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I'm currently enrolled in a Master's degree Program in Statistics in Italy. I just started working on my thesis and my advisor asked me if I wanted to write it in Italian or in English. Apparently, both languages are accepted but presenting a thesis in English would mean having to discuss it in English too. It's a 10-min Q&A session so not that big a deal, however I wouldn't want to put the evaluating committee in a difficult position since none of my professors are native English speakers.

Given that I have no interest (at the moment) in pursuing an academic career beyond my Master, what could be the benefits of writing the thesis in English? Would it realistically make any difference for future job search abroad, for example?

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    Even though your thesis and your slides might be in English, you can orally present it in the native language (ask your advisor). This is actually quite often. – Alexandros Jul 31 '15 at 7:10
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    I wrote my master's thesis in English (instead of the local and my native language, German). It has a few hundreds of downloads on Researchgate (*gasp*), most of them from the US and China (afaict). Arguably, these would not have happened had I written it in German. So, do you want your stuff to be read? And, on an unrelated note, do you want to train your technical English skills? – Raphael Jul 31 '15 at 10:43
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    @Pharap Translating a work is a non-trivial exercise, even for those with fluency in both languages (even when one is native fluency). As an aside, a German colleague of mine once told me that many German universities still have a rule in effect that says you can write your thesis entirely in Latin (and he had a friend who did just that). He wrote his own thesis in German, and later on regretted it: he had to translate it into English to get it published in a top journal, and he could have saved himself all that time by just doing it in English in the first place. – zibadawa timmy Jul 31 '15 at 23:47
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    @zibadawatimmy I have a German friend in the same boat; he wrote it in German and now he cannot provide it for reference to the students at his English-speaking university but has to translate it himself – Calchas Aug 1 '15 at 21:53
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    @Pharap Sure but a high quality translation of a highly technical work is probably going to cost a few thousand euros. – Calchas Aug 1 '15 at 21:56
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The reasons I write all my work in English, regardless of the country in which I work, are threefold:

  1. The scientific community works in English
  2. English texts are easier to reuse
  3. English texts are easier to share and diffuse

Reasons 2 and 3 are effectively based on premise number 1. In terms of the ability to reuse my work, more often than never I might have to give a presentation, a talk or create a poster based on some report/thesis/paper I previously wrote. This scenario is common to both academia and industry. When this happens I can easily extract sentences, keywords and figures from my previous work if all the text contained in them is in English, without the need to translate it.

Similarly a document written in English can be given to anyone and they'll be able to read and understand it without requiring a translation.

Therefore if I were you I would write the thesis in English, and present it also in English. I don't think that your examiners will feel in any way threatened by this. Ever more so if you are a foreign student and Italian is not your native language. You should not be expected or forced to write and/or present in a language you are not that familiar with, if English is an allowed option.

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    Especially for #2, if the thesis may contain results that could be published as a paper in a good journal, then that paper will have to be written in English anyway (I don't know of any international journals that publish papers in Italian). So if you write in English now, you save yourself that later step of translation. – Nate Eldredge Jul 31 '15 at 14:45
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    And since you asked about the job hunt outside of academia: #3 will help if you apply at non-Italian companies where your thesis would be relevant work experience. Also, not writing the master thesis in English would trigger "I wonder if his English is good enough to write anything?" with the few HR persons I know here in Germany. – Sumyrda Jul 31 '15 at 19:59
  • Here we had several students (native Spanish speakers, official language here in Chile) writing their theses in English, and do their defence in Spanish (even with the presentation text in English). As stated, English is useful for publication and reuse. In any case, it very much depends on the school's guidelines/environment. Ask beforehand, we certainly can't give an authoritative answer. – vonbrand Aug 5 '15 at 20:16
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When you said "none of my professors are native English speakers", did you mean that they have difficulty understanding and communicating in English? The fact that someone's native language is different from English in no way implies their inability to communicate in English fluently enough.

If your professors indeed have difficulty understanding and communicating in English, then it would IMHO be impolite and, even, unethical to choose English as the language of your thesis, thus, making your decision an easy one.

On the other hand, if your professors can communicate in English with enough fluency (and will heave no problems understanding your subject domain terminology), then I think that producing a thesis in English would be preferred. The rationale is that your thesis can be shared with (and understood by) much more people and, while you might not see value of that today, perhaps, tomorrow you opinion will be different. Sharing your thesis with more people might be beneficial from two perspectives: academic (disseminating research) and professional / non-academic career (communicating your professional knowledge, skills and abilities to potential employers).

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    To clarify, I believe most of my professor would have no difficulty reading and discussing a thesis in English, of course. However I know for a fact that some of the older ones are not fluent in spoken English. I'll inquire if it's possible to write in English and discuss in Italian, as it might be a sensible middle ground. – lambda_vu Jul 31 '15 at 8:33
  • @LambdaVu: Sounds like a good idea. Good luck with your thesis! – Aleksandr Blekh Jul 31 '15 at 8:37
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    I strongly disagree that it would be "impolite and even unethical" to write a scientific thesis in English. Nearly all science is done in English, these days. If the professors can't understand the language their whole field uses, that's their problem, not the student's. It's their job to examine the thesis within the limits set by the university: those limits include that the student may write in English. One could even argue that it would be impolite and unethical for the professors to pressure the student to not write in English. – David Richerby Jul 31 '15 at 9:13
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    @DavidRicherby: I strongly disagree with your disagreement. A student, by definition, is not doing science in the vacuum. Thus, since the science in this case is being done in the context of an institution, the institutional rules and regulations as well as relevant ethical norms should be followed. There are tons of universities around the world, including some very well-known and respected, where instruction, communication and academic artifacts are mandated to be performed in national languages (English is, of course, encouraged, but it has clear status of the secondary language there). – Aleksandr Blekh Jul 31 '15 at 9:21
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    @DavidRicherby: Well, just because something can be done, does not mean it is the best or optimal course of action. This question is not about what is legal, but what is right in a particular context (circumstances). – Aleksandr Blekh Jul 31 '15 at 10:03
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It seems likely to me that your professors would have no difficulty reading your thesis in English and even understanding your presentation in English. They might, however, feel uncomfortable asking questions or making comments in English. If that's the situation, then you might consider doing your writing and your presentation in English but making it clear to the professors that you are willing to take questions or comments in Italian.

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A professor once told me that the international language of science is "broken American English."

  • For a hard sciences thesis, elegant language is not required, especially if the people who are going to grade it wouldn't notice, anyway. (But you might be surprised. The passive language skills of most people are much better than their active language skills.)
  • The grammar should be correct. Ask your department if mistakes in grammar would reduce your grade.
  • The professional vocabulary must be correct. But you need to learn it anyway if you're working in the field.
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In addition to asking your advisers if they feel comfortable assessing your thesis if it were written in English, also check your department's / university's rules on this.

The universities I had interactions with all had very clear rules about thesis written in languages that were not the country's official language. Sometimes it may simply be allowed, sometimes a pro-forma request is needed, yet others required approval by the examination board.

(The same applied to the language for the final presentation / defense)

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It would be surprising if the committee did not take into account the language in which the thesis is written, and thus you should mainly consider your own preference for the language. Of course, ask your advisor or the administrative staff at the department if there are specific requirements for submitting a thesis in English.

Also, you should take into account whether your capability for writing in English is as good as your capability for writing in Italian. As your field is Statistics, I would argue that the language is second to the statistical content, method applied, and results presented. Some find comfort in writing academically in a second language, but that comfort should not weigh heavier than the ability to write in said language.

Finally, a value of writing in English could be the use of the thesis as an example of your ability to write academically and concisely, as well as your control of the English language. Having the thesis translated, or doing so yourself, would not be valuable in this regard. As you are not interested in a further career in academia, you might find more use of it as a writing-sample.

Decide to write in either Italian or English, not both, as the time spent writing should be focused on content and presentation. The final grade will be more valuable than the language it is written in.

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You don't say which is your native language, but I'd suggest you write it in the other one; you effectively get two credentials for the price of one that way (the subject itself plus second language competence).

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