How To Finish Your M.A.

1. The M.A. Thesis

The M.A. thesis plays a double role in the UCLA Ph.D. program. It is not necessary to file the thesis with the university to be admitted to the Ph.D. program. For this, filing with the department is required. Indeed, the M.A. thesis is the crucial element used by the department in making its official decision whether to permit you to continue in the program. This decision takes place at a faculty meeting on the Friday of tenth week of the deadline quarter.

2. Due Dates I: What Quarter

The quarter your completed M.A. is due is usually your sixth quarter in the program. However, some students (those who have had to take deficiency undergraduate classes or who have been on leave) are given extra time. If you want to know if you fall in the extra-time category, consult the Director of Graduate Studies.

In some instances M.A. theses involving experimental work or fieldwork may require additional time. This must be fully justified and approved by the dept. chair or DGS.

3. Due Dates II: For the Department

The official language, posted on the Graduate Division Web site (, is:

“For students wishing to be considered for advancement into the doctoral program, a copy of the thesis, complete and clearly legible, but not necessarily in final typed form, must be in the hands of the committee at least two weeks before the last day of classes in the quarter.”

When this day falls during the Thanksgiving break, it is customarily moved to the following Monday.

It is an additional requirement that at the same time, you must file a copy in the department office.  Make sure to attach the MA departmental form with your thesis and submit to the Graduate Advisor.

4. Due Dates III: For the University

The University sets deadlines for when you must file the official copy. The University filing deadlines can be found in the Schedule of Classes.

5. The Problem of Drafts

A commonly-made, but potentially very problematic, error is this: students imagine that you simply write an M.A. thesis, hand it in to your committee members by the deadline, have them read it and approve, and then you are merrily advanced on into the Doctoral program.

This scheme may work with some committee members. However, most faculty feel that their role should include reading drafts–often, multiple drafts.  They provide advice, and read the revised drafts with an eye to seeing how their earlier comments were dealt with.

This is a very rational thing for faculty to want to do. It forms part of the graduate training for you to produce really polished work. Also, dealing with faculty comments is good practice for a crucial future task you will face, namely dealing with the comments of journal reviewers (who are usually much harsher than your teachers!).

Therefore, if you want to budget time for finishing your M.A. in a truly rational way, you should do something like the following:

  • Go to each member of your committee. Ask them how many drafts they will expect you to write before the final version.
  • Also, ask about “turnaround time”: the number of days it takes them to read a draft, comment on it, and discuss the comments with you in a scheduled appointment.
  • Add to this turnaround time your own turnaround time, that is, how long it takes you to make revisions in response to comments.
  • Then, multiply the number of required drafts by the total (faculty + student) turnaround time. This yields the total number of days needed to finish the project, following the completion of the first draft.
  • Deducting this number of days from the deadline (above) gives you the day you need to get your first draft in to your committee members.

Obviously, this is an extremely explicit algorithm. However, if you want to follow some other procedure, it would be wise to clear it with your committee chair first.

6. Further Hints on Scheduling the Work

A successful M.A.-completer, given a draft of this document, volunteered the following additional ideas, which seem quite useful:

“Set multiple personal deadlines for small bits of the M.A., and send these bits to your committee. For example, prepare an introduction/lit review over the summer, and let your committee read it, before writing the rest of the M.A..”

“To save on formatting woes later in the process, spend a few procrastinatory hours formatting your M.A. to the university requirements, and figuring out how to automatically number examples, figures and tables. This will save lots and lots of time later in the process.”

“Bring a final draft of your M.A. to the thesis lady in the library before printing it out on the nice expensive paper. This saves money, time and headaches.”

7. What If I am Late for the Departmental Deadline?

If you miss the department deadline, the faculty is fully entitled to require you to leave the program at the end of the quarter. The missed deadline, being official, counts as sufficient justification for doing this.

However, it is permitted for individual committee chairs to beg the faculty to make exceptions. Obviously, the later your work, and the sketchier the condition it is in, the harder it will be for your chair to do this in a way that will seem convincing to her/his colleagues. Plainly, if you think you might be late in finishing your MA, you should stay in very close consultation with your adviser, keeping things extremely clear about the degree to which your adviser is willing to stick up for you at the faculty meeting.

8. When Do I Handle the Bureaucracy Involved in the M.A.?

The University requires a certain amount of irksome paperwork to be filled out in order for you to finish your M.A. It is greatly preferable to have this paperwork completed before the deadline, which is the Friday of the second week of the quarter in which you file your M.A.. If you miss this deadline, you will likely end up having to trek endlessly through Murphy Hall when filing time arrives. So please see the department Student Affairs Officer, ideally before the start of quarter the M.A. is due, and (s)he will help you through this paperwork.

9. What Should I Do When I’ve Finished the MA?

First, have a heart-to-heart talk with your adviser about whether you should try to publish some version of your M.A. in a journal. If you decide to submit for publication, do the revisions promptly. This is for two reasons: it’s easier to revise when you’ve got the whole project still in your head. Also, the journal review process is so protracted that if you wait to try to publish, the article may still be under review by the time you are applying for jobs and want to have some publications as a credential.

Do be aware that the field of linguistics does appear to be continually “professionalizing” in the sense of relying on formal credentials. The old system based on personal contact and old boy/old girl networking, which dominated the scene in the 1960’s heyday of generative grammar, will never go away entirely, human nature being what it is.  But in the experience of the person writing these words, publications really help placement. They’re not an absolute precondition to getting a job (even in recent years, we’ve occasionally placed low-publication students), but they certainly help.

Another thing to do after you finish your M.A. is to form your Doctoral Guidance Committee and start thinking about dissertation topics.

A third thing is to make sure the world can see your work.  The easiest way to do this is to send a PDF to the Student Affairs Officer for the graduate program, who will make sure it gets posted on the Department’s M.A. page.