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The Thesis-based MA Program in Anthropology

Program Overview

The thesis-based MA program in Anthropology is designed to be two years in duration. During that period, students are required to complete five primary tasks:

  1. completion of four or more graduate courses, depending on the Student's backgound preparation;
  2. completion and defence of a thesis research proposal;
  3. completion of fieldwork;
  4. delivery of a public post-fieldwork seminar; and
  5. completion of the MA thesis.

(1) Coursework

Graduate-level courses in anthropology are taught as seminars, rarely exceeding ten students. This provides ample opportunity for faculty-student interaction. They are meant to broaden and deepen the candidates’ knowledge of the discipline and to assist them in beginning to focus on their thesis research. Depending on one’s level of background preparation, full-time MA students are normally required to complete between four and six courses during the first two semesters of the program.

(2) Thesis Proposal

Guidelines for Graduate Research Proposals (PDF)

Before fieldwork can begin, students must submit a detailed thesis research proposal to the department and pass an oral defence. Students must submit their proposal to the department by June 1.

The proposal is expected to be primarily the work of the student, with ongoing guidance from the supervisor. The objectives of the thesis proposal are several: to present and justify the selection of a thesis topic; to demonstrate the candidate's familiarity with relevant bodies of literature; to discuss the theoretical, methodological and ethical implications of data collection; and to outline a research schedule and budgetary considerations.

When the supervisor(s) and the candidate think that the proposal has been developed as far as possible short of actually beginning data collection, the graduate coordinator(s) will schedule a date for the oral presentation. The written thesis proposal should be made available to faculty members at least two weeks prior to this date. Normally, the presentation will take place during the second semester after entry into the program. Students intending to apply for research funding from the Institute of Social and Economic Research or the Smallwood Centre for Newfoundland Studies, both of which have March 1st deadlines, must have their proposal accepted by the Department by no later than early February.

The presentation includes an oral summary of the proposal by the student followed by a series of questions and constructive criticism from the faculty to which the student is expected to respond. The objectives of this process are: to evaluate the student’s command of the relevant literature; to evaluate the design of the project; to assess the student’s readiness to carry out the research; and to assist the student in recognizing any potential theoretical and/or methodological problems that might arise out of the proposed research.

The Department and University also require all students doing research with human subjects to conform to obtain written approval from the university’s Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research (ICEHR) before their research commences.

(3) Fieldwork

The spring and summer months are normally spent carrying out an extended period of ethnographic fieldwork (generally 3-5 months in length). It is also expected that some part of this period will also be spent carrying out additional library and archival research in support of the project.

The fieldwork process provides an opportunity for the student to develop professional research skills and work on topics that have the potential to make a valuable contribution to the field of Anthropology and to the broader research community.

For the majority of students who have completed the M.A. in our department, the process of undertaking and writing up original research has constituted an important rite of passage. While the students are able to consult frequently with their supervisor(s) during the research period, the work is conducted independently and consists of a process of intellectual and personal self-discovery.

(4) Post-fieldwork Seminar

All graduate students are strongly encouraged to attend, and contribute to, all department seminars during both years of the program. These seminars are invaluable opportunities to learn (a) about the variety of topics being investigated in Anthropology, and (b) how professional academics exchange ideas in a collegial forum.

All fieldwork-stream MA students are required to deliver a seminar after they have completed their fieldwork to present their preliminary findings. This provides an excellent opportunity to share their work with others and to get feedback from faculty and fellow grad students before settling down to write the thesis.

(5) The MA Thesis

The remaining time will be devoted to analyzing ethnographic data and writing the MA thesis. Theses will vary in format and internal organization, depending upon the precise topic under review. However, the Department expects theses to be of a reasonable length, topically focussed, stylistically consistent, lucidly written, and logically argued. Students should look at previous M.A. theses from Memorial and elsewhere as examples of what is expected.

The thesis should be completed within the twelve month period following research. In order to ensure that this goal is achieved, students should develop a timetable of work with their supervisor(s). It is also very important that, whenever possible, students remain in residence at the St. John's campus during the second year of their program.

Once the thesis has been completed to the satisfaction of the supervisor, it will be reviewed by both internal and external reviewers and the results will be communicated to the student. More information about thesis submission and defence procedures can be obtained from the Memorial University School of Graduate Studies Web Site.

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