Thesis Project

The MA thesis is an integral component of your training in research design and conducting computational social science. MACSS students choose between an academic or a professional
thesis. The difference between the academic and professional thesis is in the kind of contribution your project makes. While the academic thesis intervenes in a scholarly conversation, the professional thesis speaks to an audience outside the academy.

More specifically, the academic thesis gives students the opportunity to develop an original research project under the mentorship of a faculty member at the University, with the goal of producing an academic journal article-style paper in Computational Social Science. The professional thesis is an original work produced for a professional audience (e.g., policy analysis, market analysis report, software development of a new package).

Whichever type is chosen, the MA thesis is written under the direct supervision of a UChicago faculty member. Students work in their second year to identify prospective advisors, draft a research proposal, and write a paper modeled on a professional journal article published in their discipline of interest. To develop this project, students can enroll in a three-course “MA Research Commitment” in their second year of study.

A thesis proposal lays out the scope and nature of the work and must be approved by the primary reader by November 10. Whether you produce an academic or professional thesis, you will submit a draft of your paper to your primary and secondary readers by the deadline specified in our graduation deadlines. You will revise the paper based upon the feedback you receive from your reader(s) and submit a final version that will be graded and evaluated.

The Academic Thesis

The academic thesis is an article-length piece of original research and writing, modeled on a professional journal article for the discipline in which you choose to specialize. Most will be 30 to 50 double-spaced pages. The goal is to advance a scholarly conversation in your discipline, by means of an original contribution that improves our understanding of your research question in conceptual and empirical ways.

The primary reader for the academic thesis is a member of the Social Science Division faculty or any other person with a doctorate and an appointment at the University whom you can interest in your project. Your preceptor will serve as the second reader.

Your thesis will be evaluated based upon the interest of your question, the relevance of your research design, the quality of your data, the sophistication of your analysis, the strength of your
presentation, and the significance of your findings.

For those who apply to PhD programs after MACSS, the academic thesis is critical to the success of your application, demonstrating your ability to develop and execute a graduate-level research
project. For those who go on to positions outside the academy, the academic thesis is an important part of your resume, showcasing your graduate-level research skills, methods training, and professional writing.

The Professional Thesis

The professional thesis applies social scientific knowledge and research methods to a concrete problem. This option is designed for those who know from the outset that they wish to use their MACSS thesis as an opportunity to position themselves for a career outside the academy. It is also for those who decide during their MACSS study that they wish to pivot from a scholarly focus to a professional one.

Like the academic thesis, the professional thesis is a demonstration of the skills learned in your coursework at UChicago. And like the academic thesis, the professional thesis is based upon a solid grounding in the scholarly literature, with data that has been rigorously analyzed to reach a set of conclusions.

There are numerous forms a professional thesis might take: a computationally-driven market analysis for a firm; a predictive model to solve a business problem; a computationally-driven policy
brief for a legislator or agency leader; an open-source tool for statistical modeling and evaluation; an audit of an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm for fairness or transparency; or other projects as approved by your preceptor.

Requirements for the Professional Thesis

Your preceptor will serve as the primary reader for the professional thesis, and the project must meet their expectations. The length will vary depending on the kind of project you undertake. Your preceptor will ask you to provide at least one or two examples for the kind of project you intend, and will confirm that a project of that kind is viable for the MA degree.

We encourage you to secure a secondary reader elsewhere on campus or a secondary reader outside the University who is knowledgeable about your thesis topic and the kind of project you
wish to complete. That second reader may be an internship supervisor or a qualified data analyst working in industry.

No matter what form your thesis submission may take, it must be accompanied by a supplemental report consisting of the following two components:

Literature Review (7-10 double-spaced pages)
A critical literature review demonstrating your use of the relevant academic literature on applied problems. Your review should discuss current scholarly understandings of your research question, the disagreements/tensions in that literature, what parts of the research question remain unsettled or poorly understood, what you learned in the aggregate from those scholarly discussions, and how it informed your research.

Evaluation of the Research Design (7-10 double-spaced pages)
A detailed discussion of your data, data collection procedures, and methods of analysis. This discussion should include considerations of the strengths and weaknesses of your research design and what other methods might have been employed.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

Students working with human subjects must complete an Institutional Review Board (IRB) evaluation of their research agenda and research plan. The University provides training workshops that are specifically designed to guide students through this process. If a research
project involves human subjects, training is mandatory. Please see the IRB page for more information.

Other Considerations for the MA Thesis, Both Academic and Professional

For both the academic and the professional thesis, the thesis proposal must be approved by November 10th of your second year. Failure to submit an approved proposal by this deadline will
prevent students from registering for any subsequent academic quarters, until the proposal is submitted.

Students who do not have a faculty reader by January 1 of their second year will be assigned a MACSS reader for the MA thesis.

The November 10 and the January 1 deadlines may be extended for MACSS-Econ students, because of disciplinary differences in bringing faculty readers on board.

All MACSS students who have not completed the MA thesis by 28 months after starting our MA program, forfeit the ability to work with anyone outside of MACSS on the MA thesis and will be automatically assigned a MACSS reader.

All part-time or Reduced Course Load (RCL) students will be assigned a MACSS reader for the MA thesis.

In all cases, when a MACSS reader is assigned, that person will be the sole reader of the MA thesis. The student may no longer formally work with an advisor from outside of the MA
. If a student has a continuing relationship with an advisor from outside of our MA staff, and that person is willing, they may serve in an informal capacity and offer occasional advice on particular sections of the paper. But that person will not submit a grade or thesis evaluation, and they will not be recorded as an official reader of the MA thesis.

Your MACSS reader will provide comments on your proposal and first draft, and submit an evaluation and letter grade for your final draft.

When working with a MACSS reader, as an extended student 24 months past your initial matriculation, please allow a minimum of 5 weeks for comments after you submit your proposal, after you submit your first draft, and after you submit your final thesis evaluation. We will endeavor to get back to you sooner if we can, but our priority will be for current full-time students in the program.