Master's Thesis

Although not required, students pursuing an MS degree, especially those interested in eventually pursuing a PhD or entering a research-intensive career, are encouraged to complete a Master's Thesis as part of their MS studies. The option to complete a thesis is open to all students pursuing one of the MS degree programs administered by the ECE Department.

The thesis option is intended to familiarize a student with the techniques for guiding an entire project and to develop a student's creativity in solving real problems. An academic research thesis generally involves more than an industrial project in that the goal is not merely to solve the specific problem but also to understand its relevance to previous work and to the discipline in which one is working. It is expected that the thesis work will represent an advance in understanding of the state-of-the-art and that it will be suitable for publication in an engineering journal or for inclusion as part of a more comprehensive publication. The thesis generally takes a considerable amount of time and effort, with successful completion of the entire process taking more than a year's time.

Finding a Supervising Professor

One of the first steps that need to be taken by a student interested in completing a thesis is to establish a connection with a supervising professor. A supervising professor is a faculty member who will provide guidance to the student throughout the research and thesis preparation process. This foundational step needs to be undertaken as early in a student's tenure in the degree program as possible to afford the student sufficient time for completion of the necessary research as well as thesis creation, defense, and submission in accordance with departmental and university policies and procedures.

Because the topic of the thesis must be relevant to the degree program the student is completing, supervising professors are typically from among the faculty of the ECE Department; however, it is also possible for a student to complete a degree-relevant thesis under the direction of a member of the faculty of another university academic department or research center with the approval of the graduate advisors.

Before the process of finding a supervising professor can begin, it is important for a student to identify a general area in which the student is interested in undertaking a thesis. The thesis completion process will take a substantial amount of work and personal commitment on the part of the student outside of the normal coursework required to complete the degree program. Therefore it is important that a student pursue thesis research in an an area of personal interest in order to maintain the motivation necessary to reach completion of the thesis.

Once a general area of interest is selected, the student should begin identifying specific faculty members with whom the student may be interested in working. To assist with this activity, the ECE Department has available lists of both departmental faculty members and laboratories broken down by general areas of research focus and interests in the research section of the departmental website. Depending on the area of interest, students may also wish to explore the possibility of working with a faculty member from another university academic department or research center. Many of these units have similar resources available on their websites; students interested in this possibility should avail themselves of these resources.

While establishing this connection is the foundational step in the thesis process, it can be a difficult one. Because of this, the graduate advisors suggest students who are seriously interested in pursuing the thesis option undertake the following activities during their first and second terms in the program in order to prepare for approaching a faculty member about the possibility of completing a thesis under said faculty member's guidance:

  • Familiarize oneself with the research interests, activities and past publications of a potential supervising professor. Good resources for this type of information include the faculty member's departmental profile, the faculty member's professional website, the websites of laboratories with which the faculty member is affiliated, and publications accessible to Drexel University students through the university library.
  • Read recent research publications in the chosen area of interest in order to familiarize oneself with the state-of-the-art in the field as well as with the structure of scholarly publication.
  • Select coursework in the chosen area of interest, ideally course taught by a potential supervising professor if available. Even if a potential supervising professor is not the instructor for said courses, taking courses in the chosen area of interest may increase the chances of a student finding specific topics of interest, connecting with alternative potential supervising professors, and identifying potential research opportunities.
  • Attend seminars and lectures in the chosen area of interest offered by the ECE Department; other Drexel departments and centers; and other local universities, research centers, and professional organizations. These seminars and lectures provide opportunities for exposure to cutting edge research as well as for networking with others with similar research interests.
  • Prepare a CV and statement of research interest. Between these two documents, a student should state the area of research interest, be able to demonstrate any prior knowledge of the area of research interest, and highlight any personal assets the student feels would be beneficial in a researcher.

Consenting to advise a student's thesis research is a large time commitment for a faculty member, who often has many other teaching, research, administrative, and personal obligations with which to contend. Faculty members will not enter into this relationship lightly. In light of this, students should keep the following advice in mind when contacting and meeting with potential supervising professors:

  • Contact the faculty member as early as possible.
  • Allow at least a week for a response to an inquiry, if made by email or phone, before reaching out to the faculty member again to ensure the inquiry was received.
  • When making initial contact with a potential supervising professor, make sure to provide a current CV and statement of research interest, if the mode of communication allows.
  • If attending a prearranged meeting with a potential supervising professor make every effort to arrive early and be prepared. Remember to bring any materials for which the faculty members has asked, along with a current CV and statement of research interest just in case.
  • Above all else, be courteous.

If you have taken the steps outlined above and are still having trouble identifying potential faculty members to approach as potential supervising professors, please contact the graduate advisors.

Thesis Defense and Submission

In order for a thesis to be accepted, the student is required to present and defend the results of the thesis research in a departmental seminar, an MS thesis defense. Acceptance of a thesis by the ECE Department, based on the quality of thesis and its defense, is decided by an MS thesis defense committee. An MS thesis defense committee will consist of three or more faculty members, including the supervising professor(s). From among the committee members, one ECE Department faculty member who is not the supervising professor shall serve as the Thesis Chair. The Thesis Chair is responsible for submission of the completed MS Thesis Oral Defense Committee Report to the graduate advisors.

Defense and Submission Timeline

Successful defense and submission of a thesis requires students to fulfill a variety of important reporting requirements. Planning to meet all of these within the guidelines set out by both university and departmental policies can be difficult. In order to assist students in this planning process, the graduate advisors have compiled the following table to place these important steps for thesis defense and submission within the context of time. This table should serve as a general outline to help guide students to successful completion of the necessary reporting requirements and activities.

Timeframe Required Action(s)
Four weeks prior to thesis defense Student should complete the MS Thesis Oral Defense Committee Appointment and Schedule [PDF]. The completed form, including the signatures of the student and supervising professor(s), should be submitted to the graduate advisors.

Please note that a student must successfully defend a thesis prior to the last day of term in which the student has applied for graduation in order to be considered for graduation clearance; however, for Spring Quarter graduates, an earlier deadline may be set for thesis defense for students wishing to have thesis information printed in the formal commencement program.
Two weeks prior to thesis defense Student should complete and submit the MS Thesis Defense Announcement Submission Form.

Student should submit a bound physical copy of the current draft of the thesis for display in the ECE Department office to the graduate advisors.
Day of thesis defense Student should bring a copy of the MS Thesis Oral Defense Committee Report [PDF] to the defense.

Student should bring a copy of the Dissertation/Thesis Approval Form [PDF] to the defense.
Within one business day of thesis defense completion Thesis Chair should, with the assistance of the MS thesis defense committee members, complete the MS Thesis Oral Defense Committee Report [PDF]. The completed form, including indication of the defense results and the signatures of all committee members, should be submitted to the graduate advisors.
One week before thesis submission Student should submit a PDF of the final draft of the thesis to the graduate advisors.

Student should finalize the Graduate Program Completion Form [PDF]. The completed form, including the signatures of the student and supervising professor(s), should be submitted to the graduate advisors.

Student should submit the completed Dissertation/Thesis Approval Form, including the signatures of the Thesis Chair and all thesis defense committee members, to the graduate advisors.
By the end of the first week of the quarter following successful thesis defense Student should submit the final thesis to ProQuest, following the procedures available on the university library's Thesis and Dissertation Submission page.

Once the document has been submitted to ProQuest, the confirmation confirmation received and the thesis approval form should be submitted to the Graduate College for final approval and processing.

Effects on Program Planning

Completing a thesis can have significant impacts on the program planning process, including the need to integrate any mandatory changes in curricular requirements for degree completion and to allot the necessary time for performing research, writing the thesis, and preparing for a thesis defense. Most often students will replace a portion of the coursework required for completion of a particular degree program with academic credit for research performed under the guidance of the supervising professor.

Learn more about graduate student-initiated courses

The following links can be used to access the curricular requirements for each of the MS degree programs that the ECE Department administers, including information about how research-intensive courses fit into the curricular requirements for said degree and if any changes to the curricular requirements are necessary for participation in the thesis option.