Q&A Regarding the Thesis Process
An Interview with the faculty.
Q. What advice would you give to students on selecting a thesis topic?
A. You should choose a topic of personal interest and passion. Keep in mind that the topic you choose will have to sustain you throughout the thesis process. In addition, it is important to consider what you want to use your thesis for in the future. In other words, if you are planning on applying for a Doctoral program you may want to showcase your quantitative skills, or perhaps you will be applying for a job in the private sector and want to display your ability to analyze the qualitative aspects of your data. Remember that a good research question is not necessarily a complex research question.
Another important consideration when choosing your topic is resources, human and otherwise. While not absolutely necessary, it is best to choose a topic that is in line with the research interests of one of the faculty members you choose to work with.
Q. How, and when, should a student go about assembling their thesis committee?
A. During your first semester, take the time to learn about the research interests of different faculty members, this will help you when it comes time to form your committee and may also guide you in choosing your topic of interest. By the beginning of your second semester you should be reading the current literature in your topic area of interest; by starting early you can easily narrow the scope of your eventual thesis question, or decide that you would like to go in a different research direction all together.
By the last month of your second semester you should have a good idea of the research question you would like to focus on. At this point you should compose a concept paper (max 3 pages) outlining the background, focus, and goals of your planned thesis study. Once you have completed this paper you are then ready to approach the faculty members that you would like to serve on your thesis committee. The concept paper will serve as a springboard for conversation with the faculty members you choose to meet with.
Each thesis committee must consist of at least two full time faculty members. You will choose one to serve as the chair of your committee and the other as your reader. Unless, you have an exceptionally good reason for doing so, it is not recommended that you have more than two individuals on your committee. When choosing a committee it is best to choose your chair first and then consult with your chair about who you should choose as your reader.
Q. What are the major steps in the thesis process?
A. The first consideration is the formal departmental and graduate division deadlines that must be met. You should print out the forms that you will need to file ahead of time and then make a list of when they are due. In addition, you should print a copy of the graduate division guidelines for the preparation and submission of theses and written creative works.
The second consideration is the more informal, yet still important, steps involved in the planning of any major research project. You should build a timeline based upon the work that you have to complete for your project and the deadlines that you will have to meet. Within this deadline you should mark areas where you feel you should meet with your committee. When completing a timeline make sure that you allow room for setbacks or delays. You should try to complete forms etc. at least two weeks prior to the set deadline.
Q. How often should a student meet with their thesis committee?
A. Most of your thesis meetings will be with the chair of your committee, however, there are times when it is appropriate for you to meet with both your chair and reader. Namely, you should plan to meet with your full committee at the outset of your study (prior to making an IRB submission) and at finalization of your study. Other meetings can be decided upon between yourself and your chair. You should meet with your reader once you have a detailed research proposal, when you have an outline of your thesis paper, when you have a good rough draft of your thesis, and for subsequent revisions thereafter.
In general, schedule meetings as often as necessary. Be sure to use both yours and your professors time wisely. Meet often enough so that you know you are on track.
Q. Approximately how long should a thesis be? What is the appropriate scope?
A. In general, a thesis should be a maximum of 40 pages, double-spaced. Through conversations with your thesis committee you will arrive at a manageable scope for your thesis. Although your thesis should be original and creative, it should also be tightly bound and packaged.
Q. Are qualitative studies acceptable for a thesis?
A. In general a masters thesis should be empirical in nature. It is possible that a well designed qualitative study might be deemed acceptable. If you are planning on proposing a qualitative study you should speak to an advisor about this early on, so that you do not waste time and energy researching a project that you will not be able to do.
Q. What resources do you recommend on the thesis process?
A. For formatting issues you should first follow the graduate division guidelines for the preparation and submission of theses and written creative works. For any formatting questions not addressed in this guide you should consult your APA Manual.
Some other resources you might want to use:
- Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish by John D. Cone and Sharon L. Foster
- The Psychology Student Writers Manual by Jill M. Scott, Russell Koch, Gregory M. Scott, and Stephen Garrison
Q. What resources are available to student for running their study?
A. It is possible to reserve lab space for running your study, but you would need to consult with the person in charge of that lab.
Q. Where and how do students generally obtain subjects for their study?
A. In general, students obtain their subjects from undergraduate psychology courses. Many of these students have a research requirement to fulfill for these classes and participating in a study fulfills this. You should contact the professor of the course to ask for permission and to arrange a time to recruit for your study.
Q. What are some of the most common problems that you have seen in working with a student on their thesis?
A. The two most common problems are inadequate data analysis skills and inadequate writing skills. When these problems occur, faculty members end up spending most of their advising time tutoring a student. Aside from these two problems the following issues have also created problems:
- Withdrawal or denied cooperation of field research contacts.
- Crafting a thesis that only people who meet select standards can become subjects. Beware of creating unreasonable inclusion criteria.
- Being unaware of the appropriate format and style of a paper i.e. literature review, citing of sources, etc.
- Properly balancing time between life and work.
Q. Are faculty available year-round for consultation?
A. Faculty are not available during summer, January inter-session, and breaks. You should plan accordingly when seeking help from your advisors.
Q. What preferences do you have when serving on a thesis committee?
A. When approaching a faculty member to serve on your thesis committee you should make sure to prepare a concept paper. Once you have a good sense of who will be on your committee and what your project will be you should prepare a detailed timeline.
Q. In the context of the thesis process, what generally prevents a student from graduating from the program in two years?
A. The main reasons for not graduating from the program in two years are poor project management and exceptionally heavy schedules (school, work, life).