The Graduate School’s policies and procedures regarding matters such as admission, registration and enrollment, payment of tuition, graduation requirements, and other important matters are detailed in an annual bulletin.
All graduate students are required to take HIST 601, Historiography and Methodology. Additional requirements depend upon whether a student chooses to write a thesis or not.
A student who chooses this track must complete thirty credits of coursework, including six thesis credits. The student must complete and successfully defend a thesis, a work that is grounded in primary sources and typically around one hundred pages in length.
There are several good reasons to consider taking the thesis track. A thesis is a substantial challenge, and thus can provide an exciting intellectual journey into a subject a student finds deeply interesting. Completing the research and writing usually leaves the student with a strong feeling of accomplishment.
Students who plan to pursue a Ph.D. degree in history or some other discipline should complete a thesis. The doctoral programs to which you will apply will want to see your research, writing, and historical thinking skills.
Students wishing to do a thesis should choose a topic that interests them and that can be completed in a timely manner. Some topics might be interesting, but the primary sources necessary to research the topic might not be easily available. A student should, with the help of a faculty advisor, choose the topic carefully.
Once a topic has been selected, the student must complete a prospectus. The prospectus is usually developed after a student has completed 18 hours of coursework (a student may not enroll for thesis credits, HIST 698, until he/she has completed 18 semester hours and obtained the Graduate Affairs Committee’s approval). The student should consult with his/her advisor while preparing the prospectus.
Typically eight to twelve pages in length, a prospectus provides an overview of the thesis. It should:
- briefly describe the topic
- outline the core questions the student seeks to explore
- briefly survey some of the historiography on the topic and explain how the thesis will differ from what historians have already said
- explain the methodology to be used
- list the most important primary and secondary sources to be used
- provide a tentative organizational plan for the thesis (how many chapters, and the topic of each chapter)
A student wishing to begin thesis work in the fall semester must submit the prospectus to the Director of Graduate Studies by July 1. A student wishing to begin thesis work in the spring semester must submit the prospectus to the Director of Graduate Studies by November 26. The Graduate Affairs Committee will then review the prospectus and evaluate the student’s ability to complete a thesis. The Committee will then approve the prospectus, ask the student to revise and resubmit it, or determine that the student may not proceed to the thesis track.
Once the prospectus has been approved, the student may enroll in HIST 698 and begin work on the thesis. A student may count no more than six hours of HIST 698 toward the M.A. degree, but he/she may take more than six hours if necessary. A student must be enrolled in at least one credit of HIST 698 the semester he/she graduates. In addition, VCU regulations require that “any person engaged in graduate study at VCU must enroll each semester in which he/she is engaged in any form of study at VCU that involves use of university facilities, laboratories/studios and/or libraries, or who is supervised by or consults with a faculty member concerning graduate work on a project, work of art, thesis or dissertation.”
Throughout the research and writing of the thesis, the student should consult regularly with his/her advisor. A student may seek advice from additional history or non-history faculty if desired.
Click here for VCU’s guidelines for preparation and submission of theses. A student should keep these in mind has he/she works on the thesis.
Once a thesis is near completion, the student and the advisor should determine a date for a thesis defense. A defense consists of three faculty members (the thesis committee) examining the student on various aspects of the work. The committee will consist of the student’s advisor, another member of the History Department, and one faculty member from outside the Department. Students should consult with their advisors and the Director of Graduate Studies when forming the thesis committee.
A thesis defense should take place approximately two weeks or more before the Graduate School’s deadline for submission of a thesis and the obtaining of all necessary signatures for final approval. As the defense nears, the student should provide each member of the committee with a copy of the entire thesis. Students must take into account that faculty might not always be able to read the thesis on short notice; plan ahead and allow sufficient time for all involved to prepare for the defense.
Students on this track must complete 36 credits of coursework, which must include HIST 601 and two research seminars.
The culmination of the non-thesis track is a two-hour oral examination in the final semester of study. The student wishing to sit for the oral exam should notify the Director of Graduate Studies at least six weeks prior to the last day of classes of that semester. The student and the Director will consult with each other to form an examination committee, which shall consist of three faculty from the History Department (though in some cases an external person may serve on the committee). All final decisions about the composition of the committee shall rest with the Director, however.
Students preparing for the oral examination should consult with the committee members in advance of the exam. Students who fail the examination on their first attempt shall have one additional chance to sit for it.
A student may take up to six hours of credits outside the History Department. He/she must secure approval from the Graduate Affairs Committee before taking such a course.
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