Earning Your Judicial Studies Degree: The Saturday Morning Test

By Hon. Melissa Lin Jones

The general perception is that the most intimidating part of earning a degree in the Judicial Studies Program is the “final” writing requirement, your thesis if you are pursuing your master’s degree or your dissertation if you are pursing your doctorate degree. I say “final” because most judges put it off until they have finished their coursework, but you should start tackling your thesis/dissertation early; get the “intimidating” part out of the way.

Not only do you not have to leave your thesis/dissertation until the end, it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, it isn’t intimidating if you pass “The Saturday Morning Test.”

According to Dr. Jim Richardson, Director of the Judicial Studies Program,

The “Saturday Morning Test” is simple. A judge has a good thesis or dissertation topic if, when they wake up on a Saturday morning, they want to work on their topic instead of going shopping, playing golf, or anything else. Those whose topic passes the test are much more likely to complete their project and graduate. So, the choice of a topic is crucial to successful completion of the Judicial Studies Program.

So how do you choose a topic that passes the Saturday Morning Test?

What is it about the law you work with that frustrates you? How would your system of adjudication be better if a particular process were different? If you aren’t careful, when answering these questions a topic may fall out on top of your desk. For example, when you render a decision, you let the law lead you to the proper conclusion in accordance with that law, but could the law be improved? There’s your topic.

Don’t forget, you are not alone:

  • Jim wants judges to graduate, and he is available face-to-face, by email, or by phone to brainstorm ideas, refine hypotheses, and guide you to the graduation stage.
  • Professor Elizabeth Francis spends half of her time as a University of Nevada, Reno faculty member assigned to the Judicial Studies Program, and every year, she teaches a workshop that helps develop a viable topic by actually drafting portions of your prospectus.
  • Your fellow students have “been there, done that” and do not hesitate to help if asked.
  • All Judicial Studies faculty members recognize that developing a thesis/dissertation topic may be more difficult than actually writing the piece so they encourage you to apply your course materials in a way that opens your perspectives to the very issues you can address in your thesis/dissertation.

And there’s another reason why your thesis/dissertation should not be your final degree requirement- Once you have your topic, you can explore that topic throughout the framework of each class you take by working with those faculty members. Not only does this approach refine your topic to the best it can be, it allows you to develop drafts as you satisfy the writing requirements for each class.

Your thesis/dissertation topic is already there, and it is just waiting for you to start writing. What are you waiting for? You just passed the Saturday Morning Test!

Click here to learn more about the Judicial Studies Degree Program.


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