MA students are required to write and defend a thesis in order to graduate.
Written under the direction of the student’s major professor, the thesis must show independent judgment in examining a problem from primary sources.
Current students please see the Master’s Thesis Checklist for detailed procedures.
When should I start working on my thesis?
Most master’s degree students begin working on their thesis ideas at the end of their first year of graduate school. Usually, by this point, you have written several research designs and perhaps one full research paper on your own. You have been exposed to at least four substantive courses and two methods courses.
During that first graduate school summer, students should begin thinking about a potential research question that they would like to pursue. At this point, it would be helpful to talk to a professor in the area. If your idea has merit, then the next step would be to identify a thesis chair.
And remember, the best students go beyond their coursework, reading beyond their assignments and attending lectures outside of class. This will help you as you begin focusing on your own research ideas.
What is the process for putting together a thesis committee?
The identification of the advisory committee (three faculty members with one serving as chair) usually takes place at the start of the second year. Most of the time, your committee is determined by the nature of your research. The chair’s expertise should be generally related to your subject matter. Often students will ask additional committee members based on some other need – expertise in the fields you will be utilizing, grounding in theory, further expertise in the area, etc.
The person that you designate as your chair will help guide you in this matter as well. Most of the time, but this can vary, your committee chair works to direct your thesis without a great deal of input from the other members of your committee. At times, other members may be involved during the research process, but most of the time, your additional members see your drafts only after they have been approved by your committee chair. Once you have identified the three members of your thesis committee, you must submit an Advisory Committee Form to the Graduate School. Information about this form and the Graduate School deadlines for receiving this form will be sent out with plenty of advance notice.
Are there any rules about format?
Students are required to submit a draft of your thesis to the Graduate School for a format check. The deadline for this submission is about 2/3 of the way through your defense semester, which means you submit your thesis for a format check likely before you defend. You then submit a final version after you defend and make any changes your committee suggests.
Graduate School Format Check Information
How do I defend my thesis?
The graduate program and the Graduate School impose several deadlines. For example, there is a deadline upon which a student must get their complete draft to their major professor. The professor has two weeks to review and make suggestions for revision. After that, if approved by the chair, the draft goes to the other members, and they are given two weeks to decide if the thesis will make it to the defense stage. At this point, students work with the Graduate Advisor to schedule a defense time.
Deadlines are important. Consequences of not following deadlines usually mean some expense to you. Remember that if you do not meet your deadlines, you will then need to carry over to the next semester. That means paying additional tuition and fees.
At the defense, usually, students will make a short presentation and then take questions from their committee. Students may pass or fail at this juncture. Usually, even upon passing, students may be asked to revise their thesis before being given official permission to submit to the Graduate School for final acceptance.
Master’s Thesis Checklist
Download the PDF version of this checklist
The Semester Before Your Defense
- Choose your major professor. You’ll need to have chosen a major professor before you can be cleared to register for POLS 7300 (Master’s Thesis) for the next semester. When you have been cleared by the Graduate Advisor, be sure to register for at least 3 credits of POLS 7300.
- Choose your thesis advisory committee in consultation with your major professor. Notify the Graduate Advisor of the names, roles, and email addresses of your thesis committee. The Graduate Advisor will submit this form online to the Graduate School.
- Fill out a Worksheet for MA Program of Study.
- Schedule an appointment with the Graduate Advisor. During this meeting you will: 1) review your program of study worksheet and 2) complete your Program of Study for Master of Arts.
- Start researching and writing your thesis! Next semester, you will be required to allow your major professor two weeks to work with you on a complete draft, your committee two weeks to read the final thesis, and the Graduate Advisor will need a window of time in which to schedule the defense before the Graduate School deadline, which means you will not have the entire semester to finish your thesis. To avoid a last-minute rush, start writing now.
The Semester in Which You Defend Your Thesis
- Apply for graduation on Athena. The deadline to do so comes shortly after the beginning of the semester. You can find this semester’s Graduate School deadlines here.
- Follow departmental deadlines for distributing and defending your thesis. The Graduate Advisor will have sent these dates out shortly after the midpoint of the previous semester.
- Submit an electronic copy of your thesis to the Graduate School for a format check. For format check information and submission guidelines see this page. To find this semester’s submission deadline, please see the Graduate School deadlines.
- When your major professor has approved your thesis for distribution to the committee, bring three hard copies directly to the Graduate Advisor’s Office. You will then be able to officially distribute your thesis. If you would prefer a different method of distribution, please speak to your major professor and committee. PDF copies of your thesis are acceptable if one or more committee members specifically request them. The Graduate Advisor will schedule a thesis defense no less than two weeks after the official distribution date.
- At the defense, you may be asked by your committee to make changes to your thesis before final approval. You will need to make these changes and submit them to your major professor, who will need to sign off on them before the Graduate School deadline. You will also need to submit a final electronic copy of your thesis to the Graduate School by this date. Again, see the Graduate School deadlines for your specific semester.
All policies for current students can be found in the Graduate Manual. Students should consult this manual for information and procedures on issues related to coursework, comprehensive exams, the dissertation, etc. Students will adhere to the version of the Graduate Manual active in the year in which they matriculate. In the case of any discrepancies between the Graduate Manual and The Graduate School’s policies, The Graduate School’s policies supersede those of SPIA.
Graduate courses for Political Science, Spring 2019, can be viewed here.
Graduate courses for International Affairs, Spring 2019, can be viewed here.