What is a Thesis? Everything You Need to Know about a Graduate Thesis

A student typing their graduate thesis on a laptop with a phone on the desk
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

If you’re looking into graduate school, you may have read about graduate thesis requirements. In today’s blog, we’re giving you the rundown of what a graduate thesis is and whether you need to complete a thesis at Emerson

What is a graduate thesis?

A graduate thesis is a capstone project that demonstrates what a student has learned in graduate school. Some programs require students to conduct research for their thesis, while others may require a creative project. Regardless of what form it takes, a graduate thesis is a substantial project that showcases your ability to do independent, graduate-level work.

At Emerson, a graduate thesis can take multiple forms and might be optional, depending on your program. You may have the option to complete research, write a creative manuscript, or complete a film or other creative project as a graduate student at Emerson. 

Regardless of what format your thesis takes, students are expected to submit some form of academic or creative writing as part of their thesis. 

For a research thesis, this written submission will take the form of an academic research paper that presents your research question and findings. Programs at Emerson offering a research thesis track are:

  • Communication Disorders
  • Publishing and Writing
  • Theatre Education & Applied Theatre 

If your thesis is a piece of creative writing, such as a novel or collection of poems, your manuscript will count as the written portion of your thesis. You would complete this type of thesis in the following programs:

  • Creative Writing
  • Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing

For a film or creative project as a thesis, the written portion of your thesis would include an explanation of your work and what purpose it serves within your field of study. These are the programs in which you might complete this type of thesis:

  • Media Design
  • Film and Media Art
  • Writing for Film and Television
  • Publishing and Writing 
  • Theatre Education & Applied Theatre
A student working a film camera that is focused on a woman talking
Students working on their film thesis

Do I have to complete a thesis as part of graduate school?

It depends! Some of Emerson’s graduate programs don’t even offer thesis options, and many offer optional thesis opportunities. Only a handful of our programs require a thesis. 

A Commuication Disorders student completing research work in one of the faculty's research labs. The student sits at a desktop computer and holds a drawing of a face with different points of the face highlighted
The following programs at Emerson require students to complete a graduate thesis:
  • Media Design
    • Students complete a design book that includes a literature review, creative portfolio, media design for a specific organization’s need, and plan for continued work with the partner organization.
  • Film & Media Art
    • Students complete a film or multimedia installation project as their thesis. They must also write an academic paper about their project.
  • Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing
    • Students in this program complete at least 100 pages of a near-publishable novel. The novel can fall within any genre, from mystery to science fiction to romance. Along with the manuscript, students also write a 3-4 page synopsis of their thesis.
  • Creative Writing
    • Students submit a near-publishable manuscript in one of three categories: fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. Page requirements vary based upon the genre in which students are writing. 
  • Writing for Film and Television 
    • Students in this program complete a screenwriting thesis project. Generally, students can choose between writing a feature length screenplay, two pilot screenplays, or one pilot screenplay for a mini-series plus Treatment for Series that includes a summary for the other episodes in the series. 
  • Theatre Education & Applied Theatre, MA
    • In the MA track of the Theatre Education & Applied Theatre program, students write a research paper about a topic that interests them. The research must be about a topic within the theatre education or applied theatre fields.
  • Theatre Education & Applied Theatre, MFA
    • Students in the MFA track of this program complete a two-part thesis, consisting of a thesis project and thesis paper. The thesis project is an opportunity to gain experience in the field of theatre education and/or applied theatre. For example, students could direct a play or design and implement their own curriculum as a thesis project. Students can either complete the thesis project independently or collaborate with 1-2 other MFA students for the project. Each student also completes a thesis paper, which is a critical reflection on the thesis project. 

For other programs, completing a thesis is optional.

The following Emerson graduate programs offer optional thesis tracks:

Where do I start with a thesis?

A student working on her thesis on her laptop at the kitchen table
Photo by Surface on Unsplash

The prospect of completing an entire research study or creative project yourself can be daunting, but Emerson faculty support students throughout the thesis process. While graduate theses are largely self-directed, each thesis student receives support and guidance from a thesis advisor. 

Usually, the thesis advisor is a faculty member within the student’s graduate program who has interest in or experience with the student’s thesis topic. The process of finding a thesis advisor varies slightly from program to program, but the advisor will schedule periodic check-ins with their thesis students, offering advice and support as needed. A graduate thesis is the student’s responsibility, but students are not alone in the process!

What are the benefits of completing a graduate thesis?

Having a graduate thesis under your belt can help set you apart as someone who is capable of self-directing large projects or research. This is helpful when you’re looking for work after graduation, or if you’re applying to PhD programs or want to work in research. 

Additionally, completing a creative project for your graduate thesis is a means for students to get their work recognized. For students in our writing MFAs, the thesis requirement gives them a polished, near-publishable manuscript that they can use to query agents after graduation. Students completing a film or media art project for their thesis will leave graduate school with a professional-level piece of work to showcase. Whether it’s a manuscript, film, or other creative project, completing a creative thesis in graduate school gives students material they can use to establish themselves in their field after graduation. 

Lastly, a graduate thesis is an excellent way to grow and challenge yourself. Whether you’re writing a novel, completing a research study, or creating a marketing design for a company, a graduate thesis will challenge you to get outside of your comfort zone. You’ll try new things and learn through your mistakes, all of which will help you grow both personally and academically.

We hope today’s blog has made the thesis process at Emerson a bit clearer. If you still have questions about graduate theses at Emerson, be sure to schedule a call with someone from our admissions team. To get an idea of what kinds of theses Emerson students complete, check out our Project Spotlight blog page. 

Follow Olivia Wachtel:

Writing Assistant

Olivia is a second-year student in Emerson's Communication Disorders MS program. Originally from Ohio, she is loving Emerson and city life. When she's not writing for the Grad Life blog, she loves to read, bake, and crochet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *