Guidelines for Creating and Completing the Master’s Thesis
Selecting a Topic
- How? The following are some methods for narrowing your choices:
- What are interests you? Are you curious about a construct? a process? a particular group of people? a specific setting or condition?
- What sort of research is currently being conducted by the Department faculty? See the listing of faculty and their research interests on the Psychology Department website.
- What topic is exciting the field? What are the hot topics or trends?
- Survey the relevant literature in PsycInfo by looking up key words. Read articles in current issues of the journals which show up most frequently in your search. Focus on empirical articles and the recommendations for future research.
- Attend departmental talks, conferences and professional meetings to hear about new ideas to stimulate your own thinking.
- Evaluate your personal timetable for completing the thesis in view of your obligations, work habits, scope of the project. Note that students usually underestimate their timeline and then find themselves in a bind or panicked when they get behind schedule. Do not assume that you are going to be an exception to the norm and give yourself time (and permission) to take what time you need.
- Seek out faculty in your chosen interest area(s). To do so, look in PsycInfo for their prior publications, Dissertation/Theses Abstracts for theses they have directed or served as a committee member.
Selecting a Chair and Committee
- Make an appointment to talk with a prospective Thesis Chair or Chairs. Describe your ideas, ask about their research interests, what kinds of theses other students have done with them and if they think you might fit into their lab (if they have one). While you may want to express interest in what a faculty member is doing, be sure you do not imply that you plan to work with him or her until you are confident that that is indeed the case. There seem to be two major faculty styles for directing thesis research. One group of faculty tend to be rather non-directive, and encourage students to develop their own thesis topic. While this stimulates originality it may take a long time and be frustrating. Other faculty members require that thesis students carry out some project that is of interest to the faculty member, perhaps a component in a larger thematic research program. While this is expedient and convenient, it may be unexciting to you. Above all, you want a Chair who is readily available in the day-to-day conduct of research, one whose students complete their theses with dispatch, and who may furnish a strong recommendation. You will be happier if your needs and your advisor’s are congruent.
- Your Thesis Chair will help you identify and recruit the remaining members of your committee. Thesis committees are comprised of at least three members (including the chair); at least two member must be Psychology full-time faculty. All members of the committee must have Graduate Faculty Status through the UALR Graduate School. Choose committee members who have either content expertise or methodological expertise or both. (See Section I.5 of this document)
Thesis Proposal – Structure and Organization
- The aim of the proposal is to spell out clearly what you propose to do for your thesis research study and why, so that you and your committee can discuss the details and arrive at definite decisions and agreement. Proposals are written in the future tense (“will”) rather than the past tense (“was”). Otherwise write the proposal in journal article format, following the style of the current APA Publication Manual. If there are some details or procedures you are uncertain about, include a discussion of the various ways you might proceed, indicating the pros and cons of each possible way. [Once you have successfully defended your proposal, you will revise this matter to the traditional past-tense for the full thesis.]
- Introduction and Literature Review: Describe the general purpose of the study. Describe the history of the topic, prior research findings and why it is of interest. What are the major theoretical issues generating this line of work? What do you plan to do to extend the research? What is the significance of your proposed research to the field of psychology and the world at large? What is your hypothesis? Include anything else the reader needs to know to understand why the study is being done. Don’t include information that does not help to clarify the purpose of the study, the method, or the potential results.
- Method and Procedure: Describe exactly how you plan to do the project in as much detail as is currently practical. Include type and number of subjects, experimental design, materials and apparatus, details of procedure and anything else appropriate to how your particular experiment is to be done. Include a draft of any questionnaires or other such materials to be used as well as the formal feedback to be given to human subjects. If uncertain about exactly how you think some particular problem should be handled, include a discussion of the pros and cons of the various alternatives.
- References: Include here the bibliography of works that are cited in your proposal, following APA citation style.
- Other things to include: Follow the APA style guideline closely for developing your Abstract, tables, figures, and front pages (table of contents, table of tables, table of figures, title page, etc.). Pay particular attention to headings and heading levels. Think of headings as an organizer of content as well as a roadmap for the reader.
- Consult regularly with your Thesis Chair about his or her expectations for organization of the proposal. Each chair has their own preferences and you want to be sure you are clear of expectations.
Thesis Proposal Defense
- Once you have completed and edited the proposal under the close supervision of your Thesis Chair, you will survey your entire committee about moving forward for the first committee meeting. One of your chair’s primary roles is to make sure you do not go to committee until you are ready…so take your cue from that person. DO NOT RUSH YOUR CHAIR!
- You must allow your committee at least 2 weeks with your completed proposal prior to the actual proposal meeting, so plan your timeline accordingly. DO NOT RUSH YOUR COMMITTEE!
- The actual proposal defense is a public event, so other students and faculty will be invited to attend and be asked to comment, however it is only the committee members who have decision-making authority over whether or not you may proceed with your thesis.
- In the rare event when problems or disagreements arise during the meeting, your committee and you will try to resolve them in the meeting.
- Be certain that you leave the meeting with a clear understanding of the committee’s expectations for what you should accomplish for the final defense. Failing to accomplish what the committee has outlined in the proposal meeting could prove to be disastrous (for you) during your final defense.
After Successfully Defending Proposal
- Once your committee has approved and thus finalized the scope of your project, then you must acquire the necessary institutional research approval. Students conducting research involving human subjects, animals, or biological materials must submit their research protocols for review to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), or the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), respectively. This step takes time. Be sure to calculate this step into your timeline.
- Once you have received the necessary institutional research approval and you are ready to start collecting data, you are on your way. Keep in regular contact with your chair either through standing (monthly) meetings or email updates. Let your chair (and your committee members) help you problem solve and navigate the research process. That is what they are there for.
- If you run into a snag or a situation where you may have to deviate from the agreement emerging from your proposal defense, tread carefully here. Make sure that your committee is apprised of and approves of any change you make from the agreed upon plan. If the deviation is significant, your chair might want to convene an informal committee meeting to discuss how to move forward as one group.
- Do not cut corners on your data collection/analysis/interpretation. In the thesis process, there is no such excuse as “I ran out of time” or “I tried…it just didn’t work out”. Your committee’s only response will be that ‘trying’ is not ‘doing’ and your final defense will be unsuccessful.
Defending your Final Thesis
- Once you and your chair are in agreement that you are ready to defend the completed thesis project, you will survey your committee for approval to move forward and possible dates. DO NOT RUSH YOUR CHAIR!
- Like the proposal defense, you must allow your committee members at least 2 weeks with the completed thesis prior to the defense. Plan accordingly. DO NOT RUSH YOUR COMMITTEE!
- The defense is a public event and will likely be attended by other students and faculty. They will asked for their comments, but it is the committee who holds decision-making authority over whether you passed.
- Be aware of UALR Graduate School deadlines for approved thesis documents. That deadline is usually the first Monday in May (for Spring graduation) or the first Monday in December (for Fall graduation). You will most likely have to make small revisions/corrections based on committee feedback in your final defense. Those must be made before final draft is submitted to the Graduate School. Calculate that into your timeline.