The purpose of this guide is to assist students writing a thesis for the degrees Masters of Arts in Theology, Biblical Studies, or Catholic Studies.
Master’s-level research is to arrive at an accurate understanding of the current state of scholarly discussion on a topic and to defend a position in relation to it. Therefore, the research will include both an analysis of the current scholarly perspectives on one’s topic and an argument for one of those perspectives thereby presenting a well-written and well-structured document that draws conclusions from the sources. The work will show mastery of the thesis question and how it fits within the larger field of study.
Orientation to the Thesis Writing Process
Students must attend an orientation, ordinarily held in the evening during the autumn semester. A student should attend the seminar during the beginning of his or her studies (for seminarians seeking the MAT or MAB, the autumn of their second theology year; for seminarians seeking the MACS, the spring of their first year of pre-theology; for lay students, by the time they have completed approximately 10 hours of coursework). The purpose of the seminar is to outline the process for writing the thesis.
After attending the thesis orientation, the student chooses a field of study (Biblical, Systematic, Moral, Sacramental, etc.) as well as a thesis advisor. Since potential ideas for the thesis often occur through coursework and prospective topics are best explored by consulting professors in a particular area of interest, at this stage the student should contact a potential thesis advisor. An advisor should ordinarily be a full-time member of the Athenaeum faculty who teaches in the area in which the student wishes to do research. If the student has difficulty finding an advisor, the Special Studies Dean will provide further direction.
The thesis advisor provides guidance to the student on the content of the thesis. The advisor meets with the student (responsibility for pursuing meetings rests with the student) to help the student develop the topic and frame the question with an appropriate scope. After initial exploration of a topic, the advisor helps shape a bibliography, reviews and provides commentary on drafts of the chapters, and ultimately decides when the student’s thesis is acceptable.
For the seminarian, a topic and advisor should be chosen by the end of his fourth semester of classes (spring of second theology year); for the lay student, by the time he or she has completed approximately 15 hours of coursework. A proposal form (available from the Dean's Office) indicating the topic/advisor with the student’s and advisor’s signatures is submitted to the Special Studies Dean for approval. If the student is a seminarian pursuing a second degree (in addition to the M.Div.), he also completes the application for entrance into the Master’s program at this time.
Relationship between Student and Thesis Director
The role of the thesis director is to provide guidance to the student regarding the content of the thesis, and to safeguard the accuracy, objectivity, and academic integrity of the work. The thesis director is not necessarily a proof-reader, nor is he or she envisioned to be the generator of the ideas or the content of the thesis. For this, the student must demonstrate a capacity for clarity of thought and expression in writing the thesis. Nevertheless, the director ensures that the student recognizes any deficiencies in the argument and/or in the mechanics of writing and directs the student to correct these accordingly.
It is the responsibility of the student to provide the thesis director with his or her written work in a timely and incremental manner. Ideally, the student will provide the director with his or her work one chapter at a time. The director should then, in turn, provide the student with timely feedback that does not unduly impede or delay the student’s progress. More information about this is specified below in the section entitled “Thesis Development and Completion Deadlines.”
Once a topic and advisor have been approved, each student writing a thesis must enroll in a 1 credit-hour pass/fail Master’s thesis seminar. For seminarians seeking the MAT or MAB, the seminar is taken in the fifth semester of classes (the autumn of their third theology year); for seminarians seeking the MACS, the seminar is taken in the autumn of their second year of pre-theology; for lay students, the seminar is taken after they have completed approximately 15 hours of coursework or judge themselves ready to begin thesis research and writing.
This seminar is primarily methodological. It treats of the nature of a master’s thesis and the manner of presenting the written work. Over the course of the semester, the student will be required to:
The thesis proposal is the foundational document that provides the blueprint upon which the thesis will be constructed. Subsequently, the proposal should treat the following principal components of the student’s research: 1) the ‘state of the question’ (status quaestionis); 2) the aims of the research; 3) the objectives of the research; 4) the limits of the research; and 5) the resources to be utilized (bibliography). A template of the "Master's Thesis Proposal" is available on the Maly Library Thesis LibGuide.
The purpose of the proposal is to provide the student of Masters-level research with a plan of action to maintain a consistent focus in the initial stages of his or her thesis writing. The goal of doing this remote preparation is to help the researcher produce a work that is objective, academic and well-founded.
Appended to this written proposal, the student will also complete the “Thesis Summary Form” found under Documents on the Thesis LibGuide. Once the proposal is completed, the director will sign off on the proposal via the summary form. Both the proposal and the summary form should then be submitted to the dean.
In the semester following the thesis seminar, ordinarily the student should register for thesis advising through the Registrar’s Office. The student registers for advising for two semesters (2 credit hours for each of 2 semesters; 4 credits total). Ordinarily, one registers for thesis advising for consecutive semesters, the semesters in which the majority of writing and research will be completed. For the seminarian seeking the MAT or MAB, he enrolls in thesis advising during their sixth semester (spring of their third theology year) and seventh semester (autumn of their fourth theology year). For the seminarian seeking the MACS, he enrolls in thesis advising during both semesters of the second year of pre-theology. During these semesters, the student will work closely with his or her advisor to develop the thesis. The advisor assigns a grade at the end of the semester based on the quality of work and completion of timeline goals.
During the two semesters of thesis advising, the advisor and student will meet on a regular basis to evaluate the progress of research. They will agree upon a timeline of research and chapter submission. The student will submit pages or chapters to the advisor on a regular basis. The advisor will suggest revisions to drafts of the text throughout the process. It is the student’s responsibility to regularly proofread the pages, avoiding typographical errors or errors with respect to citation and references.
For students seeking the MAT or MAB, a complete draft of the thesis should be submitted to the thesis advisor and second reader by October 15 of the academic year in which the student hopes to graduate (for seminarians, during the students’ seventh semester, or autumn of their fourth theology year). After receiving comments and corrections, the student is to submit a corrected draft of the thesis to the advisor and readers by November 1. The readers’ comments are submitted to advisor and student by November 15. For MACS students, this timeline may be adapted.
The advisor is responsible for evaluating if the thesis is suitable for defense and giving final approval for submission. Once deemed acceptable by the advisor, three printed copies of the final defense-ready thesis must be submitted to Special Studies Dean by the last day of the autumn semester (for seminarians, the seventh semester, or autumn of their fourth theology year; for lay students, the final day of the semester in the semester prior to graduation).
In addition to the director, the thesis examining board consists of two readers: the second reader and the third reader. The readers assist the director in evaluating the content, writing, and overall quality of the thesis and the defense of that thesis.
After having received approval of the paper from the thesis advisor and second reader, the student will approach the Special Studies Dean to arrange for a public defense of the research. The student supplies three copies of the thesis to the dean who provides copies to the examining board. The examination board is encouraged to meet prior to the defense to discuss the thesis.
The Special Studies Dean will work with the student and examining board to find a mutually agreeable date and time for the defense. The thesis defense does not need to be held at the same time as the written part of the comprehensive exam. The defense will ordinarily take place before February 15 of the student’s final semester before graduation.
The defense begins with the student offering a 10-15 minute summary of his or her findings. Then he or she answers questions that the panel has about the thesis. Typically there are two rounds of questions from faculty members with each faculty member spending five to ten minutes per round examining the student. The defense will be about an hour in length.
At the conclusion of the defense, faculty members confer to discuss whether the student has successfully defended the thesis. All faculty members sign the grade sheet which is submitted to the registrar. The Special Studies Dean conveys the result to the student.
Time Limit and Extension
Students are required to complete the degree within five years from the time of admission. This five year period includes the writing of the thesis. An extension may be granted by the Admissions and Degrees Committee.