Regulations and Procedures Governing the Master's Thesis
The thesis is a major requirement or an option in many master's programs and when completed it marks the culmination of a candidate's program. The master's thesis must demonstrate the candidate's capacity for independent work and must be single-authored. It should demonstrate a scholarly approach to the subject matter and a clear understanding of how the work fits with the relevant practice and/or literature of the discipline concerned.
If thesis research involves humans, approval must be obtained from the WLU Research Ethics Board; if it involves animals, approval must be obtained from the WLU Animal Care Committee (details are available from the WLU Office of Research Services).
The thesis must be defended in an oral examination, which is a departmental examination. The candidate must be registered for the term in which the defence takes place. General guidelines for the master's thesis are presented below; however, there are variations in procedures for the thesis across departments/programs and the regulations for individual departments/programs should be consulted for the details.
- Structure of the Thesis Advisory Committee
- Structure of the Thesis Examination Committee
- Scheduling the Oral Defence of the Thesis
- The Oral Defence of the Thesis
- Guidelines for Conducting the Thesis Oral Defence
- Criteria for Nomination for a Medal for Academic Excellence
The academic unit/program of the candidate approves an advisory committee for all thesis students. All Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC) members must be members of the Graduate Faculty at WLU. For all masters' programs, TACs must consist of:
- a thesis advisor, who normally will be a full-time faculty member in the academic unit/program of the candidate; and
- at least one other member from the academic unit/program of the candidate. Normally, there will be two or three members of the TAC; however, if there are four members, at least one will be from outside the academic unit/program of the candidate. Should it be deemed desirable for a person from outside of WLU to sit on the TAC, this person needs to be approved for graduate faculty status at WLU by the dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
All members of the TAC must review and approve the thesis proposal (see MRP/Thesis Proposal Approval form). All members of the TAC must also review a complete draft of the thesis prior to the oral defence and verify that it is ready to go forward for defence (see Scheduling the Oral Defence of the Thesis, below).
The Thesis Examination Committee (TEC) must consist of all the members of the TAC and an external examiner who is knowledgeable on the subject of the thesis. The external examiner must be approved by the academic unit/program of the candidate (e.g., graduate co-ordinator, chair, or dean) and will not have been a member of the candidate's TAC. Normally, at least one member of the TEC must be from outside the academic unit/program of the candidate. If all members of the TAC are internal to the candidate's academic unit/program, the external examiner must come from outside the academic unit/program of the candidate and normally will be a faculty member from another WLU department. Where there is no available faculty member with requisite expertise in another department at WLU, a suitable member of another nearby university may be asked to serve as external examiner. The chairperson for the defense, appointed by the appropriate administrative office within the academic unit/program, must be a member of the Graduate Faculty of the university and be external to the TEC, but may come from within the academic unit/program of the candidate.
An external examiner for a master's thesis must be at "arm's length" from the candidate and the thesis advisor (TA). Arm's length means not being a close friend, a regular or current collaborator, a former supervisor or Graduate student, or a former colleague/co-worker of the thesis advisor (TA), or the candidate. It also means not having a vested interest in the outcome of the oral defense. For the purposes of past collaboration—in terms of publication, conference organization/presentation, research grants, etc.—the collaboration must have occurred at least six or more years from the time of the oral exam in order for the nominated scholar to serve as external. Former supervisors or graduate students of the TA or the candidate will not be permitted under any circumstances to serve as external examiners, nor will anyone outside the TAC involved in the candidate's dissertation/thesis project development, data collection, or data interpretation. In the event that the dissertation/thesis involves co-supervision, the rules for the TA will apply to both co-supervisors.
Once the TAC has agreed that the thesis is ready to go forward for defence, the thesis advisor must ensure that the Master's Thesis Defence - Request to schedule oral examination form is completed and the form is submitted to the appropriate administrative office within the academic unit/program (this might be to the graduate co-ordinator, department chair, or dean, depending on the academic unit/program). The candidate is responsible for ensuring that the thesis is submitted in the format required by the current WLU Dissertation/Thesis Format Guidelines. The candidate is also responsible for ensuring that all members of the TAC have received a copy of the thesis and for submitting two copies of the thesis to the appropriate administrative office within the academic unit/program.
Once the completed Master's Thesis Defence - Request to schedule oral examination form and two copies of the thesis have been received by the appropriate administrative office within the academic unit/program, this office ensures that the proposed external examiner receives administrative approval, arranges for a chairperson for the oral defence, and sets the date and time of the oral defence. This office also ensures that the external examiner and the chairperson receive a copy of the thesis. Normally, the defence will be scheduled within three weeks of the necessary materials being submitted.
The purpose of the oral defence of the master's thesis is to demonstrate to the members of the TEC that the candidate fully understands the process and outcome of the work and the meaning and significance of the findings in relation to the relevant practice and/or literature of the discipline.
The defence is normally one and one-half to two hours duration and is conducted by the chairperson. Any member of the university community is entitled to attend the defence, but the Chair has the authority to exclude persons whose conduct disturbs the defence procedures. Nonmembers of the university community may attend but must receive the permission of the candidate, the thesis advisor, and the Chair of the defence.
It is expected that all members of the TEC will attend the thesis defence, either in person or via teleconference or videoconference. In the unusual event that one member of the TEC knows in advance that he or she cannot attend the defence, he or she must submit a written report, with questions and a preliminary vote (per the decision categories), to the appropriate administrative office within the academic unit/program at least one week before the defence. This office will arrange for the chair or a member of the TAC to read the questions of the absent member during the rounds of questioning in the defence and to share the preliminary vote of the absent member during the "in camera" committee deliberations. Only if the absent member is the external examiner will the preliminary vote count toward the decision. If two or more members of the TEC inform the appropriate administrative office in advance that they cannot attend the oral defence, it may be rescheduled.
In the case of an unexpected absence of the chair or a TEC member, the person who is going to be delayed or who cannot attend must, if possible, telephone the office of the chair of the department or of the program director. If any member of the TEC will be delayed not more than one hour, the department chair's/program director's office will inform the TEC Chair, the candidate, and the other TEC members that the defense will be delayed for this period of time. If a TEC member is unable to attend, questions to be addressed to the candidate are to be dictated over the telephone, along with a confidential vote (per the decision categories).
If the TEC chair or a TEC member do not appear for the defence and do not contact the department chair's/program director's office within one-half hour, or when the department chair's/program director's office has been notified of the TEC chair's or TEC member's unexpected inability to attend, the following procedures are to be implemented:
- A representative of the department chair's/program director's office will inform the candidate, the chair of the defense, and the TEC of the unexpected absence;
- If the thesis advisor is unable to attend, another member of the TAC will be appointed as acting advisor by the chair, after an in-camera discussion with members of the TEC;
- If the chair is unable to attend, the department chair's/program director's office will arrange for a replacement within one (1) hour;
- If the external examiner is unable to attend, the questions and vote of the external examiner will be delivered to the chair, who will represent the external examiner, ask the questions dictated or provided in the report by the external examiner, and share the external examiner's preliminary vote during the in-camera deliberations (and this vote will count in the determination of a decision);
- If a member of the TAC is absent, but is able to dictate questions to be addressed to the candidate, the chair will be provided with and ask the member's questions. The chair will share the absentee member's preliminary vote during the in-camera deliberations, but this vote will not count in the determination of a decision.
The examination is to be postponed and re-scheduled as soon as possible only if the candidate or two or more members of the TEC do not appear.
Once all members of the TEC are present and necessary introductions have been made, the chair will ask the candidate and all other attendees to leave the room. The chair will then conduct an "in camera" meeting to:
- remind the members that the candidate is being examined on both the written thesis and the oral defence;
- remind the members of the time frame for the defence (normally 1½ to 2 hours duration);
- decide in which order members will ask questions--the external examiner is always the first to question the candidate, the committee member from outside the academic unit of the candidate (if there is one) is usually the second to question, and the thesis advisor is usually the last;
- decide how many rounds of questions (normally, 2) will be used before other attendees can ask questions, and decide a rough limit on the number of questions or the time allotted to each member for each round of questions (e.g., 2-3 questions or 10 minutes per person in each round);
- agree on any other procedures that might be required for the defence. The Chair will then invite the candidate and other attendees back into the room and inform them of the procedures that have been decided upon.
The Chair will ask the candidate to present an oral summary of the thesis (10 minutes) to begin the defence. The chair will ask the external examiner to commence the rounds of questioning (in the absence of the external examiner, the chair will ask his or her questions). When the members of the TEC have no further questions, the chair will offer other attendees an opportunity to direct questions to the candidate. Upon the conclusion of all questions, the chair will ask the candidate and others to leave the room. If present, the dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the dean of the candidate's Faculty, the departmental chair, and the graduate coordinator/program director are permitted to stay and observe the "in camera" deliberations of the TEC; however, they may not participate in the discussion except by invitation and they have no vote.
The chair will conduct an "in camera" meeting of the TEC to:
- summarize the decision categories (see below);
- review the voting procedures (see below);
- ask all members, beginning with the external examiner, to summarize their evaluation of the written and oral presentation, indicate their vote, and identify any major and/or minor modifications they would like the candidate to complete before the final draft is submitted;
- assist the committee to reach consensus both on a final category, the changes that must be completed, who will review the changes, and the date by which the changes should be completed (this information must be noted on the Oral Examination Report);
- if the candidate meets criteria for a Medal for Academic Excellence (see criteria,below), discuss whether the candidate is to be nominated (if nominated, the reasons for the recommendation must be recorded on the Oral Examination Report);
- have members of the TEC sign the Oral Examination Report.
The Chair will then invite the candidate back into the room and:
- inform the candidate of the committee's decision,
- offer the TEC members the opportunity to provide feedback to the candidate on both the written thesis and the oral defence,
- review the revisions that are to be made to the thesis and finalize the time frame for doing so,
- remind the candidate to report to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office to fill out and/or sign the necessary forms (i.e., Theses Non-Exclusive License form, Partial Copyright License form, ProQuest Subject Code Form) when submitting the revised final copies of the thesis.
The chair should return the Oral Examination Report to the appropriate administrative office in the candidate's academic unit/program. This office should then forward a copy of the form to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office.
Note: The defence is public and the Chair has the responsibility to ensure that high standards of conduct are exercised by those in attendance. Thus, the chair has the right to exclude persons whose conduct disturbs the defence or to stop and reschedule the defence, if necessary.
If all but one member of the TEC agree on a decision category (see below), the decision shall be that of the majority. Where two dissenting votes are cast, discussion must continue to arrive at a decision on which there is consensus (i.e., no more than one dissenting vote). When consensus is reached, all members of the TEC should sign the Oral Examination Report. As discussed above, if a TEC member is absent but has provided a preliminary vote, this vote will be shared with the committee during the in-camera deliberations, but the vote will count in the determination of a decision only if it is that of the external examiner.
The following are the decision categories that are available to the TEC:
- Accepted: The thesis is accepted but may require minor typographical and/or minor editorial corrections to be made to the satisfaction of the thesis advisor.
- Accepted with minor modifications: The thesis requires minor changes in substance or major editorial changes, which are to be made to the satisfaction of members of the examining committee designated by the committee. The examining committee's report must include a brief outline of the nature of the changes required and must indicate the time by which the changes should be completed. Normally, such changes should be completed within four weeks of the date of the examination.
- Accepted with major modifications: The thesis requires more substantive changes, but will be acceptable when these changes are made to the satisfaction of those members of the examining committee designated by the committee. The examining committee's report must include a brief outline of the nature of the changes required, and the date by which the changes are to be completed.
- Decision deferred: The thesis requires modifications of a substantial nature, the need for which makes the acceptability of the thesis questionable. The examining committee's report must contain a brief outline of the modifications expected and should indicate the time by which the changes are to be completed. The revised thesis must be resubmitted for re-examination. Normally, the re-examination will follow the same procedures as for the initial submission. Normally, the same examining committee will serve. A decision to defer is open only once for each candidate.
- Rejected: The thesis and/or defense are not acceptable. The committee must report the reasons for rejection. A candidate whose master's thesis has been rejected may petition for readmission to write a new thesis or to complete a course work option.
Note: If the examining committee is not prepared to reach a decision at the time of the thesis defense, it is the responsibility of the chair to determine what additional information is required by the committee to reach a decision, to arrange to obtain this information for the committee, and to call another meeting of the committee as soon as the required information is available. It is also the responsibility of the chair to inform the candidate about the delay.
The criteria for nominating a candidate for a Medal for Academic Excellence are:
- normally, a minimum overall grade point average of 10.5 in course work;
- normally, a minimum of A- in any course;
- the majority of the TEC members, which must include the external examiner, consider the thesis to be outstanding;
- practicum work (where applicable) is categorized as outstanding by the practicum supervisor.