Graduate Program Requirements

Program Requirements Graduate students in sociology have two program options, the thesis or the comprehensive exam. The student’s special interests and career plans are considered in advising regarding their choice of program options. The thesis option is typically selected by students who intend to pursue a Ph.D. degree, while the comprehensive exam option is commonly pursued by those desiring immediate employment in research and applied areas in government, education, social welfare and health. The thesis option is not available to online students.  All students must pass the final master’s exam covering all general course work or the thesis. Students entering the graduate program in sociology need to have completed an undergraduate research methods and an undergraduate statistics / analysis course prior to being able to enroll in the core courses in the program. As the required courses should be taken in the first 3 semesters of graduate study, it is highly advisable for students to have had the courses prior to the beginning of the graduate program. Taking undergraduate courses as deficiencies once graduate study has begun will make it more difficult to finish the course of study in a timely fashion. NOTE: Graduate courses offered online each semester are open ONLY to admitted online sociology graduate students or by permission of the instructor.

Thesis Option

In addition to the successful completion of an acceptable master’s thesis, students who choose this option will take a minimum of 36 credit hours of graduate work distributed as follows:

  • SOC 501, SOC 551, SOC 552, SOC 553 (a total of 12 credits), to be taken within the first 27 hours of graduate credit. A grade of B- or better is required to receive credit for each of these core courses.
  • SOC 599 (6 credits)
  • 18 credits of additional 500 level Sociology course work to be taken in consultation with the sociology graduate student’s advisor.

Comprehensive Exam Option

In addition to the completion of a final written exam which is given each fall and spring, students who choose this option will take a minimum of 36 credit hours of graduate work distributed as follows:

  • SOC 501, SOC 551, SOC 552, SOC 553 (a total of 12 credits), to be taken within the first 27 hours of graduate credit. A grade of B- or better is required to receive credit for each of these core courses.
  • 24 credits of additional 500 level Sociology course work to be taken in consultation with the sociology graduate student’s advisor.

Master’s Thesis Track Procedures The master’s thesis is an original research project conducted under the supervision of a faculty committee. In most cases, a master’s thesis is equivalent to an article published in a scholarly journal. Thesis track students may benefit from accessing the department’s Sociology Reading List as a first step in thinking about key sociological inquiries. There are several steps involved with the Thesis Track. First, a student secures a thesis chair, and then works with the chair to form a thesis committee. Next, the student works with the chair and committee to write a thesis proposal, which involves a rationale for conducting the proposed research and details the intended research design. Third, the student holds a “Master’s Thesis Proposal Approval Meeting” to obtain committee approval for conducting the research. Finally, the student completes the research and writing of the thesis, and subsequently holds a “Master’s Thesis Defense” to finalize the thesis and complete the requirements for the Master’s Degree in Sociology through the department and the university.

Master’s Thesis Chair and Committee

A student should ideally choose a thesis chair by the end of the second semester of study. The thesis chair must be considered graduate faculty through the university, as well as be tenure-track faculty in the Department of Sociology. In some cases, a student may have co-chairs, but only as necessitated by the research or mitigating circumstance. The master’s degree committee must consist of a minimum of three members. The thesis chair serves as the committee chair, and the second committee member must also be graduate faculty but can either be tenure-track or college-track faculty in the Department of Sociology. A third member serves as the Graduate School Dean’s Representative, and must be from a different department. The Dean’s Representative ensures that the Graduate School policies and procedures are followed throughout the thesis process. Although the Dean’s Representative is not required to participate in the thesis proposal meeting, if feasible, it is recommended. If the student has an approved graduate minor, either the Dean’s Representative or an additional committee member must come from the minor department. A student may elect to have more than (but not fewer than) three thesis committee members. The thesis chair works with a graduate student toward proposal approval and thesis defense. A thesis chair ultimately directs the student’s research activities, such as: choosing a topic, initial research design, suggestions for further reading, developing a theoretical foundation, completing the IRB process, providing critical feedback on emerging analysis and scholarly writing, and guiding both the proposal and defense process. A student is responsible for initiating a timeline with the thesis chair, and the chair should work with the student as much as possible to adhere to the timeline. Thesis chairs are not responsible for writing a graduate student’s thesis, proofreading, or investing more time and energy into the thesis than does the student. It is important to recognize that faculty do have different mentorship styles; therefore it is the student’s responsibility to choose a thesis chair who will provide the ideal context for thesis completion based on compatible working/mentorship styles.

Master’s Thesis Proposal

The purpose of a thesis proposal is to provide a clear and concise formal description of the proposed study, as well as indicate the study’s scholarly and sociological significance. A proposal serves as a “contract” between the student and committee members regarding the nature and scope of the study. Proposals usually take two to four months to write, and range in length (although the average final proposal document is about 15-20 pages). The proposal usually develops through several drafts, with guidance from the thesis chair and committee members. The student is responsible for giving the final proposal draft to the committee at least 14 days before the proposal approval meeting. The student is also responsible for obtaining the “Master’s Thesis Proposal Approval Form” from the Department of Sociology, completing the student information, and bringing the form to the thesis proposal approval meeting. The thesis proposal must be successfully approved at least one semester before the actual thesis is defended. The Department has established an internal proposal approval deadline of October 31st in order for the student to be considered for Spring/Summer thesis defense, or by April 30th to be considered for Fall thesis defense. If a student does not meet the deadline to hold a thesis proposal approval meeting, the student may 1) risk jeopardizing the renewal of a GAship the following semester, and/or 2) be forced to take the written comprehensive exam instead of completing a thesis, as per the department’s expectations of a student making adequate progress toward degree completion. In some cases, a student may petition in writing the Director of Graduate Studies and/or the Department Head for special consideration should the thesis proposal approval deadline not be met. During the thesis proposal approval meeting, the student will present a formal 10-15 minute talk on the proposed research. The committee will then discuss the proposal through questions and comments before making a committee decision to either: approve the thesis proposal, approve the thesis proposal contingent on recommended modifications, or not approve the thesis proposal. If a student’s thesis proposal is approved, the student can then begin the thesis research. If a student’s thesis proposal is approved contingent on recommended modifications, the student’s thesis chair will summarize the required modifications and set a date with the student to finish the modifications and obtain approval before commencing the thesis research. If a student’s thesis proposal is not approved, the student will work with the committee to find resolution in rewriting the proposal or consider the comprehensive exam in lieu of writing a thesis. Thesis proposal meetings usually last between 1-2 hours, and are open to anyone who wishes to attend. The thesis proposal must be approved before an application is submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for approval of research using human subjects. The student must have approval from IRB before engaging in any data collection or data analysis with human subjects. There are rarely IRB exceptions for sociological research, and the student is responsible for ensuring the thesis research receives IRB approval and notifying the thesis chair that IRB approval has been obtained.

Thesis Proposal Structure

The structure for the thesis proposal may vary in format and organization, depending on the student’s research questions, hypotheses, theoretical/research orientations, and overall intent. Some theses chairs have additional, specific requirements for what is included in a thesis proposal document. However, the department expects that certain elements be present in all proposals. A binder of successfully defended thesis proposals can be found in the Sociology Department. Click here for a detailed thesis proposal structure.

Master’s Thesis Defense

A student will work with the thesis chair and committee to determine when the thesis is ready for defense. The student must demonstrate at the thesis defense that the research project approved at the proposal stage has been successfully completed to the satisfaction of the thesis chair and committee members. The thesis defense should ideally be pro forma, in that the thesis committee will have all seen and had the opportunity to comment on drafts of the thesis before the defense. The student may be asked to make revisions to the thesis at the defense, which are normally minor changes, before submitting final copies of the thesis to the department and university. Students are responsible for giving the final thesis draft to the committee at least 14 days before the thesis defense. The thesis proposal serves as the overall format for writing the actual master’s thesis. All components of the proposal should be represented in some capacity in the actual thesis. There are also specific formatting guidelines established through the Graduate School. Students should access examples of other students’ theses, work with the thesis chair and committee to formulate an appropriate thesis structure, and recognize that the average thesis is roughly 60-80 pages. When the thesis is ready to defend, the student will file the “Master’s Final Examination Form” with Graduate Student Services at least 10 working days before the intended defense date. The student will report the name and email address of the Dean’s Representative on the final examination form. The Dean’s Representative will then receive the necessary paperwork and will bring it to the defense. Keep in mind that the Graduate School has deadlines for when students can defend throughout the academic year. Make sure to consult with the Graduate School concerning these deadlines. On occasion, students who plan on completing the thesis in spring semester may opt for a summer completion date in order to have a few more weeks to finalize the defense and perform edits to the thesis. During the thesis defense, the student will present a formal 15-30 minute talk on the thesis research. The committee will then discuss the thesis through questions and comments before making a committee decision to either: approve the thesis, approve the thesis contingent on recommended modifications, or not approve the thesis. If a student’s thesis is approved, the student can finalize the process for graduation. If a student’s thesis is approved contingent on recommended modifications, the student’s thesis chair will summarize the required modifications and set a date with the student to finish the modifications before finalizing the process for graduation. If a student’s thesis is not approved, the student will work with the committee to find resolution in rewriting the thesis or consider the comprehensive exam in lieu of the thesis. Thesis defenses usually last between 1-2 hours, and are open to anyone who wishes to attend. When the thesis is finalized, the student will complete the “Thesis Intake Form” and submit it with a copy of the thesis for review to the Graduate School. The student is also responsible for submitting three required copies of the thesis to the Branson Library by the deadline set through the Graduate School, as well as submitting one required copy of the thesis to the Department of Sociology by the last day of finals in the graduating semester. It is customary for a graduate student to present a bound copy of the thesis to the thesis chair upon successful completion of the degree. The Department of Sociology may hold a colloquium at the end of fall or spring semester for those students who are in the process of defending their theses. If a colloquium is held, students are requested to present a conference-style talk on their thesis research for the department.

Policies on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism for the Master’s Thesis

The department encourages graduate students to develop and implement an original research project for the Master’s Thesis. In doing so, the department insists that all students uphold the New Mexico State University’s Student Code of Conduct, “Students at NMSU have an obligation to uphold the laws of the larger community of which they are a part.” Therefore, incidences of academic dishonesty, collusion, and plagiarism in the thesis will not be tolerated. Plagiarism refers to appropriating excerpts from websites, books, journal articles, etc. without proper in-text citation referring to the original source of the material. For further clarification on what constitutes plagiarism, please refer to NMSU’s library website: http://lib.nmsu.edu/plagiarism/ Further, a student should not represent another faculty’s or fellow student’s work or ideas without appropriate citation in the thesis proposal, research design, or actual thesis document. If a student’s thesis proposal or final Master’s Thesis contains plagiarized material, the student may be removed from the program without the option to complete the degree. Comprehensive Exam Track Procedures The comprehensive exam is intended for those on-campus students who are not completing a thesis, as well as all online students. The exam is intended for students to demonstrate successful synthesis of all coursework, knowledge and skills gained throughout the program. The comprehensive exam focuses on assessing student learning in three core areas: sociological theory, research methods, and research analysis (statistics).The comprehensive exam is held twice per academic year; in October during fall semester and in March during spring semester. The exam is not offered during summer.  The general process for the comprehensive exam involves a student completing the required core courses, registering for the exam through the department, and finally taking the exam.

Comprehensive Exam Basis

Once a student has successfully (a grade of B or better earned) completed the core courses (SOC 501, SOC 551, SOC 552, SOC 553), the student is able to register for the comprehensive exam. Please note that students must complete all core courses with NMSU in order to be eligible to take the comprehensive exam. Students usually take the comprehensive exam in the last semester of the program.

Characteristics of the Exam

The exam is held over a four day period (usually Thursday through Sunday) and is executed entirely online for all students (both on-campus and online) in the comprehensive exam track. The dates for the comprehensive exam vary depending on the semester. Exams are usually held the third weekend in October for fall semester, and the first weekend in March for the spring semester. At the beginning of each semester, the Director of Graduate Studies will email all graduate students announcing the Comprehensive Exam dates and registration window. It is vital that students use NMSU email as this is the only method of communication the department uses to announce department particulars, such as for the comprehensive exam. This is especially important for students in the online program. Once the exams have been announced, students who plan to take the exam will file a “Comprehensive Exam Registration Form” with the Director of Graduate Studies no later than one month prior to the exam date. The registration form can be found in the department or on the department’s graduate student website. Note that this is a departmental form. There is NOT an official form necessary for the Graduate School or Graduate Student Services in order to take the comprehensive exam. A student must be registered and enrolled for at least 1 credit hour during the exam semester. If not enrolled, the student must file an “Examination Fee Form” and pay the fee no later than one month prior to the exam date with Graduate Student Services.

Comprehensive Exam Details

The Director of Graduate Studies will email the exam questions in the form of a single Word document at 8:00am (mst) on the Thursday of exam week. Students will reply to the email that they have received the exam questions. Students then have four consecutive days to complete their responses to the questions, and must email their exams back to the Director of Graduate Studies by 8:00pm (mst) on the Sunday of exam week. The exam is not considered complete until the student receives email confirmation that the exam responses have been received. Each student will receive guidelines on what is expected in order to answer all exam questions. It is the student’s responsibility to adhere to the guidelines in order to pass the exam. In writing exam answers, students may refer to specific authors.  While the exam is administered in a four-day block, each set of questions should really take no more than 3-5 hours to complete. Students have flexibility in terms of when they can complete the questions throughout the four-day block, as personal/professional responsibilities may arise. However, all exams must be completed and emailed to the Director of Graduate Studies by the deadline.

Preparing for the Comprehensive Exam

While individual faculty may, at times, assist in preparing for the exam, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to prepare for the exam. Preparation requires responsible and dedicated independent study; it is the student’s interest to retain syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and readings from the core classes and electives completed within the department. These generally provide valuable reference material in preparing for the comprehensive exam. It is strongly recommended that students begin reading from the Sociology Reading List in the first semester of graduate study, instead of waiting until weeks before the actual exam. The readings will prove useful throughout both core and elective courses in developing a sociological perspective! Students are encouraged to form study groups and work with fellow graduate students to prepare for the exam. This can happen between all students, regardless of on-campus or online program status. Students who have registered for the exam will receive a study guide via email one month before the exam is scheduled to begin. The study guide is meant to give the student direction on the type of questions asked on the exam, and is not meant to be an exhaustive list of actual exam questions. Further, the study guide is not meant to limit the student’s preparation to only the questions/examples/information provided.

Comprehensive Exam Grading Procedures

There are three sections to the comprehensive exam: sociological theory, research methods, and research analysis (statistics). Each student must write a passing response to all questions for each of the three sections. Each section of the exam is graded as either: pass with distinction, pass, or not pass. The Director of Graduate Studies works with specific faculty to grade the exams over a two-week period. Exams are blind-graded by two Sociology faculty for each section of the exam. Students must receive a passing grade for each exam section from both faculty. Students will be notified individually via email within a two-week period after completing the exam whether the exam has been passed with distinction, passed, or not passed. In the event that a student receives a “not pass” grade on any section of the exam, the student will be given a one-time option to rewrite the exam section. The student will be notified by the Director of Graduate Studies what section(s) have not been passed, and will arrange a 48-hour timeframe for the student to rewrite the section(s) of the exam. If the student does not receive a passing grade for the rewrite, the student must take a new exam for the section(s) during the next regularly scheduled comprehensive exam. If the student receives a “not pass” grade once again, the student will be required to retake the relevant core course(s) before retaking the section(s) of the comprehensive exam not passed. There are several reasons for receiving a “not pass” grade: failure to directly address the question(s) asked, failure to answer each part of the question(s), incorrect use of terms and concepts, failure to illustrate depth or comprehension in formulating a response, inadequate use of materials and/or sources. The Director of Graduate Studies will notify the registrar’s office when a student has passed the comprehensive exam. This serves as the official notification process for the university that the student has completed the final exam requirement for the Master’s Degree in sociology. The student’s final obligation is to run a STAR report to verify that all remaining requirements have been completed in order to graduate.

If a student does not attempt to answer a section of the comprehensive exam (theory, methods, statistics), the section is considered not passed. Per grading procedures, the student will be given a one-time option to rewrite the exam section during the next regularly scheduled comprehensive exam. If a student does not attempt a second time to answer a section of the comprehensive exam, the section is considered not passed and the student may be removed from the program without degree completion.

Policies on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism for the Comprehensive Exam

The department encourages students to refer to and utilize course materials, notes, and readings accrued during the completion of relevant coursework in formulating responses to the comprehensive exam questions. Further, preparation for the exam may occur in tandem with other students, such as with study groups. However, the department insists that all students uphold the New Mexico State University’s Student Code of Conduct, “Students at NMSU have an obligation to uphold the laws of the larger community of which they are a part.” Therefore, incidences of academic dishonesty, collusion, and plagiarism on the comprehensive exam will not be tolerated. Plagiarism refers to appropriating excerpts from websites, books, journal articles, etc. without proper in-text citation referring to the original source of the material. For further clarification on what constitutes plagiarism, please refer to NMSU’s library website: http://lib.nmsu.edu/plagiarism/ Further, a student should not represent another student’s work as a valid response for any exam question. Additional resources used to answer any exam question are strongly discouraged as the comprehensive exam is directly related to the core courses and sociology reading list from the NMSU Department of Sociology. If a student’s response contains plagiarized material, or if a student has collaborated with another student in any way during the four-day exam period, the student(s) will fail the entire exam and may be removed from the program without the option to complete the degree. It is expected that students taking the exam will consult with NO ONE, either professors or fellow graduate students, on any questions or issues relevant to exam content during the four-day examination period. Further, clarification of exam questions should be directed via email to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Checklists for Current Graduate Students

The following are checklists designed to keep students on top of their graduate student responsibilities and deadlines within the Department of Sociology and the Graduate School at NMSU.

Checklist for Comprehensive Exam Graduate Handbook 2014-2015

Checklist for Thesis Track Graduate Handbook 2014-2015