MA Thesis Requirement

MAPSS is a one-year degree program. Students are expected to complete all program requirements, including the MA thesis, and graduate by the June or August following their September matriculation.

MAPSS Thesis

The MAPSS thesis is the centerpiece of your MAPSS degree. Regardless of the path you choose to take after MAPSS, the ability to plan and execute a research project is a crucial skill.

MAPSS theses are of two types, academic and professional. For both types, a thesis proposal must be approved by the primary reader by January 31. The proposal lays out the scope and nature of the work to be done on the thesis.

MAPSS-Econ students may be permitted an extension to the January 31 deadline, because of disciplinary differences in securing primary readers for the MA thesis.

Whether you produce an academic or professional thesis, you will submit a draft of your paper to your primary and secondary readers by the deadline specified in our graduation guidelines. You will revise the paper based upon the feedback you receive from your reader(s) and submit a final version that will be graded and evaluated.

The academic thesis is an article-length piece of original research and writing, modeled on a professional journal article for the discipline in which you choose to specialize. Most will be 30 to 50 double-spaced pages. The goal is to advance a scholarly conversation in your discipline, by means of an original contribution that improves our understanding of your research question in conceptual and empirical ways.

The primary reader for the academic thesis is a member of the Social Science Division faculty or any other person with a doctorate and an appointment at the University whom you can interest in your project. Your preceptor will serve as the second reader.

Your thesis will be evaluated based upon the interest of your question, the relevance of your research design, the quality of your data, the sophistication of your analysis, the strength of your presentation, and the significance of your findings.

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. For those who go on to positions outside the academy, the academic thesis is an important part of your resume, showcasing your graduate-level research skills, methods training, and professional writing.

The professional thesis applies social scientific knowledge and research methods to a concrete problem. This option is designed for those who know from the outset that they wish to use their MAPSS thesis as an opportunity to position themselves for a career outside the academy. It is also for those who decide during their MAPSS study that they wish to pivot from a scholarly focus to a professional one. Please note, however, that if you are part of the Education and Society (EDSO), Quantitative Methods and Social Analysis (QMSA), or Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) interdisciplinary programs, the professional thesis may not be an option.

Like the academic thesis, the professional thesis is a demonstration of the skills learned in your coursework at UChicago. And like the academic thesis, the professional thesis is based upon a solid grounding in the scholarly literature, with data that has been rigorously analyzed to reach a set of conclusions.

The difference between the academic and professional thesis is in the kind of contribution your project makes. While the academic thesis intervenes in a scholarly conversation, the professional thesis speaks to an audience outside the academy.

There are numerous forms a professional thesis might take depending upon your aims. It might take the form of an article proposing a solution to a problem faced by a specific organization; a market analysis for a firm; a grant proposal for a non-profit; a policy brief for a legislator or agency leader; an evaluation report on a new mathematics curriculum; a curation of a museum exhibition; a storyboard for a documentary film; or other projects as approved by your primary faculty reader.

If you choose to complete a professional thesis, we strongly recommend that you register for the Graduate Practicum in the Social Sciences in the winter or spring quarter. One of the benefits of this course is that it provides a structured opportunity to identify a community partner with whom you might work and whose organization might benefit from your project.

Your preceptor will serve as the primary reader for the professional thesis, and the project must meet their expectations. The length will vary depending on the kind of project you undertake.

Your preceptor will ask that you provide at least one or two examples for the kind of project you intend, and will confirm that a project of that kind is viable for our MA degree.

To get the most out of the project, we encourage you to secure a secondary reader elsewhere on campus or a secondary reader outside the University who is knowledgeable about your thesis topic and the kind of project you wish to complete.

No matter what form your thesis submission may take, it must be accompanied by a
supplemental report consisting of the following two components:

  1. Literature Review (7-10 double-spaced pages): A critical literature review demonstrating your use of the relevant academic literature on applied problems. Your review should discuss current scholarly understandings of your research question, the disagreements/tensions in that literature, what parts of the research question remain unsettled or poorly understood, what you learned in the aggregate from those scholarly discussions, and how it informed your research.
  2. Evaluation of the Research Design (7-10 double-spaced pages): A detailed discussion of your data, data collection procedures, and methods of analysis. This discussion should include considerations of the strengths and weaknesses of your research design and what other methods might have been employed.

Policy Last Revised: May 30, 2023

Students who do not have an approved proposal within 9 months of matriculation, or who have not completed the MA thesis within 15 months of matriculation, will be automatically assigned a MAPSS faculty reader for the MA thesis. Those persons will no longer be eligible to work with anyone outside of MAPSS on the MA thesis.

All part-time or Reduced Course Load (RCL) students will be assigned a MAPSS faculty reader for the MA thesis.

In all cases, when a MAPSS reader is assigned, that person will be the sole reader of the MA thesis. The student may no longer formally work with an advisor from outside of the MA program. If a student has a continuing relationship with an advisor from outside of our MA staff, and that person is willing, they may serve in an informal capacity and offer occasional advice on particular sections of the paper. But that person will not submit a grade or thesis evaluation, and they will not be recorded as an official reader of the MA thesis. 

Your MAPSS reader will provide comments on your proposal and first draft, and submit an evaluation and letter grade for your final draft.

When working with a MAPSS reader, as an extended student 12 months past your initial matriculation, please allow a minimum of 5 weeks for comments after you submit your proposal, after you submit your first draft, and after you submit your final thesis. We will endeavor to get back to you sooner if we can, but our priority will be for current full-time students in the program.