The purpose of this guide is to assist students writing a thesis for the degrees Masters of Arts, Theology (MAT) or Master of Arts, Biblical Studies (MAB). This guide will also serve those who are writing a major research paper for the Master of Arts, Catholic Studies (MACS).
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 MA Research and Writing Process
Students must attend an orientation, ordinarily held on a work-week evening during the spring semester. A student should attend the seminar during the beginning of his or her studies (for seminarians seeking the MAT or MAB, the spring of their second year of Theology; 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/major research paper. The date of the orientation, usually scheduled for an evening in March or the beginning of April, is established at the beginning of the academic year and listed in the Athenaeum’s academic calendar.
After attending the orientation session, the student chooses a field of study (Biblical, Systematic, Moral, Sacramental, etc.) as well as a thesis/major research paper director. Since potential ideas for the thesis/paper often occur through coursework, prospective topics—and directors for those topics—are best explored by consulting professors in a particular area of interest. A director 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 a director, he or she should inform the Dean of the School of Theology (hereafter in this document referred to as “dean”) who will be able to offer suggestions.
Ideally, a research topic and director should be identified before the start of the next academic year following attendance at the orientation session. Once a topic and director have been secured, the student will begin the process of drafting the thesis proposal (see “Thesis/Major Research Paper Proposal” below). For MAT/MAB students, this process will be part of the required MA Research Seminar (see “MAT/MAB Thesis Seminar” below). MACS students will work individually with their director to develop a proposal to guide their research.
At this time—before the start of the next academic year following attendance at the orientation session—students should apply for admission to their degree program if they have not already done so. For a seminarian, the MAT or MAB would be considered a second degree in addition to the MDiv.
Relationship between Student and Director
The role of the thesis director is to provide guidance to the student regarding the content of the thesis/major research paper, and to safeguard the accuracy, objectivity, and academic integrity of the work. The director is not necessarily a proofreader, nor is he or she envisioned to be the generator of the ideas or the content of the thesis/paper. For this, the student must demonstrate a capacity for clarity of thought and expression in writing the thesis/major research paper. 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 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/Major Research Paper Development and Completion Deadlines.”
MAT and MAB student must enroll in a two-credit pass/fail master’s thesis seminar, MA 696. 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 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. (The thesis seminar is not required of MACS students.)
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 MAT/MAB thesis proposal/MACS major research proposal is the foundational document that provides the blueprint upon which the thesis/paper 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). The following can serve as a guide for the student and director in crafting the proposal. Ultimately, it is up to the director to judge whether these components are sufficiently evidenced in the student’s proposal even if this template is not strictly followed.
The purpose of the proposal is to provide the student of master's-level research with a plan of action to maintain a consistent focus in the initial stages of his or her thesis/major research paper writing. The goal of doing this remote preparation is to help the researcher produce a work that is objective, academic and well-founded.
The MAT/MAB student will append this written proposal to the “Master’s Thesis Proposal Summary Form.” Their director will sign off on the proposal via the summary form, and both the proposal and the summary form should then be submitted to the dean. The MACS student will complete the “MACS Major Research Paper Summary Form,” obtain their director’s signature, and submit the form to the dean. The MACS proposal does not need to be appended to the summary form.
Following the thesis seminar, MAT and MAB students are required to enroll in a two-credit directed research course (MA 697). For the seminarian, this would be during his sixth semester (spring of third theology year). During this time, the student will work closely with his or her director to develop the thesis. The director assigns a grade at the end of the semester based on the quality of work and completion of timeline goals.
Typically during the subsequent semester (autumn of fourth theology year for seminarians), students enroll in MA 698 (two credits) during which the thesis will be completed. The thesis director, in consultation with the second and third readers, will assign a final grade for the thesis, usually at the time of thesis defense.
For students seeking the MACS, only one major research paper course is required, i.e., CS 698 (two credits). Enrollment should take place during the second year of the program or whenever the student has completed half of the degree coursework. Throughout the process of researching and writing the paper, it is anticipated that the candidate will work in close collaboration with his or her director.
While enrolled in thesis/major research paper advising, the director 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 director on a regular basis. The director 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 the MACS candidate, once the student and director have deemed the major research paper satisfactory, the director will evaluate the paper and communicate a grade to the dean. The director will use the MA thesis grading rubric (see “Grading Rubric for MA 698 – Thesis” below) as a guide to evaluation. The superlative “With Distinction” will be granted to those who receive a grade of A- (3.75) or higher. This distinction will be noted on the student’s transcript and diploma.
As a general rule, for students seeking the MAT or MAB, a complete draft of the thesis should be ready for final review by the mid-term of the autumn semester 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).
The director is responsible for judging whether the thesis is suitable for defense and giving final approval for submission. Once deemed acceptable by the director, three printed copies of the final defense-ready thesis should be submitted to the 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 director, the student supplies three copies of the thesis to the dean who, in turn, provides copies to the examining board (i.e., the director and two readers). The student should also print a copy for him- or herself to have at the defense if needed. The defense copies should be printed double-sided, but do not have to be bound. The examining board is encouraged to meet prior to the defense to discuss the thesis.
The 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. If a student hopes to graduate in that given academic year, the latest date in which the defense can be scheduled is two weeks prior to the date of graduation. Exceptions can be granted by the dean, but only for just and reasonable causes.
The defense begins with the student offering a 10- to 15-minute summary of his or her findings. What then follows is a round of questions by the examining board. Each member of the board has up to 15 minutes to comment on the thesis or ask questions of the candidate. This may be taken in one round, or divided into two rounds, depending on the preference of the examining board. The defense will be about an hour in length.
At the conclusion of the defense, the examining board confers privately to discuss whether the student has successfully defended the thesis. All of the members of the examining board sign the grade sheet which is then submitted to the registrar. They also sign a document indicating whether the thesis is to be deposited to the library as is or deposited only after revisions have been made. The dean conveys the results of the defense to the student.
The superlative “With Distinction” will be granted to those who receive a grade of A- (3.75) or higher on their written thesis. This distinction will be noted on the student’s transcript and diploma.
Students are required to complete the MAT, MAB, or MACS degree within five years from the time of admission. This five-year period includes the writing of the thesis/major research paper. An extension may be granted by the Admissions and Degrees Committee.