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Masters Thesis and Supervisor

[Part of the Policies of the CHD, August 2019]

Master’s Thesis

A candidate for a terminal Master's degree, with the prior approval of a faculty supervisor and of the CHD, may undertake an extended reading and research project resulting in what amounts to a Master's thesis.  The thesis is optional for the S.M. degree and required for the M.E. degree.  In connection with this project, an S.M. candidate may take no more than two SEAS letter-graded reading and research courses (299r), no more than one in any given semester.  M.E. candidates may take up to one 299r course as part of the eight letter-graded courses and are required to take eight 300-level reading and research courses. 

Second Reader

When a thesis project is pursued in connection with a terminal Master’s degree, the thesis supervisor, in consultation with the student, shall nominate an outside reader who is a member of the SEAS faculty for approval by the CHD by course-enrollment day of their second semester in the case of SM students, or by course-enrollment day of their third semester for M.E. students.  Ordinarily, both the supervisor and reader must be members of the SEAS faculty; exceptions must be approved by the CHD.


An initial draft of the thesis must be transmitted to the supervisor before Spring Recess of the student’s final semester (or Thanksgiving Recess if the student’s final semester is the fall). The final draft of the thesis, incorporating any revisions given on prior drafts by the thesis supervisor and outside reader, must be transmitted to the thesis supervisor and outside reader by the first day of Reading Period, and the student should simultaneously submit a one- or two-page abstract to the Office of Academic Programs. The thesis supervisor and outside reader should each submit to the Office of Academic Programs by the last day of Reading Period a letter giving their evaluation of the thesis.


It is expected that such a thesis will represent a more substantial contribution than is customary for an undergraduate senior thesis, but less so than a doctoral dissertation. The thesis will follow a similar format to a Ph.D. dissertation, and satisfy similar criteria. The main difference is in the volume of original work expected of a master’s thesis, which might have the content of roughly 25% of original research as in the Ph.D. dissertation. No part of a master’s thesis may be included in a subsequent Ph.D. dissertation. The student should note that the following four points should be covered in a master’s thesis: introduction, stating the question being asked, or hypothesis being tested, or design challenge being addressed; literature review, summarizing pertinent prior work; original research or design; and conclusions, stating what was learned.


The thesis abstract and evaluations will be made part of the student's permanent record. When an S.M. or M.E. program plan approved by the CHD provides for or requires the preparation of a thesis, awarding of the degree will not be recommended until the abstract and satisfactory evaluations have been received by the Office of Academic Programs.   Unsatisfactory evaluations of the thesis will be reflected as unsatisfactory grades given by the supervisor in the student’s 300-level and/or 299r courses and will preclude the awarding of the M.E. degree; M.E. students who otherwise have met the requirements for the S.M. may apply for that degree to be conferred on the next degree date.

M.E. students who are in-between supervisors

M.E. students who do not remain with their initial supervisor are expected to secure a new supervisor by the end of the second semester.  Students who cannot identify a new supervisor by that time will be expected to withdraw from the program based on a lack of progress to degree, receiving the S.M. if they have met the requirements for that degree.  Such students may petition to remain for a third semester in order to satisfy the S.M. requirements.

The new supervisor will normally be a member of the SEAS faculty.  Permission for a student to have a non-SEAS supervisor may be given by the DGS; such students must also have a SEAS co-advisor.