T H E M A S T E R' S T H E S I S:
G E T T I N G S T A R T E D
The following applies to the TESL, Creative Writing, and American & English Literature specializations; students in the Teaching of Writing specialization, which does not offer a thesis option, should consult with their advisor before filling out the Exit Exam Committee Form
Once you've determined upon the thesis option for your M. A. program exit exam, you'll need to do several things in order to ensure that you're beginning the process in a way that will facilitate a smooth and relatively trouble-free experience.
In addition to reviewing the (mostly) procedural advice below, you should also read "Thinking About the Thesis"
by Prof. Catherine Seltzer, a document that offers successful strategies for beginning the thesis-writing process.
ENG 599: Thesis
This is the course in which you enroll when you are ready to begin serious work
on your thesis. While the Director of Graduate Studies will be the "instructor of
record" for this course, you will work closely with your committee and committee
chair during the time you are enrolled in the course.
ENG 599 must be taken twice, for a total of 6 credit hours. While most students take the course for 3 hours in two different semesters, you may enroll for all 6 hours in one term if you wish.
It is not unusual, frankly, for students to underestimate the amount of time and energy required for the writing of a thesis, which is, after all, typically 60-75 pages in length, at least. If after taking ENG 599 for 6 credit hours your thesis is still not complete, you may in subsequent semesters enroll in UNIV 500, a low-cost (currently $37.50) course that, while it carries no credit hours, allows you to maintain access to various campus resources, including the library and computer labs. Your transcript will show a "DE" ("deferred") grade for ENG 599 until your thesis has been successfully defended and all the paperwork processed. This grade does not affect your GPA.
Establishing a committee comes first, and the first step in this process is selecting a committee chair. Typically your thesis committee chair will be a professor with whom you have taken at least one class, who has expertise in your intended field of research, and with whom you have a very good working relationship. It is standard procedure for the student to approach the faculty member directly (and preferably in person) about serving as committee chair.
Once your committee chair is in place, you need to line up the other members of the committee. Thesis committees must consist of at least three faculty members, all of whom must have "graduate faculty" status. While typically this matter of "graduate" status won't be an issue, it is sometimes the case that for very recently hired, or recently retired, members of the Department the paperwork has not been completed; you may wish to check with your committee chair, the Department Chair, or the Director of Graduate Studies. Note also that while the three members of the committee need not all be from the Department of English, it is the case that all three members must be SIUE faculty. If you wish to add someone who has faculty status at another university, that person will have to be a fourth committee member.
Selecting the other members of your thesis committee is best done in consultation with the committee chair. You will probably have some sense of faculty members you wish to work with, but your chair may be able to suggest other possibilities. You and your thesis will be best served by having a committee whose members have expertise that is at least close to your intended research area.
Some thesis committee chairs may wish to approach these other potential committee members themselves, while others will encourage you to make that contact directly. Each particular situation is different, and depends upon a number of variables. What is most important, in this matter and throughout the entire thesis process, is that your committee chair be kept closely informed.
Once a committee has been established, the next step is to discuss your project with your committee. Ideally, you and your chair will have several discussions or email exchanges in which you begin to refine and focus your thesis project, and it is most helpful if your entire committee is involved at some point. A successful thesis experience involves many things, and one of those is having committee members who are never surprised and who never feel left out.
The Department requires students to submit a formal Prospectus (typically these are 5 or fewer pages in length) and produce a Bibliography as a way of establishing the necessary focus and definition of your project. Each member of your committee should review the prospectus and sign the prospectus form
, which should be turned in to the Director of Graduate Studies.
Registration of Thesis Title
Once the Prospectus has been approved by your committee, you are ready to complete the Registration of Thesis Title form. This form is due in Graduate Records the first day of the semester in which you plan to defend your thesis, although unless you are planning to do all
of your thesis research, writing, and coursework in one term (rarely a good idea), you should complete and submit this form as soon as you have your committee assembled.
This form requires you to supply the title of your thesis, among other things, so make sure that your title is chosen wisely: should you later decide to change it, this form will need to be filled out and submitted again. You will also need to have all members of your committee sign the form. You do not
need to submit a Prospectus or a Bibliography as part of the Registration of Thesis Title form.
This form also requires that you explain the "Nature of Research" in your project. For most graduate students in English, this is pretty straightforward: the typical M. A. thesis in literature or creative writing involves lots of reading, writing, and thinking and not much else; students in the TESL specialization are more likely to have a "field work" component. If you are going to travel to examine library holdings or conduct other research, indicate that as well. As for the requirement that you explain your "information gathering method and sources," that's usually covered by explaining that you'll be using the library and inter-library loan. Of course indicate any other methods or procedures you'll be using.
Note: If you indicate that you will be interviewing (even by email) people as part of your research, your project will fall under the "human subjects" provision; if you are studying classroom behavior or teaching styles, you will of course be using "human subjects." If your project uses human subjects in any capacity -- and the Graduate School interprets this phrase very broadly -- you will have to fill out a number of additional forms and take online training. For more information on this requirement, please contact Linda Skelton
in the Graduate Dean's office.
Once the Registration of Thesis Title form is complete, submit it to the Department's Director of Graduate Studies, who will then pass it along to the Graduate School.
The Work in Progress
Once your committee is in place and you've registered your thesis title, you're ready to begin work. While the specifics will vary, it is expected that you will meet with your committee chair, if not the entire committee, on a regular basis. Again, a successful thesis-writing experience is one that has no surprises. Maintain regular contact with your chair and committee members. You and your chair should develop a plan regarding whether additional committee members receive all drafts or only a close-to-finished draft of the thesis.
As you work on your thesis, carefully review the Graduate School's "Guidelines for the Preparation of a Thesis," which provides some general guidelines and, most importantly, all of the layout and mechanical requirements of the final thesis. The Graduate School is strict about holding theses to the requirements spelled out in this document; careful reading of it is not optional.
For guidelines regarding the completion of the thesis-writing process, see Part Two of this guide, The Master's Thesis: Finishing Up
Published by: Department of English Language and Literature
Last Update: 27 July 2010 by English Web Manager