Master's Degree Programs

Introduction

Master's degree programs may be one or two years long. If they are one year, they are often very intensive, and one must be very organized and motivated to complete the program in the year allotted. A good question to ask about one-year programs when you're investigating them is how many students in the program actually finish in one year.

Thesis

The master's thesis is usually the written report of a research project that the graduate student carries out. The idea for this project often comes from the student's advisor or may be the result of research team group discussions. It is not very often the student's own, original idea.

Proposal. The first step in the process is to develop a research proposal with the student's advisor. This includes a rationale for the study, a description of the subjects, materials, and procedures to be used, proposed analyses, and expected results. Once the advisor approves, the members of a defense committee are chosen by the student and his or her advisor, within the requirements for the composition of the committee.

Committee approval. The student finds out what the composition of the committee must be, distributes copies of the proposal, meets with each member to discuss the proposal, and schedules a meeting of the committee to approve the thesis proposal. At this meeting, the student gives a formal, oral presentation of the proposal, and committee discusses its merits, possible problems and how to solve them, and hopefully, approves the study.

Carry out study. Then student gets human or animal IRB approval, generates the materials, finds subjects, tries out the procedures, runs the study, analyzes the results, and writes up the results and conclusions in consultation with the student's advisor.

Oral defense. Again, when the advisor approves of the thesis, the student distributes copies to the other members of the committee, meets with them individually to discuss possible criticisms or reservations, schedules a committee meeting, and presents the completed study formally. Again the committee discusses the study, asks the student questions, and hopefully approves the completed project and granting the master's degree.

At some defenses, the committee members may not only ask questions about the research project, they may also ask questions about anything the student might be expected to know, given his or her progress in the graduate program.

The student must then make various changes in the thesis text as required by the committee members and submits the thesis to have the format approved by the graduate school. After this approval is granted, the thesis must be copied and bound, and the student graduates with a master's degree.