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MS Thesis Proposal Information for Cronin's Students

When I was a student in the Center for Tectonophysics at Texas A&M University, students were required to develop and present a research proposal by the end of their first semester. This requirement was known as the "research evaluation." The research proposal did not have to be (and generally was not) related to the research topic the student would pursue for thesis research -- it was simply intended to demonstrate that the student understood how to develop and present a research proposal. Students developed this proposal without significant (or, usually, any) input from a faculty member.

The graduate student who scheduled his doctoral research evaluation just ahead of me had earned BS and MS degrees from very good geology programs, and his father was a very well known professor of structural geology. The student was a very likable person who was also quite intelligent. He had every apparent advantage going into the research evaluation; nonetheless, he did not pass the research evaluation and so he had to leave the program. (He later earned his doctorate at another institution, and subsequently became a professor of structural geology.) In the words of my advisor, who was also on the research evaluation committee of the failed student just described, "talk is cheap, but all that really matters is what you actually do."

At Baylor, the proposal defense can either result in a "pass" allowing the student to pursue the proposed research project, a "fail" that causes the student to leave the program, or one "retake" in which the student is given a second and last chance to successfully propose a thesis research project.

A "pass" is not given by default -- it must be earned. As noted at the beginning of my web resource about graduate theses (, "One quite possible outcome of any student's time in the MS graduate program at Baylor is that no graduate degree will be awarded. The most common reason for this outcome is that the student did not produce an acceptable thesis document."

Before the proposal defense

  1. You and your advisor agree on the membership of your thesis committee, in accordance with applicable published rules and procedures (
  2. You download the departmental "Thesis/Special Problem Proposal Form" from and complete the form in collaboration with your advisor
  3. After your advisor has approved the content of the form,
  4. Develop an effective proposal presentation in collaboration with your advisor. Whether you are successful in defending your thesis proposal is your (the student's) responsibility alone.
  5. At the agreed-upon day & time, make a 10-minute public presentation of your proposal to your thesis committee. After your presentation, you are required to respond effectively to whatever questions your committee members may have about your proposed research and your preparation/ability to complete that research successfully. In addition to defending the research ideas and plans, you must be able to convince your thesis committee that you are capable of completing the research project.

Suggestions for your presentation

  1. Write a script for your 10-minute presentation. Make sure that EVERY ELEMENT of that script is correct and written in proper standard English. Have your advisor read and approve the script. Then PRACTICE the scripted presentation MANY, MANY TIMES OUT LOUD. Practice your delivery in front of other graduate students. Memorize the script. On the day of the presentation, bring the script with you, printed in 18 point font so that you can read from it in low light.
  2. At least one day before the defense, load your presentation file on the computer that you will use in the actual presentation, attached to the projector you will use in the actual presentation, and practice your presentation in the same room in which your proposal defense will be held. Have a full copy of your presentation on a thumb drive on the day of the presentation, just in case.
  3. You should use the Arial font in your presentation -- ~84 point for titles and no smaller than 48 point (56 preferred) for text or bullet points. If the text anywhere on a slide is too small for your committee members to read, it is too small to be included on the slide.
  4. Do not use a distracting background for a "powerpoint" slide. DO use a pleasant subdued color that contrasts strongly with the font color as a background. Black background with white print is better than white background with black print, but neither is as good as light blue background with dark blue or black print.
  5. Never include an irrelevant slide -- one that you say "you don't need to read all of this" or "I know you can't see the detail on this slide"
  6. If an illustration is not clear on a slide, redraft the illustration so that it is clear.
  7. Picture slides (photos, clear illustrations) are better than word slides in short presentations. Slides with many words are almost never effective.
  8. Unless it is absolutely necessary for emphasis, do not force the audience to read the words on a slide.
  9. If you use someone else's illustrations, data, models, etc. in a slide, provide an adequate reference attribution on the slide. If you have such references in your presentation, have the full reference citation available on paper for any member of the audience who wants to find the reference.

Note that a "Master of Science" degree is traditionally a degree that certifies that you have mastered your subject to the extent that you can teach it. Many instructors in community colleges have earned Masters degrees as their highest degree. If you cannot effectively communicate your research idea and your plan for addressing the research problem, you will have demonstrated that it is not appropriate to award you a Masters degree in our science.

General outline of a 10-minute oral presentation of a research proposal

Your proposal must be presented in the order outlined below.
Also refer to the Generic Thesis Outline resources at
  1. (1 title slide) Title of proposed research, and identity of the investigator
  2. (1-2 slides) What is the problem to be addressed?
  3. (1 slide) Why is this problem important
  4. (1 slide) Purpose -- You MUST have a sentence in your presentation/script that begins "The purpose of my research is to" (solve the problem)
  5. (2-3 slides) Methods you will use to collect & analyze data and to solve the problem
  6. (1 slide) What is your timeline for completion?
  7. (1 slide) Budget: How much will it cost and what have you done (or intend to do) to secure funding?
  8. (1 slide) Questions?

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