Masters Thesis

Why a thesis?

If you are in the masters program and enjoy doing research, you should consider doing a masters thesis. For one, it is a publication and other people can build on it. Also, a thesis may make sense if you are planning on getting into the PhD program eventually. It shows that you can do research, as opposed to being just a smart person; you may be able to publish a paper or two along the way, which improves your application further; you don't need to take quite as many classes since you are doing a thesis; and it helps you find out whether you enjoy doing research on your own, before committnig to a PhD.

A masters thesis is roughly equivalent to a Phd Proposal in the amount of work, results, and writeup (except that it does not have quite as much "future work" in it). Take a look at some of the previous NN MS theses to see what is involved; there are a number of them under our publications pages.


The thesis usually takes about two semesters to do. You need one semester to get up to speed with the project, and the other one to get results and to write it up. Writing the first draft takes a couple of weeks of nearly dedicated time. We start by agreeing on an outline (in Overleaf, following the general outline for papers and theses. A thesis is a big document, so it is best to work on chunks of chapters, while adding notes to the other parts as you think about what to include in them. After you are done with the first draft each chunk, I will read it and comment on it, and we usually go through a couple of iterations before we call it done. After that, you'll give it to a second reader (another faculty member, either in CS or in another department) who will also read it and suggest some (usually minor) changes. These iterations take time, so you should plan on finishing the first draft a couple of weeks before the deadline.

To officially get a degree during a given semester, you have until the last day of classes to file the thesis. If you miss the filing deadline, you have to register for the following semester and pay full fees (except at the end of the summer there's a period when you can file "in absentia", i.e. until the start of the Fall semester).

BTW, it is a very bad idea to start a job before finishing up the thesis. What would take a couple of weeks to do before you leave may take a couple of years after you've started the new job. Yes, a couple of years--it has happened several times and still keeps happening. Don't think you are immune to it---finish before you start, you'll be a lot happier.

Masters without a thesis

In our department, you can also get a Masters degree (MS) just by taking classes. If you are in the PhD program already, there's really no use for this degree. If you are a TA or an RA, your salary will go up when you advance to candidacy; MS has no effect. You will have to take a few more classes for the MS than are required for PhD, and those classes take time away from research. So you should only consider the MS if you will be taking those classes anyway.

Last modified: Sun Sep 25 15:24:36 PDT 2022