The Master’s Project
All students in the MAIS degree are required to complete a “Master (or Master’s) Project” as the final part of their program. This can take a variety of forms, from a written “thesis-like project” to a website, video, podcast, artwork, map-based project, or other item that reflects a student’s interests, knowledge, and goals for the degree.
The master’s project is typically done as the final step in the MAIS degree, following completion of all coursework, and can take from one semester to a year or more to complete. In terms of credits, students are required to take from three to six credits of IDS 699, Master Project, over the course of their project. This can come all at once (i.e., three credits in one semester) or one or two credits at a time.
The UMaine Graduate School defines the Master Project as “independent work carried out with faculty guidance [that] demonstrates the ability to integrate materials from at least two fields of study.” Project forms, according to the Graduate School, can include:
- Original research in primary resources (e.g., library research and writing);
- A synthesis of materials from several disciplines focused on a specific problem area;
- A field-based study; or
- An original creative work in the arts, music, or literature.
As the MAIS is formally a “non-thesis degree program,” students are highly encouraged to develop projects that move beyond academic research and writing. The use of digital media or other non-traditional forms to convey information is supported, as is the goal of reaching a wide variety of readers, viewers and listeners through web-based and other platforms. Recent projects (see below) reflect this emphasis.
Selecting a Project
Students should choose projects that expand upon the work they have already done in their program, align with their personal and professional interests, and help prepare them for their next steps career-wise (if this is a goal). Of course, there is often a wide range of possible projects that meet these criteria. Here are a few considerations that might help you narrow down your choices, based on the experiences of other students.
- What original ideas have come to you as you worked through the MAIS program? Which of these would you like to explore in more depth? Do you know why?
A project that truly interests and inspires you will help you maintain the energy and focus needed to complete it. This is especially true if the project is based on your own original idea, not someone else’s.
- What skills and knowledge do you already have that would help you with this project? Is there a way to use your existing strengths and simply apply them to a subject of interest?
In general, it is best to choose a project where you either have a skill and want to apply it to a new area, or have some knowledge and want to demonstrate it using a newly learned skill. Learning both a new set of skills and a new subject is often too much to accomplish at this stage.
- How much time do you want to spend on this project? This question really has two parts: (1) how much of your life are you able and willing to dedicate to the project, and (2) when do you want to finish?
It is best to do something highly feasible within your work and home schedule, and something that can be completed in one or two semesters. Going beyond that is unnecessary and a recipe for failure. Also keep in mind the following: a three-credit course normally involves about 150 hours of work. Three credits of IDS 699 (the minimum) should be like a one-semester class—not many months or years of work on your project.
- What project would you be proud of as the culminating feature of your master’s degree? If it becomes necessary, could you shave down your project and still be proud of it?
It is always good to have a Plan B, and for many students this means choosing a project that can be adjusted as needed. Previous students have slimmed down or cut chapters, reduced the number of case studies, and otherwise found ways to cut down on their work while still having meaningful projects.
Keep in mind that this is a master’s degree, not a doctorate. And this is a non-thesis program. It is best to keep your expectations reasonable. You can always continue work on your project later, such as editing a paper to submit to a journal for publication, or adding material to a website in the future. For some students the master’s project serves as a roadblock to finishing their degree. It is better to choose a project you feel comfortable with and are confident you can carry out in a timely manner.
Past Master’s Projects
Master’s projects that Maine Studies students have completed in recent years include the following. Click on the links to review the projects.
- ‘Absolute Equality for Women in Law and Custom’: Gail Laughlin’s Fight for Gender Equality in the Maine Legislature [TLP*] – Phyllis H. vonHerrlich, 2010
- A Change Occurring: The Evolving Relationship Among Archaeologists and Wabanakis in Maine [TLP] – Rosemary A. Cyr, 2012
- Maine Crab: A Study of the Fishery with an Emphasis on Crab Picking [TLP] – Blossom Kravitz, 2013
- Family Ties and Cultural Persistence in the Little Italy of Portland, Maine [TLP] – Jamie Carter, 2014
- Public Art and Public Education: Controversy and Connections [TLP] – Stephanie Spruce Leonard, 2014
- On Becoming a Homesteader [TLP] – Tasha Raymond, 2015
- Service-Learning as an ESL Course Component [TLP] – Erin-Kate Souza, 2015
- Effect of 9/11 on a Borderlands Community: Fort Kent, Maine, and Clair, New Brunswick [TLP] – Lisa Lavoie, 2015
- Maine Literature 101: A Course for High School Seniors [curriculum proposal] – Courtney Hawkes, 2017
- Exploring Best Practices of Alternative Education in Maine [professional report] – Christopher Betts, 2020
- Mainescéal.org: A Forum for Irish Studies in Maine [conference PPT] – Paula Sheehan-Kopp, 2020
- Molly Ockett as a Folkloric Figure [map-based website] – Brandan Roberts, 2020
- The Places We Become Maine [web-based ebook for artists] – Jessica Hamilton-Jones, 2021
- My Contribution to Art & Culture [podcast about Maine humor] – Mary Holt, 2021
- A Concealment Shoe as Ritualistic Grieving Gesture [TLP] – Anne Bardaglio, 2021
*The abbreviation TLP stands for “thesis-like-project,” which is what the Graduate School calls written final projects in the non-thesis MAIS degree. They follow the same format and guidelines as a formal thesis, including an oral defense. See the section below for more information.
The “Thesis” Option
Technically, the MAIS is a “non-thesis program,” which means that students complete a master’s project rather than a traditional written thesis. All students are accepted into the program initially as non-thesis students. Those who eventually choose to complete a thesis must go through additional steps to gain the approval of the Maine Studies Program and the Graduate School. Students in the Maine Studies track are strongly encouraged to consider non-thesis options for their master’s projects. This will generally make the process of completing the degree easier and faster. It will also allow them to explore formats, such as web-based projects, that could reach a much greater audience and thus have more public impact.
In rare cases, exceptional students with excellent research and writing skills, as determined by the MES Coordinator in consultation with several instructors, are permitted to prepare a “thesis-like project.” Those who do must follow all Graduate School guidelines for a master’s thesis, as well as the Maine Studies guidelines described below. Required steps include forming a committee, developing a proposal that the committee approves, completing the thesis, and giving an oral presentation and defense.
While writing a thesis might be useful for some MAIS graduates, very few actually need to do so at this point in their careers. MAIS students have opportunities to write papers as part of their coursework, and these can often be used as writing samples should the need arise in a job search or academic application. It is also worth thinking about how strong your writing and organizational skills are, not to mention your available time and energy, and whether writing a 75-100 page thesis is feasible. A master’s thesis is not the place to build new research or writing skills. If you do not already have those in place, it is best to consider other options.
Because of its stringent requirements, and the additional work required of the advisor and committee members, a thesis will only be approved for students who have already demonstrated a high quality of writing, successful completion (B- or higher) of all prior courses, and strong grades (generally a 3.5 or higher GPA) throughout their MAIS career. A student’s previous instructors will often be asked to comment on their writing skills and other qualities. Please note that having one or more Incomplete grades on your transcript, or one or more C+ or lower grades, will generally disqualify you from the thesis option.
Use of Previous Work
Some academic programs frown upon students using work they did in their classes when preparing their master’s project or thesis. In light of the goals of the Maine Studies program to help students work toward completion of their degrees in a timely manner, and to build their knowledge of subject matter along the way, we do not take such a rigid position. Students may use research and writing done previously to inform their master’s project, and even (with permission of their advisor) as part of that project. This is especially true when students have completed “directed study” courses (MES 598, etc.) as part of their Program of Study. In such cases, students have often done work on an area that interests them, thereby laying the groundwork for further study in the master’s project.
In most cases, students may draw upon bibliographies and original research from earlier courses in their master’s project. However, this may make up no more than one-third of the master’s project. In cases where students have taken a Maine Studies or other graduate-level course and written formal papers, permission to use such material (or portions of it) in the master’s project should be approved by the advisor/committee.
The request to use prior material should be made in the proposal for the master’s project (see below). The applicant should note whether they are requesting to use part of one or more papers, a list of references, original data, or other parts of courses in their project. In some cases, instructors of those courses might be contacted for input.
IDS 699 – Master Project in Interdisciplinary Studies
This is the course you will register for while completing your master’s project. You can take it for 1-3 credits in Fall, Spring or Summer. The MAIS degree requires a minimum of three credits and a maximum of six credits of IDS 699 in total. If you cannot finish your project after six credits, you may continue taking one credit at a time until you are done. However, no more than six credits total may be used for the degree. One of these credits may be for INT 601, Responsible Conduct of Research (see below), but you will still need at least three credits of IDS 699.
Registering for IDS 699 requires that a student has a master’s project topic that has been approved by the MES coordinator, and has completed most other degree requirements. Needing to take one or two more 3-credit courses for the degree is fine, but more than that is not possible. So in short, you should be within 9-12 credits of your degree before taking your first IDS 699 credits. This usually means that you have about one year to go in the program. In some cases, students do their IDS 699 credits after they have finished all other courses, meaning that they can technically finish in one semester (three credits max). That takes planning and discipline.
Many students find it difficult to stay on track when working by themselves on their projects. For this reason, in most semesters there will be regular check-ins via Zoom or other distance technology, where all students in IDS 699 report on their progress. Cohorts (small groups) will be set up to foster discussion and feedback with the instructor and fellow students. This model has proven effective in helping students set short-term goals and complete their master’s projects, usually within two semesters.
If you have reached the stage in your degree where you feel you are ready to begin your master’s project and register for IDS 699, start by contacting the Maine Studies Coordinator. They will review your academic history to make sure you are indeed at this stage of your program. They will also help you with the master’s project proposal and other needed steps. In order to allow time for proposal review and class registration, you should begin this process the semester before the one in which you plan to start your project.
Master’s Project Proposal
All master’s projects begin with the proposal. To expedite and simplify this process, a proposal form has been created. All MAIS students in the Maine Studies track must complete this form and submit it to the Coordinator of the MES Program the semester before they intend to begin work on their project. The Coordinator will give feedback, suggest revisions, and finally (once all changes have been made) give approval to register for IDS 699.
Your proposal will serve as your guide for completion of the project. Forethought and planning are vital to completing your project in a timely manner. Once approved, any deviation from the project as described in the proposal must be approved by the Coordinator.
To go to the page with the proposal form, click HERE. To prevent spamming, this page is password protected. Contact the Maine Studies Coordinator for the password. This will also ensure that you have the chance to speak with them about your plans before submitting your proposal.
Approval for Your Project
All master’s projects need to be approved by the MES Coordinator, and eventually by your committee. Your proposed master’s project should be part of your formal Program of Study, which must be submitted following completion of your first 12 credits in the MAIS degree. Proposing a thesis-like project (see above) requires a revised Program of Study that describes the topic and title and lists all members of an advisory committee. It also requires following all of the Graduate School’s guidelines for preparation and defense of a thesis or dissertation, which can be found HERE.