Gain experience in the field and develop in-depth knowledge in an area of expertise by conducting rigorous academic research in a specialized area of focus.
Doing serious research also gives you the field experience needed for certain jobs and internships. It tells the world that you're serious about your studies and serious about your career. It's hard work, but the rewards are worth it.
All undergraduate students must meet a field experience requirement, which can be an internship, a study abroad session, or an independent research project. To receive Independent Study CONF 499 credit and meet the program's field experience requirement, you must:
- Determine the topic you wish to research and develop your research questions. Learn more about a specific area of interest or a topic that will help you in your future career through independent study.
- Develop a research proposal about your study topic. You'll also need to provide a bibliography of publications guiding your research.
- Find a faculty advisor. This professor provides research guidance and assigns the final grade.
- Revise your proposal and develop a syllabus. Your faculty advisor will help you develop the specifics of the course, such as what you'll read and produce, and your timeline.
- Complete the Individualized Section form (PDF). You'll need to submit this form to an Academic Advisor or the Director of Student Services and Field Experience.
If you need financial resources to conduct your research, contact Mason's Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR). It offers funding for undergraduate students through the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP).
You have two independent study options: a Master's Thesis or a Directed Reading (Independent Study).
If you're interested in a career in academia or research, we strongly suggest you write a thesis. This will allow you to concentrate on and learn more about one area that is of particular interest to you. Before you begin work on your thesis, we recommend you take CONF 600 and CONF 610. Students usually start the thesis process a year before they plan to graduate.
In some circumstances, students can instead take an Independent Study course. You might qualify for independent study if:
A course that you require is not scheduled for two semesters, which would delay your graduation.
You want to work with a specific faculty member on a topic that isn't a part of your program. You can ask the professor responsible for that required course to substitute a directed reading course (MS students, CONF 697; PhD candidates, CONF 897), which will allow you to cover the material independently.
Incomplete grades will not be granted for Directed Reading courses, unless you have a medical emergency.
To register for CONF 697 or CONF 897, fill out the Individual Section Form, which should be submitted to the Graduate Student Services Director. This form must be signed by the Carter School MS Program Director and the Dean, then forwarded to the Registrar’s office. You can scan it in and send it by email, fax it to 703-993-4032, or send it via campus mail to MS 3D1.
Masters Thesis Requirements
It takes a year or more to fully complete a thesis. Use your projected graduation date to set up a timeline to schedule deadlines for each step in the process.
A thesis committee consists of at least three full-time faculty, including the chair. You must keep all committee members informed of the scope, plan, and progress of your thesis.
Review faculty profiles to identify faculty members who can help you reach your goals. They should:
- Conduct research in your area of interest.
- Use research methods similar to those you will use.
- Be someone with whom you are comfortable working.
Select the chair of your committee first, as this person will be primarily responsible for directing and guiding your research and writing. While all full-time faculty are qualified to supervise/ chair theses, some might be unavailable. However, you can ask them to recommend a colleague.
You're not required to have an outside reader but if you request one, the MS Program Director can approve a full-time faculty member from outside the Carter School.
You must complete this step a year before you submit your thesis.
You'll use the Thesis Course Reference Number (CRN) form to register for your first thesis semester. It will include a descriptive paragraph or abstract of your thesis topic, a thesis completion schedule with dates, and the signature of your thesis chair. You don't need the signatures of your other committee members.
You must turn this form in 10 months before you submit your thesis.
A thesis proposal outlines the research question, methodology and literature on the area of interest. For a sample proposal, see this template (PDF). For a sample proposal cover page/signature sheet, see this template (PDF).
Students must have their thesis proposal approved by their chair and committee. Once approved, please submit the signed thesis proposal signature sheet and a copy of the proposal.
Although it's not mandatory, we advise you to sign up for our one-credit Thesis Proposal Class CONF 797 the semester before you plan to begin your thesis. The class offers guidelines on the process of researching potential thesis topics. If you choose not to complete a thesis after taking the class, you'll still get credit for the course as an elective.
If you're conducting human subject research, you must submit an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application for IRB approval. application/IRB approval is only required if the student is conducting human subjects research.
If you're working with data collected from human subjects that contains information that might identify them, you might require IRB approval, even if you don't have any personal interaction with the subjects. This could include analyzing existing human subjects data/medical records, etc. You should work closely with your chair, and contact IRB if you have any questions or think your resource material might be an issue.
- The HSRB meets monthly to review applications. Monthly submission deadlines are available here
- Information on human subjects review, templates and forms are available.
You must complete this step eight months before you submit your thesis.
You must complete this step seven months before you submit your thesis.
Allow for multiple revisions, and set review timelines with the Committee. Faculty may require considerable time to evaluate, advise, and suggest changes to the thesis draft.
You must complete this step three months before you submit your thesis.
Students completing a masters thesis should consult the University Thesis and Dissertation Services (UDTS) site regularly to ensure they are meeting the appropriate Mason requirements.
We also urge you to attend a UDTS workshop. These are held every semester on the Arlington and Fairfax campuses.
Mason requires strict adherence to the formats described in the online thesis guide. All theses must be reviewed by the UDTS Coordinator prior to final submission. Make an appointment with the UDTS Coordinator to review formatting guidelines as soon as you have a workable draft. The UDTS site also offers templates to ensure proper formatting.
UDTS assists with formatting tables and images in your document and are considered a fourth committee member. Your document does not need to be finished when you submit it to UDTS, which should review it before you present your final version to your committee. Email the file; UDTS does not accept hard copies. You do not have to be present for the review process.
Because UDTS reviews all submissions, we strongly advise you to turn in a copy for review well before the end-of-semester deadlines.
You must complete this step four weeks before you submit your thesis.
Once your committee has approved your thesis, you must get the signatures of:
- Committee chair and members.
- The Director of Graduate Programs, Thomas Flores.
- The Dean of the Carter School, Dr. Alpaslan Ozerdem. To request the Dean's signature, call 703-993-1300.
You must complete this step two weeks before you submit your thesis.