Current Student

Successful completion of the Master’s thesis consists of the completion of two separate documents:

1) A proposal
2) A thesis

In addition, students will orally defend their work.

Committee structure will mirror that of the College’s Honors thesis work. The director should be someone from within the Humanities Master’s degree faculty, but external members need not be.

The Thesis Committee

The committee will consist of three members: a director, a primary reader, and a secondary reader.

The director will act as the primary mentor and advisor for the student’s thesis work. Students and thesis directors will meet once a week to discuss the work and monitor its progress. The director will steer the student through drafting and submitting the proposal, work with the student in creating an appropriate timeline for the thesis, and steer the student through his/her thesis work. The director will read drafts of the thesis and proffer feedback as the work develops. The director also assigns a grade value to HUM 598, allowing the student to continue on to HUM 599 if the director sees fit. The director should be selected on a basis of primary expertise that the individual brings to the committee based on the thesis subject matter. The director must be a member of the MA in Humanities graduate faculty at Wilson College.

The primary reader should be involved in the thesis work from early on, though the extent of the primary reader’s involvement is left to the discretion of the student, the director, and the primary reader. Minimally, the primary reader must approve the proposal before the student can continue working on the thesis. The primary reader should be selected on a basis of primary, secondary, or critical expertise that the individual brings to the committee based on the thesis subject matter. The primary reader must be a full-time member of the Wilson faculty, but does not need to be a member of the Humanities graduate faculty.

The secondary reader comes onto the thesis committee only toward the end of the crafting of the thesis itself. The secondary reader is one of the committee members who reads and responds to the completed thesis, but plays no formal role beyond this. The secondary reader need not be a Wilson faculty member, though any non-full-time Wilson faculty must be approved by the Program Director. While the first two faculty members must agree to serve on the thesis committee prior to the student beginning the proposal, the secondary reader need only agree to serve prior to reading the final version of the thesis.

All three readers must approve the thesis for the student, though it is the role of the director to assign a letter grade.

This next section will briefly describe the expected outcome result of each document.

The Proposal

A successful proposal for the thesis will describe the project in some detail, giving readers not only a sense of the project but the confidence that the student, in conjunction with her/his director, has thoroughly thought through and already explored the thesis and scope of the proposed work. The proposal is considered a road map for the thesis; while the department and the committee expects that the project will evolve over the course of the student’s work, and thus change, the project should not be radically altered from the proposal without approval from the entire committee. A proposal should be between ten to fifteen pages in length and should minimally consist of the following:

• A lengthy description of the project itself, with emphasis on the thesis and three chapters being proposed (this will take up the bulk of the proposal);
• Some discussion that places the project into the context of other critical work about the subject area;
• Some discussion of how the student came to the project;
• A lengthy reading list of primary and critical works the student will consider and consult during the course of her thesis;
• Plus anything else that the student feels is relevant to the project.

The proposal must be approved, with signatures from the thesis director, primary reader, and Program Director, prior to the student beginning thesis work.

The Thesis

The actual thesis should consist of five sections: an introduction (20-25 pages); three chapters (20-25 pages each); and a conclusion (8-10 pages). It is advisable for the student to think of the project as three lengthy papers, all coordinated under the same general thesis and subject area, plus a lengthy introduction and more succinct conclusion.

The introduction is designed to provide the reader of the thesis with the proper background necessary to comprehend the nature of the project, while also explaining the thesis in some detail. The audience should be presumed to have strong knowledge of the general subject area (i.e. literary theory, media theory) but not specific expertise in the topic of the thesis. This is where the nature of the literature review comes in (i.e., the discussion of the current state of the specific field.) The student should also provide some presaging of each subsequent chapter by discussing the contents of each. It is also recommended that the student attempt to place her/his project into the larger pantheon of critical studies surrounding his/her basic subject area.

Each chapter should be sustainable unto itself while also being an integrative part of the larger project as a whole. Each chapter will develop a particular thesis that will relate strongly to proving the larger overall thesis of the entire document. Students may be advised to think of each chapter as a more highly developed seminar paper from a graduate-level course.

The conclusion reiterates the main thesis and highlights each chapter accordingly while also providing concluding remarks and observations.

The Defense

Who Must Attend / Who May Attend
During the semester the student is completing HUM 599, the student will conduct a defense of her/his thesis. All members of the thesis committee must be present for the defense (members can be present by electronic means if necessary.)

The Director of the MA in Humanities program is also invited to the defense, and every effort should be made to accommodate that individual’s schedule. However, it is not required that the Director be present for the defense to occur.

The student may also invite others to attend the defense as the student wishes, though the defense is generally not open to the public.


The timeline for the defense will be determined by the student and her/his thesis director. The defense must be completed on or prior to the last day of classes during the semester in which the student is registered for HUM 599. The student must make her/his completed thesis work available to all members of the thesis committee prior to this in a timeline determined by the student and the thesis director; however, it is recommended that committee members receive the completed thesis at least 3 full weeks prior to the defense date.

Defense Procedures

During the defense, the members of the student’s thesis committee will pose questions on the thesis and engage the student in conversation about his/her work. This portion of the defense should last between 30 to 60 minutes. During this time, only committee members and the Director of the Program may ask questions of the students. All other invited persons must remain quiet. Upon concluding the defense, the student and other guests are excused and the committee members will remain to discuss the thesis and defense. The committee will determine a “pass” or “not pass” status for the thesis at this time. The committee will also fill out the thesis evaluation forms. It is the job of the thesis director to collect these forms and pass them on to the Program Director and to inform the student of his/her “pass” or “not pass” status.

Following the Defense

Following the defense, the thesis director may direct the student to complete revisions on the thesis prior to determining a letter grade for HUM 599. Thus a student may receive a “pass” defense grade but still be required to revise parts of the thesis for the course letter grade. These revisions must be completed prior to the end of finals week, and the student must submit to the Program Director a completed (electronic) copy of the thesis no later than the last day of finals as part of the student’s final assessment. Failure to do so will delay graduation for the student.

Receiving a “Not Pass”

Should a student receive a “not pass” for the thesis defense or fail the thesis project, she/he will receive a failing grade of “F” for the HUM 599 class. The student will be allowed to re-take the HUM 599 course in the subsequent semester and attempt the thesis defense again. If the second attempt is successful, the student will receive a grade of “pass” and a revised grade for HUM 599. If the second attempt is unsuccessful, the student will not be allowed to try again.

Public Presentation

The student will also give a public presentation of her/his thesis work. This usually occurs during the Spring semester (even for Fall and Summer graduates) during the Research Presentation Day. The public presentation is neither assessed nor evaluated