Writing the MA Thesis

The cornerstone of your MAPSS year is the MA thesis, which is a piece of graduate-level, original research that demonstrates your methodological and analytical training and skills. We work closely with you to make that paper as effective as possible. Check out the links to see some of the research support you can expect. 

From the beginning of your MAPSS year, you will make connections with faculty who share your disciplinary, topical, or methodological interests. You will ask one of those faculty members to supervise your MA thesis. Your faculty supervisor can be anyone with a doctorate and an appointment at the University, no matter whether that person teaches in the Social Sciences, Humanities, one of our professional schools, or anywhere else on campus. For every thesis project there are numerous potential faculty advisors across campus. 

You have two options for the MA thesis. The first is the academic thesis, which is an article-length piece of original research and writing, modeled on peer-reviewed journal articles in your discipline. The goal of this research paper is to engage in a scholarly conversation in your discipline or disciplines, and to contribute to that conversation in a modest way. Check out our Johnson and Fogelson Prize listings to see some of the very best academic theses to come out of MAPSS. 

For those who apply to PhD programs after MAPSS, the academic thesis is critical to the success of your application, demonstrating your ability to develop and execute a graduate-level research project. 

Many of our students, however, go on to positions outside the academy in which high-level research skills are the primary qualification. The academic thesis, therefore, becomes an important part of your resume, showcasing your graduate-level research skills, methods training, and professional writing. 

The other option for your MA thesis is a recent innovation: instead of the traditional academic thesis, students may now complete a professional thesis, which applies the social scientific knowledge and research methods you learn in MAPSS to a concrete problem in a form that is more common in professions outside the academy. 

The professional thesis is advised by your preceptor in consultation with our faculty director and can take numerous forms. It might, for example, be a market analysis for a firm; a grant proposal for a non-profit; a policy brief for a legislator or agency director; an article of long-form journalism for a lay audience; a storyboard for a documentary film; a consolidation of two revised seminar papers demonstrating facility in the application of theory and methods; or another project as approved by your preceptor and our faculty director.

Whether you complete an academic thesis or a professional one, the project will be the centerpiece of your MAPSS year. Some students do their research and write the thesis in the Winter Quarter; most, however, do their research in the Winter Quarter and write the thesis in the Spring Quarter. About 20% of our students graduate in June, the rest graduate in August.