The Program of Study
The Program of Study (POS) is each individual student’s plan to complete the MAIS degree. There is an actual POS form to complete and file with the Graduate School, which is described below. In a larger sense, the Program of Study allows the student to envision their degree and plan for the various steps needed. Completing a draft version as early as possible is a useful exercise. The following are detailed instructions for doing so.
Table of Contents
Click the links to go to sections below.
All MAIS students are required to complete a “Program of Study” (POS) that outlines their plan for completing the degree. The POS includes the list of courses they plan to take, the topic for their master’s project, and other information. This is a requirement of the Graduate School, not just the Maine Studies Program. They are the ones who will hold onto the POS and must approve and record any changes made to it during the student’s degree program.
As a first step, students in the MAIS should go to the Graduate School’s website and read what they have to say about the Program of Study. The link to that page is HERE. The direct link to the Program of Study form is here. In the event of any discrepancy between what they say about the POS and the information below, it is the Graduate School’s version that will take precedence.
The Program of Study is a student’s plan for completing their graduate degree. It is used by all graduate departments and programs at the University of Maine. It lists all the pertinent information about the degree, including the name of the degree, any concentration (if applicable), and so on. Each student then lists the courses they plan to take (or have already taken), the topic of their thesis or project, and the names of their advisory committee members. Some of this information might not be known until the end of the degree, while other information (like degree requirements) is known right away.
The POS basically acts like a contract between the student and the Graduate School. For the Graduate School it is an ongoing reference document, helping them to track each student’s progress. For the student, it is a way to plan their academic careers and make decisions regarding courses, committee members, and other parts of their degree. It is also their first chance to outline their proposed master’s project. (For more information on that part of the degree, please click HERE.)
According to the Graduate School website, the Program of Study should be filled out before the student completes their 12th credit of graduate coursework. They do not specify whether or not this includes transfer credits. A safe assumption is that it does, so you should plan to complete and submit the POS by the time you have 12 credits total (including transfer credits) toward the MAIS degree. This is usually in your second year in the program, but could come sooner.
While the Graduate School will still accept a POS after that, having one on record is important, so please submit it as soon as possible in your graduate career. There is also a form for modifying the POS, which is described below. Most MAIS Programs of Study do get revised during the degree program. A final version will get submitted along with your Completion of Degree Requirements form, filled out by your Advisor.
The POS and applying to the MAIS Degree
In past years, students had to submit a draft Program of Study at the time they applied to the MAIS degree. More recently, and for the Maine Studies track in particular, this is no longer a requirement. However, in some places online you might still find this listed as a requirement of the application process. You can ignore such information. As noted earlier, though, doing a draft version for planning purposes is a good idea, and can be done before applying or in your first or second semester in the program.
The Program of Study form is only two pages, one of which is the list of your planned courses. The first page contains all other information, such as project topic, committee members, etc. The problem is that the POS form covers all graduate degrees at UMaine, and some of the information is not applicable to the MAIS degree. So it can be a bit confusing to fill out.
We have created pages that show you what you need to complete, and how to answer some of the questions. You can see those by clicking on the links below. All sections in yellow highlighter need to be completed by you. Where there are red arrows, those sections should be competed exactly as shown. Where the text is in italics, those are instructions to you. This is just a model; you will actually fill out the POS form available on the Graduate School website.
A few notes as you complete the document:
- In the Field of Studies space, write “Interdisciplinary Studies.”
- Under Concentration, write “Maine Studies.”
- Write the Program Requirements exactly as they are on the sample.
- Complete all other sections on page one as shown.
- For Course Work (p. 2), the first draft will contain your best guess of the classes you will take. This can be revised later.
After you have completed the POS form, send it via email attachment to the Maine Studies Coordinator. Their contact information, if you do not already have it, is found in the Contact Us section of this website. They will sign the form and send it along to the Graduate School.
At this stage in your degree, you might not yet have a clear idea for a master’s project. But the POS form requires that you have a title and a brief synopsis of a project, even if it changes later. This is actually a good time to do this, as you should have about half of your coursework left to complete, and the choice of topic for your project will help determine which courses you take. For further considerations on what makes a good topic for a Maine Studies master’s project, along with examples from former students, please go to this page.
On the POS form there is a place to indicate whether you have already completed “responsible conduct of research training,” and whether your project has been approved by the university’s Human/Animal Subjects Review Committee. The following paragraphs explain these items.
Any student who intends to conduct research with human (or animal) subjects must complete a Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training course at UMaine. It is also required for all “thesis students,” regardless of their research topic. The most popular and straightforward course for this training is INT 601, Responsible Conduct of Research, a one-credit, four-week online course offered several times each semester. There are other options, however, including several three-credit courses in different subject areas that meet the RCR requirements. More information on this requirement, and the list of approved courses to meet it, can be found here.
Depending on the nature of their research, students might also need to complete a CITI training course, which certifies them to conduct research with human subjects. They might also need to get approval for their project from the university’s Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB), which oversees research to ensure that it meets all legal and ethical standards, such as informed consent. This can be a time-consuming and laborious process, and typically needs several months to complete.
The best approach we have found to these extensive requirements is, simply, not to do human subjects research. This means not collecting generalizable data that can be used to draw scientific conclusions about people, especially ones who are still alive (but possibly others too). Interestingly, oral history is now seen as a special category that is largely exempt from IRB approval, although you will still likely need to complete an RCR training course. If you want to know more about this complex subject, there are plenty of resources on this page.
As for the POS form, our strong recommendation is to select a master’s project that would fall safely outside of the definition of and guidelines for human subjects research. Then select “N/A” for these two items on the form. If you do intend to conduct such research, then select either “Yes” or “No” based on whether you have done the RCR training yet. You can change this on the final version of the POS form if needed.
According to the rules of the Graduate School, MAIS students need a three-person advisory committee. In the Maine Studies track, this committee is chaired by the MES Program Coordinator, who also serves as your primary Advisor. That leaves you with two more people you need to recruit. The POS form requires that you list these two people along with the chair. While there is a place for their signatures, these are not really needed (other than the chair’s) for the preliminary POS. At the end of your program, all of the committee members will sign a final POS, along with a statement approving your master’s project. This page has some guidelines and suggestions for selecting (and getting the support of) potential committee members.
One part of the POS is a list of all the courses you intend to take for your degree, and in what order. Unfortunately, this is not easy to fill out early in your degree. There are several reasons for this:
- Student interests change over time, and they are likely to modify their planned coursework during their careers. This is especially true in an interdisciplinary program like MAIS, which pulls courses from multiple departments.
- In the Maine Studies track of the MAIS, there are only two required courses (MES 501 and MES 601). This is very different from highly structured degrees like the MBA, where students have limited electives available to them.
- There is no master plan of graduate courses at the university stating which ones will be offered a year or more out. Most departments only make their course schedules available a month or two before registration for the next semester. And not all courses listed in the graduate catalog are offered on a regular basis, or are available online.
- The MAIS degree is interdisciplinary, and students take courses from multiple departments. So even if Maine Studies, for example, could tell its students which courses would be offered in the next 2-3 years, other departments might not have this information available.
The bottom line here is that the list of courses you will include on your POS is really just a “best guess” based on your early interests, and what your advisor can tell you. The list will no doubt be modified over time. The Graduate School knows this, which is why they also have a Change in Program of Study form. It is generally best to wait until you have almost finished your degree to complete and submit this form, along with your final POS.
Because the process of selecting your courses can be complicated, we have prepared another page that helps you in this process. Please use this link to go there when ready:
All students in the MAIS degree should review the UMaine Graduate School’s Policies and Regulations. This document is intended to answer many of your questions and lay out the rules for just about all aspects of your graduate program. In most cases, these rules can and should be followed to make your graduate career easier and less complicated.
From time to time, however, students may need (or wish) to do something that is outside the normal rules and regulations, such as taking more courses from other institutions than normally allowed. Depending on the nature of such requests, they might require the filing of a form called the Request for Exception to Regulation. This form, which is first completed and submitted by the student, requires the consent and signatures of the student’s entire advisory committee. If approved, the request then gets sent to the Graduate School for a decision by the Graduate Executive Committee, which oversees Graduate School policies and procedures. This is a high hurdle to clear. And by the way, it has been our experience that even fairly modest requests for exceptions have been turned down.
One could argue that this is a lot of red tape for making a simple request. The reason this burdensome procedure exists, perhaps, is that the university wishes to discourage students from making such requests in the first place. It is worth considering the fact that even if each student made just one such request in their entire academic careers, that would be thousands of requests every year that had to be considered—by advisory committees, the Graduate Dean, and the Executive Committee. They would have time for little else.
So our recommendation is that, before filling out the RER form, check with your Advisor about other options. For example, it might be possible to create a graduate section of an undergraduate course that you could enroll in, rather than requesting that you be allowed to have a third or fourth 400-level course on your Program of Study. While the Graduate School’s Policies and Regulations might seem rigid, there is often hidden flexibility that the Program Coordinator or staff at the Graduate School know about. It is always worth asking, before proceeding with the arduous journey of the Request for Exception to Regulation!
You might be thinking by now that filling out the Program of Study form is like the journey of Odysseus, or at least of the S.S. Minnow—a three-hour tour that turned into years of frustration. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind that might make this journey less painful.
First, this process will help you figure out what you really want to do with the MA in Interdisciplinary Studies, Maine Studies track. It will force you to look at what courses are available to you, from which departments, and to decide which ones will help you achieve your objectives. It will also help you to figure out which UMaine faculty might be available and willing to serve on your advisory committee. And it will lead you to focus your ideas for a master’s project, something many students don’t do until late in their program—sometimes too late. There is a value to planning, and the POS forces you to start that process earlier in your academic career.
Second, remember that your Program of Study will change somewhat during your 3-5 years in the MAIS program. The Graduate School knows this, and makes allowances for it. The POS that you fill out initially is there to serve as a blueprint for your degree, but it is not a Bible. It can evolve a bit in the years of your degree. Its purpose is to give you some clarity early on in your academic career, and to tell your advisor, committee, and the Graduate School what you hope and plan to do. They can work with you to address any possible snags, and help guide you to the right courses, faculty, and other resources needed to achieve your goals.
Prepared by K. Ettenger, Maine Studies Coordinator, Fall 2021