VII. Theses and dissertations

The Department of Geological Sciences has several important policies regarding theses and dissertations.

First, the existing Graduate School regulations regarding the format, scope, and organization of the thesis or dissertation are the same (!) regardless of whether the student chooses the “dissertation” or “publication” option. Use and follow the guidelines of a refereed journal in your field for headings, citations, figures and captions, and references cited.

Second, the student’s Advisor is ultimately responsible for the research quality, since his/her signature is required on the title page of the thesis or dissertation for the student to be awarded the degree. This responsibility resides with the Advisor regardless of any previous or pending publications by the student. This means that publication by itself is not considered by anyone to be a substitute for approval of the thesis or dissertation by the Advisory-Examining Committee. Published papers submitted to fulfill thesis or dissertation requirements may require extensive revision before acceptance by the advisor and committee.

Third, if a student chooses the “publication option”, the publications can be derived from chapters of the dissertation and formatted for the appropriate journals. This approach enables the research to be organized in modules, but it also is expected that the publications will be tied together into a coherent whole, which is the main rationale for writing extended work such as a thesis or dissertation. Note that the Graduate School stipulates that actual publication is not a requirement. Most faculty have a general policy regarding publication with students (who will be first author, etc.) Ask about this early in the process.

General comments regarding publication

Publication of the significant results of thesis or dissertation research is an important aspect of graduate education, but its role and emphasis can vary between programs. Normally, the M.S. thesis is considered to be sufficient evidence of competence at the Master's level. However, it is often to the student's advantage in the job market to publish part of the thesis. For example, employment prospects and future advancement may be enhanced for new hires in the petroleum industry who publish in AAPG Bulletin or for minerals exploration geologists to publish in Economic Geology. The Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering encourages, but does not mandate, publication of the M.S. thesis. However, individual faculty advisors may add to this recommendation as long as this is clearly understood and agreed to by the student and specified in the Program of Study.

Research at the Ph.D. level should lead to publications in refereed scholarly journals. By definition, this work involves new methods, collection of new data, formulation of new analyses, or perhaps construction of new syntheses that advance the state-of-the-art in a particular field. Publication by the student can be very important at this stage of his/her career.

In practice, however, it may be unrealistic or impossible to predict whether or what parts of the thesis or dissertation can or should be published. Only as the work nears completion does this usually become apparent. The student should not hesitate to negotiate how publication should be carried out (who is to be first author, where it will be published, etc.) early on. In certain cases, a student’s work may be an integral part of the Advisor’s research and publications. To ensure that authorship and credit issues are resolved fairly, the student should discuss these issues with the Advisor and committee members. Failing resolution at that level, students should meet with the Graduate Program Director or Department Chair.

General comments about rough drafts of the thesis or dissertation

The end product of your graduate degree in Geological Sciences is your thesis or dissertation. That document is a record of your research methods and results, and should be carefully crafted. Others will probably use your work in years to follow, so it makes sense to understand what is expected in the final form of the thesis or dissertation.

Nobody writes a perfect and acceptable thesis on the first try. The number of drafts you will need depends on a many factors, including (a) how good a writer you are; (b) how extensively you, your advisor, and your committee have interacted during the course of your research; and (c) the complexity of your research project. It is never possible, or even desirable, to predict the number of drafts needed. However, to minimize the amount of rewriting you will have to do, it is extremely important that you communicate with your Advisor and committee during your thesis research, not just at the very end, a few days or weeks before you would like to defend and start a new career.

Before you actually start the writing, get together with your Advisor and discuss your thesis. Does he/she think you are ready to begin writing? If so, present a detailed outline and ask for comments. Once your Advisor has given approval for you to start writing, do the same thing with your committee members. Don’t forget that they can also have useful things to impart to you, and that they will eventually be called upon to sign your thesis. See USGS Suggestions to Authors for excellent advice about writing style, expression, and grammatical pitfalls, before you present your first draft to your Advisor.

Many students find it easiest to submit early drafts to their Advisor in small, manageable chunks. That way, they can find out early whether major problems exist. Depending on the Advisor, the student should consider progressing to a second or third draft before submitting the thesis to the rest of the committee. The committee members will appreciate a clean, better-written draft, and will have a better chance of evaluating the science. Most Advisors will insist on this strategy.

You must get input from your Advisory-Examining Committee before you try to defend your thesis or dissertation. Be patient, but ask for their comments on your draft within a reasonable amount of time (say, one month), remembering that a rough draft exceeding 100 pages will usually require a lot of editing for both style and scientific accuracy. Don’t be discouraged by all the red ink on your masterpiece. There may even be requests for some additional lab or fieldwork. Demands for additional work signal that (1) you and your committee have not been communicating effectively about expectations, or (2) you or your committee are not adhering to the Program of Study. Your Advisor and the Advisory-Examining Committee are the “quality control” on theses and dissertations, but you should keep in mind the bounds on your project that were agreed to in your Program of Study. If you think that your committee is being unfair or autocratic, discuss this with your advisor (if you can) or the Graduate Program Director.

Plan on at least several months (3 or more) just for the writing of your M.S. thesis; additional time is then needed for the reviews of your drafts and rewriting. Thus, for a May graduation, an M.S. student should be well into writing by September of the previous year. For the Ph.D., eight months to a year of full-time writing are commonly necessary to produce the first draft or two. You can streamline this effort by planning ahead and discussing each aspect of your research with your Advisor and committee members. If you’ve followed the process correctly, there should be very few surprises to you or to them during the writing phase of your graduate education. Your ultimate aim is to defend your thesis and at that point have to make only minor changes, if any, to your last draft.

Thesis credits:

Per graduate school policy, all thesis credits must be taken as S/U, Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory. A grade of “U” will not be factored into your graduate GPA, and therefore will not affect your academic standing, but this still suggests failure to meet requirements for the degree. Additionally, a grade of “U” means that those credits are not applicable to the program of study and do not accrue towards the total number of required credits for thesis/dissertation. A grade of “U” affects the number of completed credits applicable for financial aid purposes. Should you receive a “U” grade you should discuss with your thesis advisor a plan of action to get back on track for timely completion of the degree.

Graduate School forms and resources related to thesis and dissertations:

Notice of completion:

This document is generally signed by the committee at the end of a successful thesis or dissertation defense and can be downloaded from the forms section of the Graduate School web site. In some cases, the Advisor may withhold their signature until revisions are made. At the time of your defense, provide the department Chair with a digital draft of your thesis or dissertation. This is not the final copy and will be reviewed for informational purposes, then not saved. Once the draft has been examined by the department Chair, and the committee has signed off on the notice of completion, you may obtain the signature of the Graduate director. Either the Department Chair or Graduate Director may sign the notice of completion. After collecting all departmental/committee signatures, obtain the signature of the Dean of the Graduate School and turn the form in before the posted deadline (posted on graduate school web site).

Final review approval:

After your final revisions have been completed and approved by the Chair of your advisory committee you need to obtain their signature on the Final Review Approval form and deliver this to the Graduate School for authorization and date to accept the final thesis.

Thesis filing guidelines:

Most students elect to deliver the thesis electronically, in this case the signature page (“Committee Approval Page”) can be on standard paper. If you elect to submit paper copies of your thesis/dissertation the signature page must be on the required bond. Pay careful attention to format, page numbering and spacing requirements specified by the graduate school. Details and additional information is available on the Grad School website.

Graduate School forms and resources related to thesis and dissertations: