James Madison University

Thesis and Comprehensive Assessment

The thesis project must be an empirical research project that makes a scholarly contribution to the current body of knowledge in some area of psychology.  The student may not submit an IRB/IACUC proposal or begin collecting data until after the committee approves the proposal unless the pre-proposal process (see below) is completed and the committee grants approval to do so.

Proposal: The student writes the proposal under the supervision of the advisor.  The expectation is that the thesis proposal will result from an iterative process where, in order to develop a high quality document, the advisor edits drafts of the proposal that the student prepares.  During preparation of the proposal, the student should consult committee members only if he or she needs their expertise.  The proposal is to specify clearly, what the student proposes to do for the thesis project so that the student and the committee can discuss the details and arrive at definite decisions and agreement about the feasibility and quality of the proposed research.

Once the advisor provides approval to do so, the student distributes the completed proposal to all committee members for review.  The thesis proposal defense meeting (typically 2 hours) is scheduled, not less than one week after the student distributes the proposal to members of the committee.  The student should not make changes to the proposal after he or she distributes it to the committee.

Members of the committee read the thesis proposal and complete the Written Document Scoring Rubric prior to attending the proposal defense meeting.  During the proposal meeting, the student makes a brief presentation during which he or she should: demonstrate foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to the project; interact professionally with the audience; competently field questions about the project and the written document and; effectively use presentation software.  Once the student has answered all questions, the committee will ask the student to leave the room while the members of the committee (a) discuss the document and the student’s presentation, (b) complete the Oral Presentation and Overall Rating Scoring Rubrics, and (c) decide whether to approve the proposal, approve the proposal with specified revisions discussed in the meeting, or reject the proposal. After the thesis proposal meeting is over, the chair of the thesis committee should submit a copy of the proposal and the completed Scoring Rubrics from the committee members to the Program Director.

In all cases, the committee will provide the student formative feedback regarding the quality of the written document and oral presentation will be provided to aid the student in preparing the written thesis and completing the oral defense of the thesis, which serves as the program’s comprehensive assessment. If the committee rejects the proposal, they will make specific recommendations for remediation and the student may need to make substantial changes to the document, schedule another proposal meeting, or both in order for the committee to approve the proposal.  Once the committee approves the thesis proposal, the committee members should complete new Scoring Rubrics and the chair of the thesis committee should submit a copy of the proposal and the new Scoring Rubrics from the committee members to the Program Director. 

The middle of the third semester is the target date for completing and defending the thesis proposal.  However, each student should consult with his or her advisor to determine (a) whether individual circumstances suggest that a later proposal date is appropriate and (b) the extent to which later proposal approval could impact completion of the thesis and the student’s anticipated graduation date.

Pre-Proposal Process: A student must complete the pre-proposal process if he or she (a) intends to use a pre-existing data set or (b) needs to attain IRB/IACUC approval and/or, (c) needs to begin data collection before a full proposal of suitable quality can be completed.  In such cases, the student will work with the advisor to develop a pre-proposal document that the thesis committee will review.  The major issues to be addressed in the pre-proposal document are those related to the proposed method and analyses: however, a clear hypothesis and rationale also must be provided so that the proposed method and analyses can be evaluated within context.  The student or any member of the committee may request meeting to discuss the pre-proposal document but a meet is not required.  If committee approval is granted, the student may submit an IRB/IACUC proposal (if necessary) and/or begin collecting data (if necessary) at that time.  The pre-proposal is NOT a replacement for the thesis proposal; students who complete the pre-proposal process also must prepare a thesis proposal that the committee ultimately approves. 

Written Thesis and Comprehensive Assessment: Once the data are collected, the student analyzes the data and writes the thesis under the supervision of the advisor.  As with the proposal, several drafts of the written thesis are usually required.  The expectation is that the thesis will result from an iterative process where, in order to develop a high quality document, the advisor edits drafts of the proposal that the student prepares.  While analyzing the data and writing the thesis, the student should consult the committee members only if he or she needs their expertise.

Once the advisor provides approval to do so, the student distributes the complete written thesis to all committee members for review.  The thesis defense meeting (typically 2 hours), which serves as the program’s Comprehensive Assessment, is scheduled not less than one week after the student distributes the thesis.  The student must not edit the thesis document after distributing it to the committee. 

Members of the committee read the thesis and complete the Written Document Scoring Rubric prior to attending the thesis defense meeting.  During the meeting, the student makes a brief presentation during which he or she should: demonstrate foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to the project; interact professionally with the audience; competently field questions about the project and the written document and; effectively use presentation software.  Once the student has answered all questions, the committee will ask the student to leave the room while the members of the committee (a) discuss the document and the student’s presentation, (b) complete the Oral Presentation and Overall Rating Scoring Rubrics, and (c) and decide whether the student should pass or fail the Comprehensive Assessment, and (d) decide whether to approve the thesis as written (very rare!), approve the thesis with specified revisions discussed during the meeting (common), or reject the thesis.  After the defense meeting is over, the chair of the thesis committee should submit the completed Scoring Rubrics from the committee members and a completed Comprehensive Assessment Results form to the Program Director.

If the committee rejects the thesis, they will make specific recommendations for remediation and the student will need to make changes to the document, until it is acceptable.  Once the committee approves the thesis, the committee members should complete new Written Document and Overall Rating Scoring Rubrics and the chair of the thesis committee should submit these Rubrics to the Program Director.

In the event a student fails the comprehensive assessment, the student may request a re-assessment.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, the re-assessment must occur within six months of the date of failure.  Only one re-assessment will be allowed. Cases involving extenuating circumstances must be raised or supported by the graduate program faculty and presented in writing to the dean of the relevant college for approval.  Members of the committee must complete new Oral Presentation and Overall Rating Scoring Rubrics based on the student’s performance during the re-assessment and the chair of the thesis committee should submit the these Scoring Rubrics and a new completed Comprehensive Assessment Results form to the Program Director.  If a student fails the second comprehensive assessment, the Graduate School will terminate his or her graduate.