Category Archives: ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial (how to register for it and other useful info)

If Spring is to be Your Last Semester, It’s Time to Think about 599

Those needing to take ENGL 599 in the spring (meaning, those for whom the spring semester will be their last in the program) take note:

You enroll in 599 in a different way than you do for any other class (process detailed here). The first step of the process is securing a thesis mentor. The way you secure a mentor is by thinking about which professor in the program you would like to lead your 599 thesis tutorial, and then contacting that professor to ask. That’s it. It is normal for professors to field 599 mentoring requests, so don’t be worried that you are imposing by asking. Professors are almost invariably grateful to be asked, and I don’t think any of us ever say no, so it’s almost certain that your preferred professor will say yes. Read the full 599 instructions in the linked post above, and as always let me know if you have any questions at

ENGL 599 students take note: Front-End Format for the final Thesis Paper

Students currently working on their 599 thesis papers this fall semester, please take note. Although the thesis paper follows MLA style in elements like quoting and citing, and the Works Cited, the front-end of the final draft of your paper is to be done differently. Click here to see a PDF of the way the front of the paper needs to be formatted. You can’t actually manipulate that PDF, it’s provided here only as a format-locked view of how the front of the final draft of your thesis should look. Click here to access a Word (.docx) template which you can manipulate and use when formatting the final draft of your thesis paper. Formatting of the .docx might break when opened in different versions of word-processing software, and across different computer platforms. So after opening it, check the format of the .docx template against the PDF and adjust as necessary so that the final draft of your paper looks correct.

Note that only the final draft of your thesis requires this special format.

The easiest way to use the .docx template is to copy and paste your thesis into the appropriate place (the fourth page, which is the first regularly-numbered page: this will make sense once you look at the actual template). Be sure to complete the necessary fields in brackets [ ] on the title page (the paper title, your name, the date). Do nothing on the faculty signature page. Replace the text on the acknowledgement page with whatever you want; and if you don’t want to put anything there you can just leave the page blank. Then on the fourth page, which again is the first regularly-numbered page, make sure you’ve put your last name into the [Last Name] field in the top-right corner.

You do not have to use the actual .docx template and can just re-create this front-end format on your own, if you know how to, and if it’s easier for you to do so (using page-breaks and other tools to create different sections and headers in your own document). Just make sure that the final draft of the thesis paper that you send to your mentor is formatted as you see in the PDF linked above. If you have any questions speak to your mentor and/or email me at

Let’s talk about assessment, and how we assess your final 599 thesis paper.

Some of you in the program are already teachers or are employed in fields of education in other ways. If you are, you probably know that American education has become overrun at every level by the current trend, “assessment.” While the basic idea of assessment, the connotation you probably get from reading that word, is something everyone in education has always done–we do it when we give you a grade for any paper or class–this new type of assessment I’m talking about is something very different, very specific, and very difficult to apply to less-linear studies such as of art, music, philosophy–and literature. This new type of assessment involves a reductionist view of what education actually is–one in which students produce “data” which we can presumably “measure” against a set of “learning outcomes” and by which we can then determine whether or not you are “learning.”

That concept works great in many disciplines (math, physics, etc) but less so in others. I and many of my colleagues teaching in the humanities have a hard time seeing your insights, explications, analyses and expressions of such as “data” which can be measured against some fixed yardstick. Many of us harbor a much more complex and varied notion of what learning actually is, of what is actually taking place over the course of your literary studies (and we believe that these things will be diverse and different for each of you, are not able to be homogenized.) Well no matter what I or any of my like-minded colleagues think about it, this type of rigid assessment is something we have to do now because our accrediting body demands it. As a result, over the past year or two we faculty have had to come up with a program assessment structure, a fixed “yardstick” to use to measure whether or not you, our graduate students, are learning, in the sense that our accreditors define the term.

We’ve tried then to appease that directive while also creating a structure that respects diversity and difference, that respects the irreducible complexity and variety of literature, literary studies, learning; that respects you. First, we devised a set of “student learning outcomes” (or SLOs) which we tried to word in a way that both focus in on the things we want you to accomplish during your MA study, while remaining unfocused enough to allow for a variety of ways that you might address (and we might assess) each outcome. So here’s what we came up with as the five SLOs for the program, meaning the things that we hope you’ll all be able to demonstrate by the time you complete the program:

  1. Students will demonstrate critical thinking and interpretive skills reflecting knowledge and comprehension of important British literary texts.
  2. Students will demonstrate critical thinking and interpretive skills reflecting knowledge and comprehension of important American literary text.
  3. Students will demonstrate critical thinking and interpretive skills reflecting an awareness of theoretical trends and criticism.
  4. Students will demonstrate knowledge of some of the literary traditions, and/or cultural situations, and /or historical eras from which the literature referenced in SLO1, SLO2, and SLO3 emerged.
  5. Students will create original research topics, research primary and secondary sources on those topics using digital databases, and produce writings on those topics which demonstrate clear grammatical prose and accurate style.

Then, we had to come up with a way to measure these five SLOs against every student to determine if students are meeting these by the the end of the MA program. We created a rubric which we now use to “assess” papers written in the program’s final course, ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial. Mentors and second readers now complete the rubric for each 599 paper at the end of each semester. We file the completed rubrics with a copy of the thesis paper. Eventually our accreditors will come around as they periodically do and when they do we’ll point to the filing cabinet as proof that program assessment is taking place. Students can ask their 599 mentors to show them the completed rubric for their 599 papers. But hopefully your mentor will have made clear whatever strengths and weaknesses your 599 paper showed during the feedback and mentoring process of the 599 tutorial. Nothing you might see on the rubric should be a surprise.

Now because this rubric will be held against every 599 thesis paper, each of you should be aware of what it looks like now, even if you’re in your first semester here. This way you can be aware of the sorts of things we’ll be looking at in the 599 paper and can work on developing these things in your courses leading up to 599. Click here to see the rubric.


How to register for the ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial

Anyone getting close to the end of the MA program needs to start thinking about the ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial. Let’s look at some basic points about what it is, what you have to do to enroll in it, and what you do once in it:

  • The course is a three credit course and is a requirement for the 30 credit MA degree.
  • The course is always taken during whatever you intend to be your final semester in the program.
  • The course is actually a one-on-one tutorial between one student and one professor, during which the student must write one 25 page thesis paper on a topic of her or his choice operating under the guidance of the mentor.
  • To pass your course your thesis paper must receive final approval from your mentor and from a second reader, appointed by your mentor. Both the mentor and second reader might request or require revisions to your thesis paper during the course of the seminar semester.
  • You enroll in 599 using a different process than for any other course in the MA program:
  1. First, during the semester prior to your final semester, think up a general topic or idea for your thesis and write it down. Your thesis topic can be based on a paper written for another course earlier in the program; you can even use that paper as the first draft for your thesis paper.
  2. Contact any professor in the program and ask the professor if he or she would be your Thesis Tutorial mentor. Include your general topic idea with your request. If s/he says yes, you will then work up a more formal thesis proposal with that mentor; If your selected professor cannot mentor you, you can either ask another professor or can contact me and I will assign you to a mentor.
  3. In the meantime, be aware that all students must take and pass the program’s Comprehensive Exam in the time between the penultimate and ultimate semester in the program. So while you’re developing your thesis proposal with your mentor, also start thinking about the Comp Exam which you must request from the Director upon completing your penultimate semester. Students must complete their Comp Exam before beginning their 599. Those taking 599 in the summer or fall can request the exam when the spring semester ends; those taking 599 in the spring can request the exam when the fall semester ends. The program director typically keeps track of these things and sends out the comp exams to students about to take 599; but own your education, and be responsible for your timing: it is ultimately your responsibility to request the exam of the Director at the correct time.
  4. Once you have developed a formal thesis proposal under the mentor’s guidance, and once the mentor deems it acceptable, the mentor will contact me and I will automatically enroll you in a 599 course with the mentor as professor. It is therefore impossible to be “closed out” of a 599 as each is opened on an individual basis. The only way a student who needs to be in 599 Thesis Tutorial might not get into one is if the student doesn’t do these four steps in a timely enough fashion to have this all settled by the start of the final semester. So plan ahead. As always, contact me directly if you have any questions about any of this.