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Between the time you get an idea for your thesis, and you actually start gathering data and writing, what are the steps, and about how long do they take?
1. Action Thesis Advisors. Although you may be assigned an initial advisor when you enter the program, before you start to work seriously on your proposal, you need a thesis advisor who knows something about your area of inquiry and commits to the time to work with you. Your thesis advisor will guide you, and you're expected to follow that person's guidance. You can help to select a thesis advisor at any time; in fact, you are encouraged to do so. The faculty try to make sure that students and thesis advisors are matched up appropriately.
2. Human Subjects/Institutional Review Board (IRB) Application. You cannot gather data for your thesis, if you intend to gather any data involving humans (even if they are your students) without IRB approval. This is because your findings will be made public when your thesis is catalogued in the library, and federal law requires us to review any such research for protection of human subjects. The human subjects proposal itself will be drafted in your Research Methods course. Before you can draft the proposal, you'll need to have a solid, well-thought-out plan for what your main question or concern is in your thesis, and how a data-collection plan relates to that. You'll also need to have the specifics of your research figured out. Once you've obtained IRB approval, you're approved for the plan you submitted; if you change your plan later, you'll need to submit another application. So, even though this is the first formal "hoop" you need to jump through, you should put a lot of time and thought into this step.
How long does it take to write the application? This depends on how much background work you have put into thinking through exactly what you are doing and why. The proposal itself can be written in probably a day, but the thinking behind it will probably take the entire semester you are in Research Methods.
How do you know if your IRB application has been submitted and approved? You'll write a draft of it in Research Methods, but that does not constitute submission to the committee. To submit your application, you need to sign the last page of the application, and also get signatures from your thesis advisor and the MAE program coordinator. You'll be notified by the committee, probably by email, when your application has been approved, or if there is additional information you need to supply.
How long does it take for applications to be approved? Plan on one month. Some applications take less time than that. But don't plan to start gathering data a few days after submitting your application.
3. Action Thesis Proposal. You'll write a draft of your action thesis proposal in the Research Methods course. There is a lot of overlap between it and the Human Subjects/IRB Application; both documents, particularly, ask you to spell out exactly what you plan to do. (You can do some cutting and pasting between your proposal and the IRB applicatuion). The Action Thesis Proposal, however, works like a contract between yourself and the faculty, because it spells out exactly what you plan to do. Once the faculty approve the proposal, then you can be confident that we won't change our minds about our expectations of your work. Click here to download the Thesis Proposal Form.
It's important to put careful time and thought into your proposal, because it is so important. You'll be able to expand on it when you write your thesis; the work you put into writing it will actually serve as the beginning of your thesis.
How long does it take for proposals to be approved? Once it has been submitted to the faculty, normally it will not take longer than 2-3 weeks. Over the summer or winter break, it will take much longer since faculty do not meet then on a routine basis.
After you write a draft of your proposal, how do you know if it's been approved? You'll submit a draft to the faculty member teaching Research Methods. However, doing that, in and of itself, does not constitute presenting it to the faculty. You'll know that the proposal is going before the faculty when you and your thesis advisor agree that the proposal is ready; you'll need to work with your thesis advisor on this. You'll know when it's been approved because you'll receive an email and/or a letter telling you.
NOTE: If you have not heard the status of your proposal, contact your thesis advisor. Occasionally students submit a proposal or IRB application (or believe they have submitted one), and do not hear anything for several weeks, even months. Sometimes things get lost in email or get misplaced. Occasionally students' email address changes, but we do not know this, and we contact you using an old email address. And, occasionally your proposal or application wasn't ready to submit. If you don't hear back, it isn't because we didn't like your work, something else happened (or didn't happen).
4. Start on your literature review and thesis research or project. Before you enroll in Capstone, you should be well along the way with your literature review, and you should have started to gather data or complete your project. If you save all of this up for Capstone, you'll probably wind up taking Capstone twice.
5. Take Capstone (MAE 670). This is the last course you'll take. The course works as a support to help you finish your thesis.