DEPARTMENTAL THESIS GUIDELINES & REQUIREMENTS
The Department of Political Science and Law’s graduate program offers graduating MA students the opportunity to pursue either the Comprehensive Exam (See https://www.montclair.edu/political-science-and-law/programs-of-study/m-a-in-law-and-governance/comprehensive-procedural-rules/) or a Thesis in their last semester of study. In offering students the ability to purse a thesis as a culminating activity, the Department of Political Science and Law’s graduate program strives to affirm its vocation of excellence and work with qualified students to achieve the scholarly goals that matter to them as they prepare to become the thinkers of tomorrow. A thesis is a very serious scholarly endeavor which Montclair State University’s Graduate School (TGS) defines as “a permanent record of a significant contribution made by a student to a particular field of knowledge. It demonstrates the writer has the capacity for research, the ability to draw logical conclusions, and make interpretative claims.” TGS further stipulates that “in the process of developing the thesis, students will be required to accomplish extensive readings and to demonstrate a significant knowledge of their discipline’s methodological approach to research.” Work resulting from a thesis is, thus, expected to be equivalent in quality to that of a peer-reviewed article and students who engage in thesis writing should expect a process that is not only intellectually demanding, but also rewarding.
This guide helps to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible and students and thesis committees are able to meet the crucial deadlines and timelines that would make it possible for them to pursue the thesis option. Theses are approved in the semester prior to the intended thesis semester. Students seeking to pursue a thesis should therefore begin in the process as early as possible and contact the GPC at least a semester prior to their intended thesis semester. As per TGS guidelines, registration into the thesis course shall not take place until all preliminary steps have been completed and students have earned a minimum of 18 semester hours (credits) of graduate-level courses within the student’s degree program.
THESIS PROCESS: INITIAL STEPS
All thesis applications as well as Thesis Committee formation must be centralized through the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC), who vets thesis candidates and coordinates the thesis approval process with the student’s Thesis Committee members. Students seeking to do a thesis must adhere to the following processes:
STEP 1: At least one semester prior to the intended thesis semester, students must contact the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC), who will ensure students meet departmental as well as Graduate School thesis requirements as laid out in The Graduate School thesis guidelines. (See: https://www.montclair.edu/graduate/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/2018/04/Thesis-Procedural-Manual-UPDATED.pdf).
STEP 2: The GPC will help eligible thesis candidates secure a Thesis Committee. A Thesis Committee will be composed of three members: The Thesis Sponsor/Director, who will be the thesis director in charge of primary advising and coordinator of thesis work with the student, and two additional faculty members. To supervise a thesis, the Thesis Director/Sponsor must be a full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty with “graduate faculty” status (Always be sure to ask your presumptive director/director to check with the Dean’s office whether they are full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty and have “graduate faculty” status, as this will determine whether or not they are allowed to supervise MA theses. Faculty who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty and have no “Graduate Faculty” status cannot serve as Thesis directors. They can, however, serve as thesis committee members. Specifically:
- Qualifying students who meet departmental as well as Graduate School thesis requirements must first go through the GPC to discuss their topic of interest in the semester prior to their intended thesis semester (usually last semester of study);
- The students will be instructed by GPC to produce a 1-3-page initial project description/abstract, which will be in the form of a general topic statement summarizing clearly what it is that the student is intending to pursue (topic and rationale); this will help potential faculty decide whether they have expertise and interest to serve in the Committee being formed;
- GPC will contact, poll and consult potential thesis directors and committee members based on the students’ 1-3-page project description/abstract; students, at this stage, are not yet allowed to contact faculty directly; only the GPC does so as part of a process aimed at helping students form a committee; when needed, GPC may direct students to contact specific faculty who might be inclined to agree to a membership in a Thesis Committee, based on the1-3 page topic and rationale provided by the student;
- GPC informs student of faculty responses; student advances to more formal thesis proposal stage when and if the full Thesis Committee of three is secured; students who are not able to secure a Thesis Committee of three must be redirected to the Comprehensive Exam option;
- Student engages in the production of the more formal 15-page thesis proposal, which must adhere to the Graduate School’s guidelines (consult GPC for specifics);
- Thesis projects/proposals must be finalized and approved by the end of the grading period in Spring (usually around May 15) or Fall (usually around December 25); the GPC gets Thesis Committee members to sign the Approval to Write a Master’s Thesis form authorizing submission of finalized proposal to Graduate School only if all Committee members think the proposal as it stands can proceed to formal thesis production and they are all convinced student has ability to go through the rigors of the thesis-writing process. Students who show inability to produce a coherent 15-page proposal within the timeframe delineated in this guide are denied the thesis option and must be redirected to the Comprehensive Exam option;
STEP 3: Students who are able to finalize their thesis proposal as per the timelines and guidelines set forth in this guide will be allowed to register for the thesis course (LAWS 698). Registration into the thesis course must be done in the semester prior to the student’s last semester of study.
THESIS APPROVAL TIMELINES
No thesis proposal shall be approved by the Graduate Program Coordinator and/or faculty during the student’s last semester of study. For the thesis process to work smoothly, the thesis process must begin, at least, the semester before the student’s last semester. Fall thesis proposals must therefore be approved by the end of the grading period of the previous semester (usually around May 15) and Spring thesis proposals must be approved by the end of the grading period of the previous semester (usually around December 25). By contract, faculty cannot officially supervise theses over the summer months of July and August and all thesis supervision duties MUST be put on hold at the end of the grade submission period in the Fall and Spring semesters.
Example 1 – January Graduation: Mary is looking to be a thesis student and write her thesis in Fall 2020 for a January 2021 graduation. Fall 2020 is Mary’s last semester. Mary’s thesis proposal/outline/prospectus must therefore be finalized and approved by the end of Spring 2020’s grading period (usually around May 15). If approved, Mary will be registered into the thesis course in Spring 2020 by the Graduate School so that Mary can become an official thesis student in Fall 2020 and start to officially work on her thesis. Mary’s Thesis Committee as well as the Graduate Program Coordinator must therefore sign the thesis approval form and send it to the Graduate School by the end of the grading period in May to get the thesis approved for Fall 2020. Note that the thesis proposal is not the thesis itself; the proposal simply helps to make the thesis project official so that the students can be registered into the thesis course and officially begin to work on their thesis during their last semester of study (See below for details).
Example 2 – May Graduation: John is looking to be a thesis student and write her thesis in Spring 2021 for a May 2021 graduation. Spring 2021 is John’s last semester. John’s thesis proposal/outline/prospectus must therefore be finalized and approved by the end of Fall 2020’s grading period (usually around December 20). If approved, John will be registered into the thesis course in Fall 2020 by the Graduate School so that John can become an official thesis student in Spring 2021 and start to officially work on his thesis. John’s Thesis Committee as well as the Graduate Program Coordinator must therefore sign the thesis approval form and send it to the Graduate School by the end of the grading period in December to get the thesis approved for Spring 2021. Note that the thesis proposal is not the thesis itself; the proposal simply helps to make the thesis project official so that the students can be registered into the thesis course and officially begin to work on their thesis during their last semester of study (See below for details).
THESIS COMPLETION TIMELINES
The timelines below assume student thesis project was approved in the semester prior and that students are equipped with the outline and preliminary research needed for beginning to write the thesis itself in their last semester of study. The following dates and deadlines must therefore be adhered to scrupulously:
- September 25: First thesis draft submitted to Thesis Committee
- October 20: Second thesis draft submitted to Thesis Committee; Committee makes decision by October 30 to let student continue thesis to completion in current semester, or works out a Thesis Extension to next semester, or redirects student to Comprehensive Exam option if student ultimately deemed incapable of producing acceptable work;
- November 15: Penultimate and final draft submitted to Committee for fast faculty feedback by November 25 and revisions made to ready final revised thesis for November 30 deadline;
- November 30: Final and Finished version submitted to Committee and GPC;
- December 7: Defense scheduled by December 7; at this time, Committee and GPC signatures secured testifying to completion of thesis and final thesis grade given by Thesis Sponsor/Director.
- February 15: First thesis draft submitted to Thesis Committee
- March 15: Second thesis draft submitted to Thesis Committee; Committee makes decision by March 25 to let students continue thesis to completion in current semester, or works out a Thesis Extension to next semester with students, or redirects students to Comprehensive Exam option if student ultimately deemed incapable of producing acceptable work;
- April 15: Penultimate and final draft submitted to Committee for fast faculty feedback by April 25, and revisions made to ready final revised thesis for April 30 deadline;
- April 30: Final and Finished version submitted to Committee and GPC;
- May 7: Defense scheduled by May 7; at this time, Committee and GPC signatures secured testifying to completion of thesis and final thesis grade given by Thesis Sponsor/Direct.
- Only grades of B, B+, A- and A are allowed for theses.
- No thesis defense should be scheduled without submission by student of the final revised version to the Thesis Committee and no Thesis Committee member will sign off on the thesis completion form until the corrected version of the thesis has been submitted to all Committee Members.
A typical proposal must include:
– A 5-10 page rationale: This rationale will include a thesis statement and rationale that clearly articulate the problem to be resolved or researched; this must also include a literature review of the field being explored. To make future efforts easier, students should seek to work this out as if this were already the introduction to their thesis, with the caveat that there must be an extensive literature review of the field that clearly articulates the link between the problem being researched and said literature: For instance, how does the literature/works/sources being used, cited, and discussed in the rationale/proposal (and later in the thesis itself) help to resolve or illuminate the problem being investigated?). Note: If a student does this well, this could almost straightforwardly stand later on as the introduction to their final thesis version and they would no longer have to work too hard on the introduction after that. While there is no page maximum for the pproposal, a 15-page proposal that would include the rationale (including the thesis statement and literature review), the outline (commented or not commented depending on the field and/or committee preferences), the bibliography (commented or not commented depending on the field and/or committee preferences) would be the required minimum. A 15-page proposal that is well put together would allow both the student and committee members to know exactly where the project is going and whether or not the topic as proposed is workable or too ambitious to be realistic.
– A Thesis Outline: The thesis outline is similar to a book’s table of contents. It shows the various anticipated segments/sections/chapters of the thesis and, thus, provides a skeletal overview of how the thesis is going to be articulated. The outline can be commented or not commented with bibliographical annotations, depending on the field and/or committee preferences. The outline is probably the most important item in a thesis proposal. The outline is what will guide the student’s work and progress after the proposal is approved by all committee members. It must therefore contain the various sections that will guide the arguments being used. Depending on your field, your director may ask you to comment your outline and/or bibliography.
– A Bibliography: The bibliography is where you list the works/sources you used and are planning to use to support your arguments. This is what is typically called the bibliography, works cited or sources section in academic research papers. Your bibliography should include the works you actually cited in the rationale and literature review, as well as additional works/sources that you plan to use in the finalized version of your thesis. You must therefore take some time to explore and do some research to find the books/sources needed before putting your ideas and proposal together. The thesis director and other committee members can help guide the student in the process of putting both the proposal and bibliography together.
– Formatting: Formatting of the proposal should ideally be done according to the formatting rules recommended by the Graduate School (https://www.montclair.edu/graduate/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/2018/04/Thesis-Procedural-Manual-UPDATED.pdf). Following Graduate School guidelines as to the format required for the thesis will make it easier for thesis candidates to simply continue to follow the same rules when they begin to write the actual thesis itself.
The finalized thesis will be 35 pages minimum and follow the Graduate School’s formatting guidelines (See https://www.montclair.edu/graduate/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/2018/04/Thesis-Procedural-Manual-UPDATED.pdf).
GRADUATE SCHOOL’S THESIS GUIDELINES:
The Graduate School maintains a Thesis Manual/Guide that will give you the general expectations in terms of how to conduct thesis supervision. You can find it here: https://www.montclair.edu/graduate/wp-content/uploads/sites/58/2018/04/Thesis-Procedural-Manual-UPDATED.pdf. Please save that PDF file too and keep it for future reference in case you are approached by students who want to do a thesis. That file also contains all the forms needed for registering into the thesis course.
Thesis candidates or students seeking to do a thesis should consult with Graduate Program Coordinator as soon as possible to determine thesis eligibility or ask any questions they might have about the process.
GRADUATE PROGRAM COORDINATOR CONTACT INFO:
This policy is subject to change without notice. Last amended, March 2020, by departmental vote and approval.