1. Read the catalog. Be sure to read the catalog to understand the requirements of the degree and concentration you are seeking.
2. Selecting an advisor. Your advisor should be someone with expertise in the general field you want to study. Ideally, you have identified your advisor in your application process. If you have not, early in your first semester, you should reach out to potential advisors. Make an appointment with potential advisors, ask questions about what projects faculty members have ongoing, and discuss your professional and personal goals. You should select an advisor during your first semester. Please note that in some instances, faculty members do not have capacity to take on additional students. In our department, we have enough overlapping expertise that if one faculty member does not have capacity, you should be able to find another faculty member who does. And if you find that you change your mind on the area you want to study or the person with whom you want to study, it is perfectly acceptable to change advisors. If you do so, please notify your initial advisor, your new advisor, and the Graduate Director.
3. Working with your advisor. Your advisor should help you select courses that may be appropriate to your area(s) of interest and future professional career goals. You will work closely with your advisor to conceive a project idea that will constitute your thesis. Your advisor’s role may include, but not be limited to, discussion of ideas and their relevance to the field of study, recommendation of relevant research literature, and guidance on the development of relevant qualitative or quantitative analytical skills. As the student, it is your responsibility to lead this effort at project development, and to engage your advisor as needed. It is your responsibility to maintain clear communication with your advisor about your progress or any changes in your project you may be experiencing. Many students find weekly or biweekly meetings with their advisor a helpful way to ensure timely progress to the degree.
4. Your timeline. One of your first tasks is to identify the semester you wish to graduate (it really comes much faster than you might think!). Work with your advisor on a timeline that will ensure that you can make that graduation date. Be sure to find out about university policies about applying for graduation (you must apply two semesters before you intend to graduate); be aware of final ‘thesis-defense’ dates and thesis-upload dates, all of which are available on the College graduate office website. The Graduate College, the College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Division, and the Geosciences Graduate Director will send you regular reminders about upcoming events and deadlines: be sure to check your gsu email!
5. Milestones. To maintain record-keeping (and to keep us all on track!) the College has developed a series of Milestones that should be met. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the forms and actions required along the way. For example, there is a “Foreign Language or Research Requirement” that must be met. Also, you should be able to see your progress in Degree Works. It is worth checking Degree Works periodically so that you can ensure that you and the university have the same understanding of your progress!
6. Coursework. All credits that are to apply toward the M.S. degree should be earned within seven years of the date of the degree, but our program is designed for you to complete all of your coursework and thesis in two academic years. The actual courses you take will vary with your concentration (see the Catalog for an updated list of required and elective courses for each concentration). All students in the M.S. degree program are required to take GEOS 8002 Research Methods in the Geosciences and GEOS 6095 Colloquium in Geosciences.
- GEOS 8002 Research Methods in the Geosciences. You should take Research Methods in the Geosciences the first time it is offered following admission to the program. Typically, this course is offered during the spring semester so that if you enter in fall, you have a semester to get to know faculty and other graduate students to hone in on your research area. Given that multiple disciplines are represented in the department, to fulfill the obligations of Research Methods, you are expected to work closely with your advisor to develop your thesis proposal (see below) or to identify possible research projects for your capstone experience.
- GEOS 6095 Colloquium in the Geosciences. In this one-credit course, which is typically offered every semester, the department invites scholars from area institutions to discuss their research. Once or twice per semester, we invite distinguished scholars to visit for a day or more and to give a colloquium presentation. This is an excellent opportunity for students to see the range of research questions that Geoscientists ask and to network with colleagues from other institutions. It is also an important community-building course, where you can get to know your classmates and other faculty members. While the course is only required once, it is recommended that graduate students take the course every semester.
- Other courses. You should consult with your advisor to identify courses (at the 6000 and 8000-levels) that equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to successfully complete your project and pursue your longer-term career goals. Ensuring that the course selections meet the credit-hour requirements for the degree program is ultimately your responsibility. Please note that if you are a GTA or GRA, you are not expected to fill up your required 12 hours with regular content-oriented courses each semester. Rather, you can include Geos 8999 (Thesis Research) in your 12 hours.
7. The thesis process. Your thesis should be the culmination of your research experience as a graduate student. It is not your life’s work, but it can be a really important stepping stone in developing your skills as an academic and in developing your expertise in your (sub)field. Depending on your field, it should be a stand-alone piece of work that could be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Conducting research and writing a thesis takes care and patience and a lot of time. Faculty members are committed to helping you in the process: you are not alone. But it is up to you to put in the time and to ask questions along the way. Most advisors are quite skilled in knowing when and how to intervene if you get stuck. And your fellow graduate students can be a tremendous asset, even those in other disciplines, as you all share the challenge of getting through graduate school. One thing to keep in mind is that there are not ‘right’ answers in original research. There are better answers than others or better ways to conduct research or analyze data--the goal is not to be ‘right.’ In fact, most new graduate students have the misconception that research involves a prescribed set of steps that can be completed sequentially within a concrete timeline. In reality, scientific research is replete with false starts, and there are often more failures than successes. Important attributes for success include personal resilience and determination in the face of failure. Avoid procrastination, and don’t subscribe to the idea that the thesis is something you do mostly in the last semester. The ultimate goal of a thesis is to create new knowledge--to advance science--using the best tools available. The most desirable outcome is for the thesis to eventually be published within a peer-reviewed scientific journal. There are, of course, a few necessary steps in the thesis process:
- Developing your thesis project. There are several ways to approach developing a thesis project. Two of the most common include 1) working on your advisor’s research, which may be in the form of collecting and analyzing data that is part of your advisor’s larger project. The great benefit of this approach is that your advisor is thinking and working on the same problem(s), and you’ll likely get heightened expertise on the project and your advisor’s close focus on your progress. After all, your advisor has a real interest in the successful completion of your thesis, as it will advance his or her broader research agenda. You may also be expected and supported to publish your thesis research, which can be a challenging and thrilling experience as a graduate student. A downside is that you may not have as much freedom as you like in carrying out your research; and 2) developing your own thesis project, which is a potentially rewarding approach, as you can explore topics that deeply interest you (and therefore keep you interested during the journey), and you can become the real expert in an area you care about. A downside could be that your work is not the focus of your advisor’s primary research area and therefore you may have to be more independently-driven to develop and complete your research.
- Forming a committee. In addition to selecting an advisor, in consultation with your advisor, you should form a committee to assist and guide you with your thesis research. The committee typically consists of your advisor and two other faculty members. Of the three members of your committee, two must be Geosciences faculty members. The third person on your committee may also be a Geosciences faculty member or a member from another department. (It is also possible to include faculty members from other institutions. Be sure to contact the Graduate Director if you wish to pursue this option.) The purpose of the committee is to help guide you in developing your thesis research--to make your process better than it might be if just you or just your advisor designed your thesis project. Typically, the committee will review and provide feedback on your thesis proposal, answer questions and provide any specialized feedback during the thesis process, and then review and provide feedback on the draft thesis document. The committee attends the thesis defense and votes whether to approve the thesis. When your committee is formed, you must submit the milestone form to the college.
- Developing a thesis proposal. No matter what kind of thesis project you decide to undertake (and there is a wide variety in this multi-disciplinary department), you should work with your advisor to develop a thesis proposal. The details of the proposal, such as length, required sections, and writing style, may vary depending on your (sub)discipline, but what all proposals have in common is that they a) identify a problem, b) situate that problem in existing literature in the (sub)discipline, c) propose a research question, d) identify a (methodology and) set of methods to answer the research question, and e) explain the significance of the project. You should work closely with your advisor as you develop your proposal; you are given the opportunity to work on developing your proposal in GEOS 8002 Research Methods in the Geosciences, which is required of all M.S. students. When you and your advisor agree that your thesis proposal is complete, it should be presented to your committee. After they have given you feedback and have agreed that it is an achievable and defendable project, you must submit the milestone form to the college.
- Research training. Please visit the GSU research training website to complete necessary training, which includes a required ‘Responsible conduct in research’ module. There you will learn about other training and certifications that may be required of you as you approach conducting your research. For example, if you involve human subjects in your research, you will have to complete the required CITI training and submit an application to the Internal Review Board for approval to conduct your research. Or, you may have to complete safety training to utilize some equipment in the research laboratories. These trainings and review processes are designed to ensure that ethical research practices are carried out and that safety standards are maintained. Be sure to consult with your advisor about how to navigate the required training for the type of research you intend to conduct.
- Conducting your thesis research. With guidance from your advisor, you should develop a calendar for how and when to conduct your thesis research--this may include working out logistics for fieldwork, securing necessary materials for lab work, identifying sites where you could conduct interviews, among others. During your thesis research, be sure to stay in close communication with your advisor. If you encounter confusing or unexpected data or results, don’t bury it: share it! The research process can be one of the most rewarding experiences, and it can also be unpredictable. For example, if you collect data that do not support your hypothesis, that’s a finding not a failure!
- Writing your thesis. Once you have collected your data and performed analysis, it is time to write the thesis. Consult with your advisor in terms of page length and section description, as (sub)disciplinary norms vary. But ideally, your thesis is the ‘completion’ or answer to your proposal, which was the recipe for your research in the first place. If written well, you can use portions of your proposal, such as the literature review, justification of the research question, and (methodology and) methods sections in your thesis. Your analysis, findings, and conclusion (along with a reworked introduction) would be the ‘new’ text. While you’re working on your thesis, be sure you are working in the correct Microsoft Word format that the university requires, found here. Please note that before graduation, you will have to have your thesis (draft) reviewed for compliance with this format. Be sure to pay attention to the deadlines for this review.
- Your thesis defense. Once you have completed a draft of your thesis that you and your advisor agree should be shared with your committee, distribute the draft to your committee members. Be sure to be mindful of what your committee members’ timeline requirements might be. For example, most committee members will require two weeks to review the draft before the thesis defense. Once you have distributed the draft to your committee members, you and your advisor should agree on several blocks of time that you are both available for your defense. Invite your committee members to weigh in on their availability. Once you have settled on a day and time, be sure to contact the Department Specialist (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule a room for your defense. Your defense includes your presentation of your research in which you synthesize your research problem, question, and your main research findings. Typically, after your presentation, there is a Q&A session with visitors and committee members. Following this Q&A session, you and any visitors may be asked to leave the room, and the committee remains behind to evaluate the thesis research, to identify any changes that need to be made, and to vote on whether the student ‘passes’ the thesis. Be sure to bring with you to the defense the ‘Thesis Approval Form’, which requires signatures from the members of your committee and from the department chair. When considering the timing of your defense, remember to consider the time it may take to make required edits to your thesis.
- Completing the degree. Once you have completed all of the forms and met all deadlines, congratulations, you’re done! You will be asked by the College to complete an exit survey: please do so! And, of course, we want you to stay in touch, as once you join our Geosciences community, you’ll always be part of us!