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Guidelines for Thesis and Project Development

Home > Graduate Program > Graduate Advising > Guidelines for Thesis and Projects

Requirements for the “culminating experience” in Regenerative Studies, also known as the “thesis” or “project”, tend to create apprehension and concern for students. What exactly is a thesis? What is a project? And, under what conditions should a student do one rather than the other? This document is intended to provide students with some basic definitions, and guidance, so as to remove some of the mystery from the process and help to make the culminating experience a rewarding and satisfying one for the student. A good deal of inspiration and material for this document is taken from “Demystifying the Thesis” written by Dr. Richard Willson for students in the Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning (available on the URP Website).

Because the Master of Science in Regenerative Studies is a relatively new multidisciplinary program, there is no single traditional set of academic or professional standards from which to specifically draw for guidance. Each of the faculty who teach in Regenerative Studies have had their own disciplinary experiences with Graduate Study, both at the institutions at which they studied and at Cal Poly, from which to draw and offer advice. In addition, because Regenerative Studies seeks to actively integrate different disciplinary perspectives, students are frequently confronted with a variety of scholarly approaches, traditions and faculty from which to choose. While the lack of a specific tradition and set examples may create some uncertainty for students, it also provides the opportunity for students to take the initiative and shape the thesis or project that allows them to integrate a variety of disciplinary approaches around the solution of a problem. This document, written by Dr. Denise Lawrence, the Graduate Coordinator, and reviewed by Regenerative Studies faculty, is intended to provide some standard guidelines for students and faculty in the Regenerative Studies program, and address some of the more perplexing and confusing issues surrounding the thesis and project for students.

The Regenerative Studies thesis or project is a challenging opportunity for the student to define a particular problem and bring together the knowledge and perspectives of more than one discipline in producing a solution. Students enjoy considerable latitude in choosing a topic, but the identification of the problem or issue, and its conceptual definition, must be sufficiently narrow to enable the student to research and produce an in-depth solution. Students who think early and often about their research interests, and possible topics, who seek out the advice of faculty and take the appropriate coursework, have a much easier time focusing and narrowing a viable thesis or project topic so that completion of the Master’s degree can be accomplished in a timely and satisfying manner.

Thesis or Project?

One of the most frequently asked questions is – What is the difference between a thesis and a project? Students sometimes express more interest in a project because it seems to capture better the notion of “learning by doing”, or because they say the do not like to do research, or do not like to write. Theses and projects have long traditions in academia, and there are solid disciplinary preferences for one over the other. Here are some differences to consider as described in the Title V Education Code.

A thesis is defined as …the written product of a systematic study of a significant problem. It identifies the problem, states the major assumptions, explains the significance of the undertaking, sets forth the sources for and methods of gathering information, analyzes the data, and offers a conclusion or recommendation. The finished product evidences originality, critical and independent thinking, appropriate organization and format, and thorough documentation. Normally, an oral defense of the thesis is required.

A project is defined as … a significant undertaking appropriate to the fine and applied arts or to professional fields. it evidences originality and independent thinking, appropriate form and organization, and a rationale. it is described and summarized in a written abstract that includes the project’s significance, objectives, methodology and a conclusion or recommendation. An oral defense of the project may be required.

On the surface, the most obvious difference between a thesis and project is that the product of the thesis appears as a bound, written document that is filed with the library, while the project is not. Traditionally, projects can take the form of a design, a work of art, a musical or dance performance, a film or video, or any other culminating experience the product of which cannot be filed in the library. Projects are often used in professional schools as a demonstration of the integration of ideas in a creative work. Both thesis and projects require a conceptual definition of the problem and a plan for producing an in-depth resolution, and both require a significant amount of investigation. The choice of thesis or project depends on the students’ preparation and the type of topic selected. For students who have significant undergraduate training (a professional degree, or bachelor degree with a major in a creative field) or significant professional experience in a creative discipline, a project may provide the appropriate vehicle, however, in most cases the written thesis is the preferred and appropriate format for the culminating experience.

Both thesis and project require that students develop depth and rigor in the development of the topic under investigation. To achieve that goal, students must sufficiently narrow and focus their research. Although students may feel that they will never have enough to write unless the topic is broad, this is not the case. Students often discover that once they begin to explore a particular topic, the issues they encounter are a lot more complicated than they originally imagined. Usually, the student encounters a question or problem that has heretofore not been adequately addressed and this is where the student usually finds the focus of their thesis or project. Although the master’s thesis or project stresses original research, students are not expected to produce to totally novel idea, method or finding. In all cases, the thesis/project will build on existing work in the field and will contribute something original to this. The essence of the thesis or project is to define a sufficiently narrow topic drawn from previous work reported in the literature so as to complete a rigorous and original investigation in the time allotted. As Willson argues, “The single most important problem that students have is not defining a sufficiently narrow topic” …or not doing it soon enough. Broad topics are characterized by too much generalizing with little or no empirical support, and/or the lack of an well-defined organizational framework. When projects are too broad they seem unmanageable, overwhelm the student, and make it difficult to finish.

Getting Started

Because the curriculum in regenerative studies is both multidisciplinary and takes a generally holistic perspective, students are often challenged to define and limit the research problem that attracts their interests. Problems of focus can be remedied by taking several steps early in the process:

  1. identify research interests and potential topics – think about what really interests you!
  2. conduct a preliminary literature review of those topics – get to the library and read!
  3. seek the advice of regenerative studies faculty, the graduate coordinator, and other experts.

All graduate students enter the master’s program with some stated interests in the field of regenerative studies. Some students shift their interest in those topics to others as they take regenerative studies and other courses and are exposed to new ideas. Some students become even more focused on their original interests as they take regenerative studies courses. Either strategy is appropriate, but regardless, students must take it upon themselves to investigate the literature beyond classroom presentations in the area that interests them most. Familiarity with the Cal Poly Pomona on-line library services, LINK+, document delivery and other services is essential. Students should examine the problem in the literature from different disciplinary perspectives before settling on a particular problem focus. A recent article or book may be the starting point that provides an overview of theories and approaches to a problem and provides a bibliography citing other important research that the student should consult. Because regenerative studies and other faculty supervise the thesis or project, they must feel their expertise in the topic is appropriate to guide the student through the thesis/project process.

Selecting a Committee

Students are required to select a committee of at least three knowledgeable individuals to supervise their thesis/project. The Chair of the committee must be a member of the core regenerative studies faculty who teach in the masters’ program. The Chair of the committee is the most important and influential member of the committee and will act as the primary guide to the student. The two additional members of the committee may be faculty who teach at Cal Poly Pomona or any other university, or practitioners in the field. Students are not limited to three members, however, they should be aware that having too many members sometimes makes it difficult to reach agreement on the scope and focus of the research.

Progression to the Thesis/Project

Two courses, RS 694 Thesis/Project Research, and RS 695 or 696, Project or Thesis, constitute the two main sequential vehicles required for completing the thesis or project in Regenerative Studies. These courses can be taken at any time following completion of RS core required courses; RS 694 may be taken concurrently with RS 650 (Research Methods II). Enrolling in RS 694 and RS 695 or 696 requires permission. To enroll in RS 694, students must complete a brief proposal describing the thesis/project problem, include a bibliography of resources, identify the confirmed chair of the thesis/project committee, and list other potential advisors who have been consulted. This preliminary proposal may be completed during RS 550 (Research Methods I) during Winter Quarter, or after, and will be reviewed by regenerative studies faculty before students receive permission to enroll.

RS 694, Thesis/Project Research, is a course designed for the student to engage in the supervised library research aimed at fully defining the research question and detailing the data collection methodology to be implemented in the thesis or project. Students find that meeting regularly with the committee chair, as often as weekly, and meeting frequently with other committee members structures the progress of their work and keeps them on track. The successful completion of RS 694 requires students to produce and present a fully developed research proposal (details listed below), obtain the written agreement of the committee members on a sign-off form, and complete a literature review acceptable to the committee chair. Students are required to present their proposals to the full faculty for comment and approval.

Given satisfactory progress (a completed proposal and established committee) in RS 694, students are initially given an “RP” grade (“Report in Progress”) until the literature review is submitted to the chair of their committee for a final grade.  Students may carry the “RP” for up to two years and students may repeat the course if research demands require it.  The completion of RS 694, however, is a prerequisite for enrolling in RS 695 or 696.  Should a student decide to significantly change the topic or focus of the thesis/project after completing RS 694, he/she may be required to repeat the course to adequately prepare for RS 695/696.  Students may also receive an “RP” grade for RS 695/696 which can be extended with RS 699 if necessary until it is completed.  Should a student decide to significantly change the topic or focus of the thesis after completing RS 694, he/she may be required to repeat the course to adequately prepare for the completion of the thesis/project in RS 695/6.  Students must be officially enrolled during the quarter that they file their thesis or project. 

Proposal

The proposal for the Master of Science in Regenerative Studies Thesis/Project should be between 5-7 pages and include the following:

  1. Title, student’s name, thesis committee members’ names.
  2. Abstract 100-250 words. (HINT: Writing an abstract of 100-250 words is usually the last thing one does in preparing a proposal. If you cannot write an abstract at the end of the proposal writing process, you probably do not know yet what you really want to do!)
  3. Introduction/Problem Statement (related to literature review) and significance to Regenerative Studies.
  4. Research Question(s) – hypotheses – what is the research problem?
  5. Methodology and data collection techniques. How is the study limited by the particular approach employed?
  6. Expected results – useful outcomes and applications.
  7. Timeline, required approvals and resources needed.
  8. Works Cited - Bibliography

Students should prepare a presentation of the proposal of about 15-20 minutes, leaving 15-20 minutes for faculty questions and discussion. Along with the presentation, students should prepare a brief written statement – an executive summary – that describes your thesis problem and proposed methodology, proposed outcomes and significance to Regenerative Studies.

Research Approvals

Students are advised that research and projects involving any human subjects are required to secure approval from the university Institutional Review Board (IRB) in the Research Office.  Research projects that involve experimentation or demonstration utilizing Lyle Center facilities must secure approvals from the Lyle Center Director.  Those involving health and safety issues must gain approvals from the university ……  These approvals often take some time and are required before actual data collection can begin so that students should plan accordingly.

Given satisfactory progress (a completed proposal and established committee) in RS 694, students are initially given an “RP” grade (“Report in Progress”) until the literature review is submitted to the chair of their committee for a final grade.  Students may carry the “RP” for up to two years and students may repeat the course if research demands require it.  The completion of RS 694, however, is a prerequisite for enrolling in RS 695 or 696.  Should a student decide to significantly change the topic or focus of the thesis/project after completing RS 694, he/she may be required to repeat the course to adequately prepare for RS 695/696.  Students may also receive an “RP” grade for RS 695/696 which can be extended with RS 699 if necessary until it is completed.  Should a student decide to significantly change the topic or focus of the thesis after completing RS 694, he/she may be required to repeat the course to adequately prepare for the completion of the thesis/project in RS 695/6.  Students must be officially enrolled during the quarter that they file their thesis or project. 

Completing the Thesis or Project

Completion of the thesis/project requires that students make preparations for filing the final documents.  In the case of the thesis, students are advised to consult early with the Cal Poly Library regarding format standards and deadlines.  In the case of the project, the student in consultation with the committee chair and the Director of the Lyle Center, will decide the appropriate format for submitting final documentation.  This might consist of a report, CD, video or other material filed in Lyle Center Library for future reference.  A formal defense of the thesis/project is required when the chair and committee members have all read and approved the final thesis/project.  The defense usually takes the form of a formal presentation to faculty and students, followed by a celebration.