Should I choose the masters thesis or non-thesis option?

WGST 699: Master’s Thesis

Students who choose the thesis option (WGST 699) for the Women’s and Gender Studies M.A. may enroll after completing 18 hours of coursework and after taking both WGST 601 and WGST 602 or approved substitution.

The thesis will consist of a student conducting independent, original research and placing this research within the context of relevant theoretical and empirical literatures.  The thesis paper will be between 40-70 pages.  If the student is conducting research on/with living people, s/he is required to get approval from the UofL IRB (Institutional Research Board) before conducting any research.  IRB approval can take up to two months after students submit all of the required paperwork, so students are advised to start this process early.

The thesis option will fulfill six credit hours under WGST 699.  Students must sign up for 3 hours of WGST 699 in the semester preceding the semester that the student receives the M.A. and 3 hours in the semester in which the student receives the M.A.


1. Before signing up for WGST 699, the student must gain the sponsorship of a member of the graduate faculty of the Women’s & Gender Studies Department (WGS) or of the affiliated faculty who agrees to act as thesis director of the specific project the student is proposing. Students who are unsure who to approach for sponsorship should consult the WGS graduate director for advice. It will be up to the thesis director and the student to see to it that all required procedures are followed. Students sign up for WGST 699 by using the Independent Study form.

2. The student proposes a prospectus under the supervision of the thesis director.  The prospectus -- which should be about six pages, including bibliography -- describes a research project of a length between 40 and 70 pages, The M.A. prospectus should

  1. Describe the topic of investigation
  2. Provide an overview of relevant literature on the topic and identify the gap or shortcoming the thesis will address, or the extension of existing arguments it will offer.
  3. Provide a tentative line of argument, including an indication of the bodies of evidence to be used.
  4. Describe the research methods that will be used.
  5. Make a claim for the thesis project’s significance for feminist researchers by discussing how the thesis is expected to contribute to the literature in this area when completed. 
  6. Include a preliminary bibliography of the most relevant primary and secondary material.

The prospectus is submitted to the thesis director, along with a proposed slate of readers.  Readers for the M.A. thesis include the thesis director, one additional member of the Graduate Faculty of WGS or the affiliated faculty, and a third member of the graduate faculty outside of WGS.  The readers, once approved, become the student’s Thesis Committee.  Both the Thesis Committee and the prospectus must be approved by the thesis director at least three months prior to the final oral examination – and preferably at least five months before the final oral examination.  As soon as the Thesis Committee has been approved, the student must arrange with the Chairperson of Women’s and Gender Studies to submit a Thesis Dissertation Advisory Committee formto the Graduate School.

3.  The student conducts her/his research and writes the thesis with input from the thesis director. The thesis director may instruct the student to make drafts available to readers for response, but usually the thesis director and the student work to produce a final draft for readers.

4.  The thesis director schedules the final oral examination, a defense of the work, after checking with the other two readers that the thesis is ready for defense.  Each reader must receive a final typed copy of the paper at least one week before the scheduled oral defense.  The last possible date to hold the oral examination is one week before the last day of classes. The student will most likely be asked for further revision as a result of the defense.

The student must arrange with the Chairperson of Women’s and Gender Studies to submit a Thesis Dissertation Final Oral Examination Schedule form to the Graduate School listing the paper’s title, student’s social security number, and the time and place of the oral defense at least two weeks prior to the defense.  All members of the graduate faculty of the University will be invited to attend the defense, but only the members of the Thesis Committee have a voice in approving the project.  To be passed on this examination, the thesis may not receive more than one abstention or dissenting vote.

5.  Before the end of the semester in which the student expects to be awarded the degree s/he must produce the following copies of the approved thesis:  one unbound signed for the Graduate School, one bound copy for the thesis director, and one bound (hard cover) copy for Women’s and Gender Studies – along with a 150-word abstract. The date when this is due is specific to the semester and will be provided by WGS by mid-semester.

WGST 698: Master’s Project

Students who choose the non-thesis option for the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies M.A. must enroll in WGST 698, Masters Project, as a final requirement for the M.A. in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies. There is no syllabus associated with this course, just as there is no syllabus for thesis course hours. However, the faculty advisor may draw up a syllabus if she/he chooses. The student works with an individual faculty member on a project designed by the student with the guidance and support of a faculty mentor. The Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Master’s Project, like the thesis project also requires that the final project be read by a committee of three (with the faculty advisor as a committee member) and that the student discuss/defend the project with the committee after completion.

WGST 698 is intended as a final project for the M.A. Students may enroll in WGST 698 only after completing 33 hours of course work toward the M.A. or during the final semester of course work toward the M.A.

WGST 698, the Masters Project, is a culminating essay based on the student’s original research. The purpose of the culminating essay is to give students the opportunity to write an article-length piece intended for publication, typically 20-30 pgs. in length. This essay may be revised and extended from an existing paper or may be an entirely new piece of research. Students should determine the intended audience for their research and select an appropriate journal accordingly. 

The culminating article should reflect a thorough knowledge of current research on the proposed topic and should meet the publishing standards of the journal in which the student wishes to publish.  In most cases, this means the article must make a case for the significance of the inquiry, identify an unanswered question or problem in the current scholarship on the subject, and offer a conclusion based on original research that addresses the identified gap or shortcoming.

The culminating article is designed to introduce students to the processes of academic publishing; students should therefore be aware that the culminating article will require substantial revisions and that strict adherence to time limits will be a necessity in the successful completion of this project.

The student will work on the article under the guidance of a faculty advisor approved by the department chairperson. Although the faculty advisor is responsible for assigning the grade for the M.A. project, the project also will be evaluated by the student’s M.A. Project Committee. The Committee will consist of the faculty advisor, one additional member of the graduate faculty of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies or affiliated faculty, and a third member of the graduate faculty outside of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies.  This third member may be a member of the affiliated faculty, but may also be unaffiliated with the department.

WGST 698/699: MA Project versus Thesis

What do WGST 698 (Master’s Project) and WGST 699 (Master’s Thesis) have in common?

  • Both require that the student do original research on a topic significant to women’s/gender studies scholars, and that the student situate the research within the existing secondary literature relevant to the question.
  • Both require that the student do pre-enrollment planning and meeting.
  • Both require that the student work under the direction of a faculty advisor and utilize the Independent Study form for enrolling.
  • Both require that the student do a prospectus.
  • Both require that the student’s work be reviewed and approved by the faculty advisor and two additional readers.
  • Both require multiple revisions of drafts.
  • Both require a final oral defense, after which more revisions are usually required.
  • Both share the same criteria for evaluation.

How do WGST 698 (Master’s Project) and WGST 699 (Master’s Thesis) differ?

  • WGST 698 requires an article-length paper, while WGST 699 requires a multi-chapter work of 40-70 pages.
  • WGST 698 = 3 credit hours; WGST 699 = 6 credit hours.
  • WGST 698 is completed in one semester; WGST 699 is taken over two semesters, 3 hours in one and 3 hours in the second. The thesis involves research/writing that is beyond the scope of a project a student could complete in one semester.
  • While both a thesis and project may involve human subjects and thus require IRB approval, it is more appropriate for students doing research on human subjects to select the thesis option because of time constraints.
  • WGST 698 requires that the student’s final product be ready for submission to an academic journal, and so requires that the student research a target journal’s submission requirements, audience, etc.
  • WGST 698 does not require submission to the Graduate School; WGST 699 does require submission, and the thesis must conform to physical guidelines specified by the Graduate School.
  • The final submission deadline is earlier for WGST 699 because it needs Graduate School Review.

What are the advantages of each option?
For students who plan to go on to work on the Ph.D., both the thesis and M.A. project have advantages and drawbacks. For students who do not plan to go on, there is no clear (general) advantage to either option. Students should think about how they plan to use the M.A. project or Thesis after graduation.

  • The thesis offers the possibility for students to investigate a question/problem in more depth and detail than a 25-30-page article would allow. For a student who wants this experience of depth and detail, the thesis option is a good choice regardless of the student’s post-M.A. plans. For students who want to go on to Ph.D. work and who know that they want to continue to work on the thesis area, the thesis could be a foundation for later dissertation work. For a student who is undecided about going on to Ph.D. work, the thesis could provide a “mini-dissertation” experience that might help the student decide.
  • The M.A. project results in a paper that is proposed as an article in a journal. It is a stand-alone article-length paper, which could be sent out for publication. A student going on to Ph.D. work should send the final M.A. project out to a journal for consideration. The student could also use this as a writing sample for Ph.D. applications. A student not planning to go on to Ph.D. work might send the M.A. project as a work-sample to a prospective employer.