Master’s Degree Frequently Asked Questions
By Steven Castellucci
Congratulations on your admission to the Graduate Program.
Obtaining a thesis-based Master’s degree in Computer Science (CS) requires completion of procedures according to both the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The purpose of this document is to aggregate those procedures, suggest methodologies, and provide a timeline for their achievement. However, it also reflects my own recommendations at the time of writing. This document is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but without warranty of any kind. For the latest, official guidelines, refer to the FGS and CS websites, or consult the CS Graduate Assistant or your supervisor. Important web links appear in the last section of this article.
I wish you the best of luck with your studies.
Orientation is generally held during the week before lectures start. It is a great opportunity to review program requirements, learn about professors’ research, and meet your fellow graduate students. Computer and payroll accounts are also setup during this time.
Also, remember to register for this term (and, optionally, the next one) before the registration deadline (typically around September 15th). Otherwise, you will be charged a late registration fee of about $200! The registration deadline for each term is usually two weeks into the term. Remember that registration is separate from course enrolment; you can register now, and select courses later.
As a Master’s candidate completing a thesis, you must take five courses, preferably during the first two terms. At least four courses must be at the 6000-level, and you must successfully complete at least one from each of the following course groups:
I encourage you to speak with your student advisor regarding course choices. If convenient, take three courses during the fall term. This will leave more time in the winter term for reviewing existing research for your thesis. You will probably also have grading responsibilities as a Teaching Assistant (TA), so budget your time wisely.
Hopefully, orientation activities introduced you to a professor or research area that fascinates you. Perhaps coursework has presented you with other research interests. I recommend that you identify two professors whose research areas appeal to you. Your student advisor can be a great asset in this regard, and may even be one of your choices.
A faculty member can be responsible for the supervision and funding of numerous graduate students. Consequently, he or she might decline an additional one. For each potential supervisor, investigate possible research opportunities that you would like to undertake. When you are confident about a decision, meet with that professor to introduce yourself and discuss your research ideas.
By March 15th, you will be required to complete the first of two progress forms. As part of this form, you will confirm your choice of a thesis supervisor and a supervisory committee member.
A review of existing research is important to understand the current trends and ideas in your field. This usually takes the form of reviewing existing journal articles, conference proceedings, or other academic papers. It is essential to ensure that your intended research has not already been accomplished. Furthermore, you may be able to apply another’s findings in your own research – don’t waste time re-inventing the wheel.
When reviewing literature, maintain an organized bibliography. A software tool, such as EndNote, BibTex, and RefWorks, is almost essential in this regard. In addition, make notes for each paper. This will save you time in the long run, as you won’t have to re-read entire papers to find areas of significance.
After completing a sound literature review, you should have a better concept of what specific research you intend to pursue, and how to conduct it. If not, you will at least be able to pose informed questions to your supervisor.
My research in human-computer interaction (HCI) required user studies involving human participant. (And yes, it is necessary to specify “human participants”.J) Regardless of the nature of your research, you must complete Form TD1: Thesis/Dissertation Research Proposal Submission from FGS. This proposal must be submitted the CS Graduate Assistant at least three months before your anticipated thesis defence.
Depending on your type of research, there are additional forms, detailed within form TD1, which must accompany it. However, all submissions must include a proposal that has been approved by your supervisory committee. It typically introduces the research topic, reviews previous research, details your proposed methodology, and presents (possibly preliminary or even anticipated) results. While time-consuming, this process will help you formalize your research plans and get feedback to improve them.
If your research plans involve human participants, you must complete a (two-hour) online tutorial to receive Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS) ethics certification. This certificate acknowledges your understanding of policies and procedures to ensure the ethical treatment of human participants. This certificate is valid for two years from the date of issue.
Forms of research vary widely, even within a discipline. Therefore I can offer only the following few suggestions in this regard:
By August 15th, you will be required to complete another progress form. However, this form must be accompanied by a thesis proposal.
Publishing your research provides you with recognition in academia and helps your supervisor with funding. Simply submitting an academic paper for reviews can also provide constructive criticism from other researchers.
Conferences vary between disciplines, but established ones are those usually sponsored by the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Your supervisor will likely recommend particular conferences for your specific research.
You should first put a lot of time and effort into your thesis, as it will represent the culmination of two years of research. Refer to FGS’s official thesis guidelines to ensure that you adhere to format specifications. Other students’ published theses might also provide helpful examples.
Pay particular attention to the organization of your thesis. It should present your research in a clear, concise, and logical manner. (Remember, the reader might not have any prior knowledge of your particular research.) Outline the main topics of your research – these may become chapter topics. Further divide each chapter into sections, subsections, and sub-subsections as necessary.
While the task of writing your thesis might seem daunting, remember to use to the notes you wrote and any research papers you drafted. Immediately insert bibliographic references when needed, as procrastinating will inevitably lead to forgetting. Tackle one section (or subsection) at a time, and the whole prospect won’t seem so overwhelming.
Once you are confident about your thesis, obtain an oral examination package from the Graduate Assistant. This package will likely contain the following documents:
On the ROE form, provide your student information and details about your thesis. You must also specify the members of your supervisory committee and (most importantly) get them to sign it, thus indicating approval of your thesis. Before signing the ROE form, your supervisory committee may request changes to your thesis for you to implement.
Preferably with the help of your supervisor, you must choose faculty members to serve on your examination committee (EC). The members of this committee will be present at your defence to pose questions to you, raise issues regarding your research, and vote on acceptance of your thesis. FGS guidelines specify the requirements of the EC members. In general, it is comprised of your supervisor, a member of your supervisory committee (who typically acts as chair of the EC), a graduate faculty member from the CS department not involved with your research, and a graduate faculty member from outside the department. Fill-in each members’ contact information, assigning each member to their appropriate position on the committee (consult the Graduate Assistant if necessary).
You must also determine a date and time for your defence. First, I recommend that you prepare and deliver a copy of your thesis (implemented with all recommendations from your supervisory committee) to each EC member (see the next section). Contact members of your EC and determine a date and time when they can all convene for your defence. Remember that this date must be at least three weeks after you submit your ROE form and at least three weeks after you provide each member with a copy of your thesis. However, I recommend a date that is at least four weeks away.
Based on the date and time of your oral examination, the Graduate Assistant will have you choose a location from a list of available ones. If possible, choose the CS seminar room (CSEB3033). Otherwise, select a room that is equipped with (at least) an LCD projector and computer. (While I highly recommend using your own computer, the provided one can also serve as a backup.) If that is not possible, you can reserve equipment for your oral examination from York’s ITC department. Regardless, visit each prospective location before making a final decision. The day of your oral examination will likely be a stressful one, and its location will play an important role.
Once you have implemented the thesis revisions suggested by your supervisory committee, you must print and deliver a copy of your thesis to each member of your examination committee at least three weeks in advance of your defence. Regarding printing, I have the following recommendations:
For the oral examination, you are required to give a 15-20 minute presentation of your thesis. After completing a first draft of your presentation, try to rehearse it in the oral examination location. Go through all the motions to address any issues. For example, access the room (it might be locked), set up your equipment (it might require configuration), and run your presentation.
Leading up to your oral examination, review your research and refine your presentation. Within a week of your oral examination, confirm availability of any needed equipment and send a reminder email to all members of the examination committee. On the day of your oral examination, arrive at the location at least thirty minutes in advance.
Following your presentation, there will be a question period that lasts for about two hours. During this time, the examination committee members will ask you a series of questions regarding your research. Typically, there are two rounds of questions, beginning with the member from outside the department, followed by the CS member, the chair, and ending with your supervisor.
After the question period, the examination committee will convene privately and come to a decision regarding the acceptance of your thesis.
As is usually the case, your thesis will be accepted pending minor revisions. If you cannot complete the revisions immediately, at least write notes as to the EC’s specific concerns and how you will proceed.
Keep in mind that you are responsible for all tuition/registration fees until you submit the final version of your thesis. By referring to the FGS refund table, you can determine the latest date to submit your thesis and still receive a refund of your tuition/registration fee.
Once you have implemented the required revisions, complete the “Revisions to Thesis” memo given to you by the Graduate Assistant. Have your supervisor and EC Chair review your revisions, and approve them by signing the memo.
The FGS Thesis Secretary must approve the layout of your thesis before accepting the final version. Print a single copy for her (or his) review, or send the Thesis Secretary a PDF copy of your thesis via email. Once approved, you will need to submit the “Revisions to Thesis” memo and three printed copies of your thesis: a greyscale copy that will be library-archived, a colour (if applicable) copy that will be bound and delivered to the CS department, and a colour copy that will be bound and delivered to your supervisor. When preparing these copies follow the aforementioned advice, but do not bind the copies. Before submitting the final copies to FGS, ensure that all pages are present and in order. (Note: official Copyright and Certificate Pages will be inserted by FGS.) If you would like additional copies of your thesis bound (e.g., for yourself), contact Wallaceburg Bookbinding. Their order form is available on the FGS website.
Once the Thesis Secretary accepts the three final copies of your thesis, you will have officially completed your Master’s degree in Computer Science. Congratulations!