Master's Thesis

A thesis is optional but is recommended, especially for students considering pursuing doctoral degrees. If you choose to do a thesis, you should begin by selecting a faculty advisor very early in the process. This should be someone among the department faculty who has some expertise in your area of interest and is willing to work with you. We recommend that you sign up for SOC 471, “Special Topics”, in the spring semester of the first year or fall semester of the second year, under the direction of your thesis adviser.  During this semester you will do the background reading on your area of study and work with your adviser on your thesis proposal.  In the subsequent semester(s), enroll in SOC 490, “Thesis”.

The thesis proposal. Your proposal should identify the purpose of your research, review the literature, and provide a detailed description of your proposed methodology. This can be approximately 10 pages and will most likely end up being the first chapters of your thesis.  A committee of three faculty members, your advisor plus two others, must approve the proposal; this committee will also evaluate the completed thesis.  Discuss with your thesis advisor who would be good members for your committee; you can select one from outside the department. Your proposal must be submitted to the entire committee by November 1 if you are planning to complete your degree in the spring, or April 1 if you plan to complete the thesis during fall semester. Work with your adviser to obtain feedback and approval from the committee before the end of the semester.

The thesis. There is no minimum or maximum length for the thesis, but previous theses have averaged around 60 pages. You can see bound copies of previous masters theses in a filing cabinet in Suite 280. Do not remove them but do look at them to see what previous students have done. 

We also recommend that you work together with other students who are working on theses to share tips and problems. 

Criteria for a good thesis include the following:

  • Coherence. The thesis should fit together into a coherent whole, in which the parts are interconnected; i.e. the data collection should follow from the purpose and literature review, and the conclusion should follow from the results and show how they are linked to prior research and to the stated hypotheses.
  • Originality. The thesis can be based on your own data collection or on a review of library/archival materials or analysis of existing data sets. It is not essential that you collect new data; it is essential that you analyze the material you collect in an original way.
  • Critical mastery of literature. You should demonstrate that you not only have reviewed the existing literature, but that you understand the debates within that literature and can critique the authors appropriately.
  • Central argument. The thesis should set forth a key proposition or set of propositions that you wish to evaluate, based on the literature review and linked to social theory. This central argument is what holds the thesis together and determines what kinds of data you collect and how you analyze them. It is an important part of what makes the thesis coherent, and it should be obvious in the introduction and in the conclusion, where you may show that it has been supported by your investigation, or refuted by it.

Finally.  The registrar lists the due date for submitting the thesis online in the academic calendar each year. Generally this is the last day of classes. Please also consult the College guidelines for submitting your thesis.

In order to receive and respond to the thesis committee’s recommendations in time to submit by the deadline, you should submit the thesis to your committee approximately one month in advance, i.e. by the end of March. The adviser will work with the student and committee to establish a procedure for submission, review, and revision. 

At the last department colloquium of the year, all students who have completed a thesis will summarize their findings before the faculty and other students.