MA Thesis Guidelines

Expectations for the MA Thesis

A Master’s thesis must demonstrate original empirical research and a conceptual contribution to a debate in a field or subfield of sociology.  Theses are designed for students who want to focus on a particular research area and can define a research project very early in their graduate career. To successfully defend a thesis and graduate within two years, a full-time student must identify a viable empirical research question during the second term of the first year and collect data during the summer between their second and third semesters. A viable project asks a question that is fully grounded in the relevant research, can be addressed with data that is available or can be gathered within the time constraints of the degree, and draws on the scholarly expertise of one or more members of the department's faculty.  A literature review is not an acceptable thesis. 

MA students are not required to complete an MA thesis to graduate. Students who do not wish to complete a thesis must successfully complete thirty-six hours of course work, including Research Methods and Design and Contemporary Social Theory. No comprehensive exam is required for any students.

Suggested MA Thesis Timeline

Semester One

During their first semester, students must successfully complete three courses, including Research Method and Design if entering in Fall, and develop a research question for their MA thesis. Students should meet with faculty to discuss their thesis idea.

Semester Two 

Successfully complete three courses, including Research Methods and Design if entering in Spring. During the first month of the term, consult with the DGS about your interest in doing a thesis. You will need to identify a topic and propose a tentative committee. The DGS will consult faculty who have worked with you during your first nine credits and in any other academic capacities. Based on that consultation, the DGS will decide if it is advisable for you to move forward on the thesis project.

If the DGS agrees that you can move ahead with the thesis project, you will need to identify a faculty mentor who has a scholarly background in the area of the thesis topic and is willing to chair the thesis committee. Work with the chair of the committee to identify other possible members for the committee.  You will need to form a committee prior to defending your thesis proposal.

Before the end of Semester Two (or, for the part-time student, before the conclusion of eighteen credits), you will need to write and defend a thesis proposal that outlines the proposed research question and rationale for the study, the methods proposed for data collection, a literature review, and any research instruments (eg, interview or survey questions). The defense requires a thesis proposal, a thesis writing plan that includes a detailed outline of the thesis, and a suggested timeline for the collection of data and writing. Proposed plan must demonstrate feasibility of data to be collected during the summer.  


If students are collecting data involving human subjects, they must prepare and submit their IRB proposal before collecting data. Their thesis chair will serve as the PI for the project in all forms. 

Students collecting original data will use the summer between their second and third semesters to collect and begin analyzing their data.

Semester Three

During their third semester, students should succesfully complete three to six credits of Master's Thesis and three to six credits of approved graduate course work (for a total of nine hours). Students will finish analyzing their data and begin writing their thesis. Students should have a rough draft completed by the end of the semester.  

Semester Four

During their final semester, students will successfully complete three to six credits of Master's Thesis and three to six credits of approved graduate course work (for a total of nine hours). Student must submit their application for graduation by the deadline. Students will then complete their thesis, submit it for review by their committee, defend their thesis, and submit the final version to the Graduate College by the deadline.

MA Thesis Resources