was more difficult that one would think.  Most people would be surprised by the depth of discussion and debate that proliferates in this format.  Notice the due date of the initial discussion board posts? This means that I do not have the full 7 days to read a book, it’s more like 3 to 4 days. Reading 600 pages in 3 to 4 days? Easy as pie! (Note the sarcasm).

In addition to discussion board posts, written assignments are required. This differs a bit from professor to professor. I had one professor who required a short summary of each book to be submitted on a weekly basis with a 30 page historiography paper due at the end of the semester. Other professors have required ‘unit exams’ varying in length from 10-25 pages. No multiple-choice, matching answers or fill in the blank tests here. Yet another professor of mine required nothing other than discussion board papers but the final historiography paper was half of my grade. Needless to say he had extremely high expectations for that final paper. The other course I am taking this semester requires the submission of book reviews. These are not always due on a weekly basis. Some weeks I have to write a comparative book review encompassing the readings over the course a 2-3 week period. The required length for a comparative book review is different than that of a single book review. Book reviews are not to be confused with a book report. While a summary of the book is included the main focus is upon analyzing the authors’ methodology, analysis of overall strengths/weaknesses and the books’ historiographical context.

Professor’s pose the discussion points and obviously assign/grade homework but do not interfere with the discussions unless absolutely necessary. Their role is fairly hands off, there is certainly no hand-holding here.

Is this what you expected? Comment below. As for me, it’s Wednesday which means I have a book I need to finish reading.

[1] Michael Hait, “Notable Blog Posts, 23 December 2012,” Planting the Seeds, posted 23 December 2012. ( last accessed 6 March 2013).

2 thoughts on “The Day to Day of It All: Pursuing a Masters in History

  1. These online courses have regular, frequent written assignments. That sounds like you are learning and thinking continually. That’s good, right, so that the course doesn’t get out of control and you don’t get “behind”? It sounds really, really demanding. I’d like to know which you feel you learn more from — the steady online written discussions, or writing a final (or even a unit) paper? Or maybe you learn the most from reading?

    Teaching college was my job before I retired (yay!) Choosing assignments was always a best-guess, based on different students’ learning styles.

  2. Mariann-
    Honestly I have found the discussion boards to be more of a nuisance than of aid. I am not sure how it ended up but my school was testing live discussions via webcam in lieu of discussion boards. Those would be more beneficial for certain. The papers did the most for me, when you have to read that many pages in that short of time the retention is not high (at least in my case). I have many books I am looking to read again after school.

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