The MI Thesis
The MI thesis option allows students to gain experience in developing and executing a research project from beginning to end. This option is designed for students who have a clearly defined topic, can find a supervisor, and can meet tight deadlines in order to complete all program requirements within the normal time limit. The thesis option is typically carried out in the second year of the two-year program. Faculty approval is required.
Students should note that writing a thesis is dependent on the student finding a supervisor with expertise in their area who also has the time to dedicate to supervision. This option is not guaranteed.
Students in any concentration may enrol in the thesis option. Please review the individual concentration requirements to carefully plan your program progression.
Part-time MI students may enroll in the thesis option only after the successful completion of eight 0.5 credit courses.
The thesis option cannot be combined with the MI co-op option.
CDP students who are interested in pursuing an MI thesis are asked to speak with an academic advisor. It’s rare for CDP students to pursue a thesis, and approval needs to be obtained from the Faculty.
Students wishing to combine the thesis option with a Collaborative Specialization are advised to consult with the Collaborative Specialization coordinator about compatibility.
- A research methods course, with a final grade of at least A-.
- INF1240H is recommended, but students may take a similar course instead. Consult with your academic advisor to request permission to take a similar course.
- A reading course, with a final grade of at least A-.
The length and structure of MI theses may vary widely depending on their disciplinary context. The general guideline is that the length of a thesis, and the scope of work it reflects, should be proportionate to the 2.0 credits allotted to the thesis in the MI program. The minimum length of a thesis should be determined in consultation with the supervisory committee, but the maximum length should not exceed 21,000 words (including notes, but excluding appendices, bibliography, tables, and figures). The student and supervisor are responsible for keeping the scope of the work within these limits, and should agree on a target length at the proposal stage. Theses that exceed the length limit may not be permitted to go forward for defense.
The format and scope of the thesis project will be determined by the supervisory committee based on the expectations and norms of the disciplines the thesis draws upon. In some cases, a prototype, design, or coded element may be considered the substantive component of the thesis work. Supervisors and the MI Program Director may be able to recommend recent examples relevant to the student’s interests. The Faculty of Information maintains a listing of Faculty of Information Master’s theses, many of which are downloadable in full.
The following timeline is based on full-time registration in the normal two-year MI program. Students not on the full-time two-year program schedule should consult with their supervisor and academic advisor about adapting the thesis timeline to their schedule. Any departure from this standard timeline must be justified in the thesis proposal and approved by the Committee on Standing before the student may be enrolled in the thesis option. SGS policies regarding overall degree timelines apply in all cases.
Step 1: Fall of Year 1
- Complete a research methods course. INF1240H is recommended, but students may take a similar course instead. Consult with your academic advisor to request permission to take a similar course.
- Explore potential thesis topics.
- Consider potential supervisors. Consult with the MI Program Director for advice on how to seek a supervisor if you would like guidance.
Step 2: Winter of Year 1
- Secure a supervisor.
- Start putting together your reading course proposal with your supervisor and submit on time for review/approval so that you can start in the summer.
Step 3: Summer of Year 1
- Complete a reading course with your supervisor.
- Start thinking about your thesis proposal.
- Plan your supervisory committee. A supervisory committee provides advice and guidance as you develop and carry out your thesis project. The supervisory committee consists of:
- A thesis supervisor, who must be a regular faculty member at the Faculty of Information.
- A second reader, who may be a regular, adjunct, status only or emeritus faculty member at the Faculty of Information, or a regular or emeritus faculty member at another U of T department. The thesis supervisor will help you choose a second reader.
- Submit research protocols to the Research Ethics Board, if required (see details below).
- Submit a thesis proposal and Thesis Proposal Form to the Committee on Standing via Student Services, before September 1.
If approved, you’ll be enrolled into the thesis course.
At times, the Committee on Standing may suggest some changes to a student’s thesis proposal. In that case, you’ll need to submit an updated proposal before being officially enrolled into the thesis course and starting your research.
NOTES ON THE THESIS PROPOSAL
The thesis proposal should contain detail sufficient to describe the significance, background and rationale for the thesis and the work the student will perform for the thesis. Supervisors should guide students in structuring a proposal appropriate to the disciplinary context of the project. The following list of elements is typical for a thesis proposal in Information; however, the Faculty recognizes that this list may not fit all thesis proposals and thus should be considered as illustrative only:
- Statement of the problem – includes the background, context in the information field and in the broader scheme of academic pursuits, key questions, significance of the problem, and description of chosen methodology.
- Grounding and rationale – provides a representative review of theoretical, conceptual, technological or methodological precedents which directly relate to the thesis topic.
- Research plan – details the methods that will be used or the processes that will be followed during the course of investigation. This section describes how the questions posed by the thesis will be addressed, and how the research will translate into a project timeline leading to the defense.
The proposal should also include a statement about the estimated length of the thesis (see thesis guidelines above). If a course other than INF1240H: Research Methods is used to satisfy the research methods requirement, a brief rationale for the choice of methods course should be included as part of the thesis proposal, as well as the course syllabus, and a formal endorsement of the appropriateness of the course from the MI Program Director. (Students and supervisors are therefore advised to consult with the MI Program Director on non-standard methods courses well in advance.)
The proposal should be no more than 10 pages (double-spaced, not including bibliography or any appendices, tables, and figures), though it may be shorter depending on the nature of the project.
RESEARCH INVOLVING HUMAN SUBJECTS
If human subjects are involved, research protocols must be approved by the University of Toronto’s Social Sciences & Humanities Review Committee–Human Research Area.
Your supervisor and the Associate Dean Research can advise you on the process and timelines. The Research Ethics Board (REB) review process takes 3-4 weeks from submission to approval depending on the complexity of the project, the vulnerability of the population to be studied, and the degree of risk involved in the project. Students and supervisors should take the REB submission dates and timelines into account when planning the thesis.
The Faculty of Information Research Officer can give you guidance on your REB documents. Please forward a request to Student Services.
Step 4: Fall & Winter of Year 2
- Research, write, research, and write more!
As research for your thesis begins, you and your supervisor should agree on meeting schedules, how to implement the research plan described in the proposal, project milestones, and the process for submitting drafts, receiving feedback, and handling revisions. (See also the School of Graduate Studies’ Supervision Guidelines, allowing for the differences between PhD and Master’s programs where applicable).
A second reader may wish to be closely involved in the research process at an early stage, or may wish only to read and give feedback on a complete draft of the thesis at a later stage. You, your supervisor, and your second reader should consult together early to agree on the process and make expectations clear.
Step 5: Summer of Year 2
The completion of the thesis should be well within sight by the beginning of summer of Year 2.
- Share your completed thesis with your second reader.
The second reader should be given a minimum of two weeks to read the complete thesis and give feedback. Don’t forget to consult with your committees well in advance about their availability over the summer.
- Schedule your defense. See below for more information about what is involved in this step.
Once the supervisor and second reader have read the complete thesis and agree that it is ready for defense, the supervisor must notify the MI Program Director in writing and submit a Committee for the Final Oral Examination form to Student Services, along with the thesis. This must be done at least seven weeks prior to the desired defense date.
Once the Final Oral Examination form is received, the MI Program Director:
- Ensures that you have completed all other degree and course requirements (examinations cannot be scheduled if any course grades are outstanding)
- Confirms that the thesis is within the length guidelines (theses that egregiously exceed the length limit will not be sent to the external examiner until they are edited)
- Strikes a Thesis Examination Committee, consisting of:
- The thesis supervisor
- The second reader
- An external examiner
- A non-voting Chair
- Books an examination room and necessary equipment
An external examiner is someone that is:
- External to the Faculty of Information
- A faculty member from another UofT department, a qualified senior practitioner, or an appointed individual from an academic or research institution
- Arm’s-length from the student and supervisor. Normally, this will exclude anyone who:
- has served as Masters or PhD supervisor / supervisee of the candidate or the supervisor
- has, in the past six years, been a departmental colleague of the candidate or the supervisor, or has collaborated on a research project, scholarly work or publication, with either of them.
Six weeks before defense date
- Provide digital copies of your defense draft to the Examination Committee, for pre-defense review.
At least two weeks before defense date
- The external examiner submits a short written report (1–2 pages) to the MI Program Director, who then makes the report available to you and the Examination Committee. With the help of your supervisor, you can use this report to guide your defense presentation.
Step 6: Final Oral Examination (Defense)
- Defend your thesis!
The final oral examination consists of a 10–20 minute presentation by the student (which may include visual aids), followed by a question period not exceeding 60 minutes. At least two voting members of the Thesis Examination Committee must be in attendance (remote attendance via video conference is permitted).
Other faculty members and students may be invited to attend the examination, with permission of the candidate. Guests may not vote, and must leave the room during the discussions of the Thesis Examination Committee before and after the question period.
Assessment is based on examination performance and quality of the written thesis, taking into account that the Faculty of Information Master’s theses are worth 2.0 credits in total.
The Examination Committee Chair follows the Procedures for the Final Oral Examination as follows:
- Committee assembles and Chair briefly outlines these procedures.
- Chair requests that the student leave the room.
- Chair informs the Committee as to whether degree requirements have been met.
- Chair invites the Committee to briefly discuss any considerations that the student will need to address in the defense questioning, such as weaknesses identified in the external examiner’s report.
- Student is invited back into the room to present their work (10–20 minutes). No questions are asked during the presentation.
- First Round: Chair invites the Committee to comment on/ask questions about the presentation and thesis in the following order: 1) external examiner; 2) second reader; 3) supervisor. The external examiner is normally given more time for questions in this round than the other two examiners. In the Second Round, Committee members may ask additional questions.
- Chair requests that the student leave the room.
- Committee discusses the presentation in terms of the student’s ability, knowledge of their research field, and strength of their defense. If the Committee agrees that modifications are required, the Chair makes a list of the specific modifications, including their scope — i.e. whether the modification should be manageable via a couple of new paragraphs, or a short subsection, or a new footnote, or a few strategically placed clarifying sentences.
- Committee votes for Pass, Pass with Modifications, or Fail; the outcome is determined by a majority vote.
- Chair recalls the student and informs them of the Committee’s decision.
- Thesis Examination Committee fills out the Thesis Completion Form and submits it to Student Services.
Possible defense outcomes
There are three possible outcomes of a thesis defense:
- Pass. In this case, no further revisions (beyond minor typos and corrections that can be handled quickly in a single sitting) are required. Your thesis is complete and you may move on to the submission stage.
- Pass with Modifications. In this case, a member of the Thesis Examination Committee, normally the supervisor, is appointed to:
- Inform you in writing of the modifications that are required
- Review the modifications and advise you during the revision process if necessary
- Report the result to the MI Program Director by a deadline agreed upon by the Examination Committee
Normally, modifications are those which may be reasonably handled by the student within a two-week timeframe or less. Major revisions involving substantial new analysis or data collection should be considered beyond the scope of Pass with Modifications. If the thesis requires major modifications of this nature in order to be judged passable by the Examination Committee, the outcome of the defense should be Fail. If the modifications are not completed within this interval, or do not adequately address the Examining Committee’s instructions, the outcome is Fail.
- Fail. In this case, a member of the Thesis Examination Committee, normally the supervisor, is appointed to provide you with written reasons for the failure.
A second examination may be scheduled within six months of the defense date. If a second Fail recommendation is made, the student fails the thesis option, and may not repeat it.
A failed student may have their registration terminated. However, on the recommendation of the Faculty of Information and with SGS approval, a student may be permitted to remain in the MI program, take elective courses to make up the 2.0 credits in place of the thesis, and graduate.
Step 7: Thesis submission
- Submit your thesis.
Once the Thesis Examination Committee has determined that the final draft of the thesis is complete, submit it to the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) through their online submission process. SGS has helpful information about how to format and prepare the thesis, and about publication factors to consider.
Once you have completed all steps, and all other program requirements, you will be eligible to graduate at the next convocation ceremony. SGS notifies students about convocation about 4–6 weeks in advance. Students failing to complete all steps by the SGS deadlines will be required to re-register and pay additional fees.
Important milestones for a summer Final Oral Examination (FOE)
September 15: The last day to defend a thesis before needing to register for the next fall term.
August 4: Six weeks before September 15. Six weeks before defense is the deadline to send the thesis to the external examiner.
July 28: Seven weeks before September 15. Seven weeks before defense is the deadline for the supervisor to send the Committee for the Final Oral Examination form and the draft of the thesis to Student Services.
This means that July 28 is the absolute last day to submit the form to arrange a FOE for the 15th of September. It is strongly advised that students submit as far in advance of this date as possible.
Students whose defenses are not arranged until after July 28 will defend in the fall term, which will require the student to pay fall tuition and fees.