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Advice for Completing the Degree

The timely and successful completion of an MA degree in Anthropology is contingent not only upon the student’s successful completion of coursework, but choosing a well-defined thesis topic early, and orienting a whole program of study towards a thesis-driven project of original research. 

The degree can be completed in two academic years, including one summer. However, for a variety of reasons, some students may take longer. Nevertheless, students should ordinarily be able to complete the program within two and a half years. 

The following are recommendations from the faculty to help students finish their degrees in a timely manner:

Expectations of the Master’s Degree Program

  1. Students should take the 3 required courses and all other thesis-relevant courses in their first and second semesters.
  2. Students should plan to take the Comprehensive Exam (consisting of a written prospectus for thesis research and oral defense of this written prospectus facilitated by their dissertation chair and committee in a closed "proposal defense"). This step comes once a student has completed the three required courses, when the course material is fresh, and ideally by their third semester in the MA path.
  3. Students should meet with the provisional Graduate Advisor regularly (more than once a semester) to formulate a thesis topic, discuss research progress, and seek guidance.
  4. Students should also consult with the Graduate Advisor about the selection of a thesis chair and committee, if support is needed.
  5. Once a committee chair is selected, the student and chair should agree upon what kind of regular communication is necessary to keep the student on track (monthly meetings or emails; check-ins following research; writing deadlines).  Responsibility falls primarily on the student to schedule these advisory meetings and make sure they result in generating reasonable goals for the student to move towards completion of the thesis.
  6. Students have a maximum of five years from the semester they enter the program to complete the degree. This is more than enough time. Students are expected to complete the MA Degree within two or two and a half years under normal circumstances. The Graduate School of the University does not grant extensions without substantial justification. If a student has to move away or take on a full-time job, causing an unanticipated interruption of studies, and requiring more than two and a half years, they will have to quickly assess the situation in consultation with faculty advisors to decide whether it is likely to be feasible to finish the degree. The Department will not petition for an extension, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Identifying a Committee Chair 

A student may select the chair of her/his thesis committee after completing 9 hours of course work, but must do so, at the latest, by the start of the semester of the Comprehensive Examination. Students should work during the first year of study to identify and meet with a potential advisor and/or thesis chair in order to develop the prospectus and plan for the Comprehensive Examination. 

Most questions that arise concerning an individual student’s course selection or other curricular matters will be handled by the student in consultation with the provisional advisor or committee chair. These decisions are subject to review by the Graduate Director and Advisor.

Building a Thesis Committee

The thesis committee is made up of at least two faculty members in addition to the committee chair (but can include as many as four faculty). All three members of your MA Thesis committee can be Anthropology Faculty at CCS.  If you intend to have an "external" member from another UH department or outside the university, please consult with the Graduate Director so that you can complete required paperwork and be in compliance with the process of including an external member. All committee members must minimally have an MA Degree.

Once students have settled on a topic area, they should explore who they would want to have on their committee and make an effort to reach out to faculty members in the department and across the university.  Register or audit relevant classes with those faculty and/or attend their lectures in order to get to know them better. 

The sooner a student accomplishes the steps outlined above, the sooner s/he will be able to proceed with completing a thesis.

Annual Review 

Each Spring semester, the Graduate Director and Advisor in consultation with the program’s faculty will meet to assess the progress of each graduate student in the program. Progress will be evaluated according to requirements filled, seriousness of the student in meeting with the provisional advisor/ committee chair, and drafting a competent prospectus or the thesis. 

A progress report will be given to the student each year (unsatisfactory progress will be noted in the student’s file). This is to ensure that the department is supporting all student success and that students not progressing in the program are in conversation with the committee chair and other faculty about what actions they should take.

Comprehensive Examination (Thesis Prospectus & Oral Defense) 

The student submits a written thesis prospectus, elaborating the proposed research.  The prospectus will receive feedback from the thesis committee chair, and may be subject to revision; then, upon the chair’s approval, the prospectus will be circulated to the student’s other committee members. If all examining committee members agree that the written document is of sufficient quality to merit an oral defense, the oral exam will be scheduled. 

During the oral exam, the committee evaluates the written and oral formulation of the project and the degree to which the prospectus demonstrates sufficient knowledge of the thesis topic.


Following the Comprehensive Exam, students are directed to further develop their thesis, building on the research they have done and typically expanding that research after the prospectus defense. This may involve writing up and interpreting ethnographic data, transcribing and analyzing interviews, or conducting further archival research based on feedback received from the thesis committee.

Steadily Working Toward Your Goal 

An Example of a Reasonable Timeline for Degree Completion:

Year 1:  Orient to the graduate program and the field of anthropology; get to know faculty, other students and programs across the university and in the community; begin developing a research question and focus your reading and research on your topic of study; identify a thesis committee chair (by the end of your second semester in consultation with the MA Graduate Advisor) and consider other faculty members for the committee; plan to conduct original research during the summer after your first year of study. 

Year 2:  Continue to complete any required courses in the fall (including any required for a graduate certificate); identify your full committee and formalize faculty commitment through email, prepare for your Comprehensive Exam by drafting the prospectus for research in consultation with your committee chair;  defend your revised prospectus by the end of the 3rd semester but no later than the early half of semester 4; integrate feedback from your committee into your research. In consultation with your committee, analyze and write up your data; get feedback on your work. Schedule your thesis defense for spring; file your paperwork for May graduation.

Year 3: If you have not completed and defended your MA thesis by the summer of year two, you are expected to complete it by your 5th semester (Fall of year 3).  Any delays after your 5th semester will have to be reviewed and approved by the graduate director for further continuation in the program.

Note: based on this completion plan, progress towards thesis completion will also be facilitated through an Annual Review process mentioned earlier. Directions for completing the necessary steps for this yearly review will be available from the Graduate Director & Advisor each academic year.   

Other Resources 

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences has many resources and recommendations for students working on their theses and dissertations on the CLASS Graduate Studies webpage. Additional resources are available on the University of Houston Graduate School webpage. Review these often for information and opportunities. 

CCS faculty strongly encourage our students to use the Writing Center at University of Houston to strengthen your writing skills.  We encourage students to also share their work with one another for feedback as well. 

We also encourage students to take advantage of the university membership to the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development for writing accountability groups and resources.

MA students are also expected to take part in and contribute to the intellectual community of the department and the Anthropology Program by participating in invited/relevant events involving speakers and professional development opportunities. 

Finally, we strongly encourage students to participate in graduate student writing groups, where we have had success hosting regular monthly meetings for our students in the Anthropology MA program in collaboration with graduate students in other programs.