Master's Project Timeline

Courses Five and Six

Gathering Skills, Making Connections

What sort of project will you want to do?  What skills, knowledge, background or faculty contacts will you need in order to be ready for this project?

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Attend the Master’s Project Planning Session  (required)

This required workshop, which discusses Project and proposal requirements in detail, is held in January, June and September.   At this meeting, students learn the GLS program expectations concerning projects, proposals, prerequisites and the process leading to the project.  See the GLS Academic Calendar for the next scheduled session.

  • You are responsible for attending this session before your seventh course in the program.  Ideally, fulltime students should attend during the semester of the fifth course. 
  • You cannot submit your project proposal until you have attended this required session. 

Consider the Type of Project You Would Like To Do

  • We strongly recommend that you work in a field in which you have already done academic work.   We suggest amplifying a course paper or otherwise building on topics you have already studied during your time in the program.  This will ensure that you have an understanding of the issues and scholarly conversation necessary for writing the initial Project proposal – as well as a potential supervisor.  Alternatively, you might analyze, within appropriate academic contexts and concerns, an issue about which you have personal experience or career expertise. 
  • Past master’s projects can give you a sense of the possibilities of the program.  In particular, pay attention to projects that carry the "Exemplary" designation.  They can make good models for your own work.  

Plan Your Remaining Courses

Take courses that will help to develop the knowledge, skills and/or faculty connections you will need for your project.   

Use the Master's Project Proposal Worksheet

Use this worksheet to help you get a sense of the sort of project you want to do...  

Courses Seven and Eight

Finishing Prerequisites

Who will supervise your project?  What other requirements do you need in place before the proposal semester? 

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Focus Your Project Ideas

Early in this period, determine your topic, what you want to find out about it, and what sort of Project (thesis, applied research, creative, etc.) you want to do.   Then center your thinking on developing a viable central question and a method for answering it.  Such a question should make clear what is at stake or at issue in your project – why we should care about it.   It should be an open, non-rhetorical, analytical question – not merely a question of fact but interpretation -- whose answer you truly want to pursue over the course of several months. This will ensure that your ideas are appropriately focused for writing the proposal. 

Secure a Commitment From Your Faculty Supervisor  (required)

Prior to the project semester, the you are responsible for finding a faculty supervisor to work with, and confirming that the supervisor is available during the project semester.  This supervisor must:

  1. Be a member of the Duke Graduate Faculty.
  2. Have appropriate expertise for guiding and evaluating the proposed project.
  3. Be approved in advance by the GLS director or assistant director.

The responsibilities of the faculty supervisor include  1) advising the student in developing a workable concept and proposal;  2) guiding the student through the work required to complete the proposed project, and  3) determining when the student has successfully completed it.  Before the project semester, the supervisor attends the Proposal Meeting (see below).  During the project semester, the supervisor and student set a schedule of goals and deadlines for the student, and meet regularly (typically once every two weeks).  The supervisor serves on the master's examining committee, and confirms for the committee 10 days prior to the scheduled examination that the student has produced a project that is ready for examination. 

Once you have decided on a supervisor or potential supervisor, check in with the GLS director or assistant director for approval.  Your supervisor can be any Graduate School faculty member with appropriate expertise, but we strongly recommend that you work with someone you have worked with before, preferably one who has taught in the GLS program.  While working on your interdisciplinary project, you are of course free to consult with faculty other than your supervisor, but only one faculty member can be appointed supervisor. 

Attend a Bibliographic Consultation With a Duke Research Librarian   (required) 

Consult at least one Duke research librarian who specializes in a field pertinent to your proposed project in order to learn more about Duke library resources, strategies for further research, and the current state of scholarly discussion.  You may choose to supplement the bibliographic knowledge of your supervisor by consulting with a research librarian in the same field, or you may choose to complement it by consulting with a research librarian in another field that will be important in your interdisciplinary project.   

Secure Human Subjects Pre-Approval  (required, if applicable)

Before any research involving humans as subjects (e.g., interviews, surveys) can be conducted, or the proposal is submitted,  you must receive a waiver or approval from the Human Subjects Committee of the Institutional Review Board, Office of Research Support.  Documenta­tion of either waiver or approval should be submitted with the proposal.   Any research conducted without prior approval cannot be used in a Duke Master's project. 

Do You Need Human Subjects Approval?

In order to meet the definition of research with human subjects, one or both of the following must be true:

  1. You are conducting a pilot study or other preliminary research.

  2. You have designed a study to collect information in a systematic way to answer a research question.

And you must be:

  1. Interacting with living human beings in order to gather data about them, using methods such as interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, and participant observation, or

  2. Conducting interventions with living human beings such as experiments and manipulations of subjects or subjects' environments, or

  3. Observing or recording private behavior (behavior that individuals have a reasonable expectation will not be observed and recorded), or

  4. Obtaining private identifiable information that has been collected about or provided by individuals, such as a school record or identifiable information collected by another researcher or organization.

To meet the definition of research with human subjects, you must be conducting research AND obtain information from or about human subjects in the research.

But if you are unsure whether or not your project needs Human Subjects approval, contact

Lorna Hicks
Phone: 919.681.8773
Associate Director
Holly Williams
Phone: 919.681.8686
Assistant Director
Alejandro Martinez
Phone: 919.684.4905
Assistant Director
Kara Thio
Phone: 919.684.3030


Course Nine

Proposal Semester

Attend your Proposal Meeting and submit your proposal before the mid-semester deadlines.

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Draft your proposal

In consultation with your supervisor, write a draft of your proposal that conforms to the master’s project proposal 2-3 page format.   Make sure it is built around an open-ended analytical central question that is focused and specific enough to be answerable in a project of this size, and that the method for answering this question is clear.  Send a good draft to at least 24 hours before your scheduled Proposal Meeting.  

Tips for Writing Your Proposal
  • Keep your Central Question as brief as possible -- no more than three sentences maximum.  The point is to capture the concept or issue that underlies your project in its most focused, basic form.
  • Make your Method as explicit as you can.  This will require that you already have a background in the issues that are important in your project.
  • Keep the proposal (not including the preliminary bibliography) between two and three double-spaced pages.
  • Separate primary from secondary sources in the preliminary bibliography.  (This requires that you know the difference!)

Attend the Proposal Writing Workshop

In order to hone your proposal further, sign up for the optional Proposal Workshop held each Fall and Spring.  Either send a draft of your proposal to the Assistant Director ahead of time, or bring a draft for copying once you are there.  At this workshop (typically held February & October), you can get advice from both peers and the GLS writing consultant to make sure your master’s project proposal is workable and makes sense to others.  

Schedule and Attend Your Proposal Meeting  (required)

Work with either the Director or the Assistant Director and your supervisor to schedule the Project Proposal Meeting. It is your responsi­bility to find out your supervisor’s avail­ability and to inform your super­visor about the time and place of the Proposal Meeting.   Please submit a draft of your proposal to 48 hours before the meeting. At this meeting, we will work out the final focus and shape of your proposed project. 

Proposal Meeting Deadlines
  • Summer project:  April 15
  • Fall project:  July 15
  • Spring project:  November 15 

Submit your proposal  (required)

After the Proposal Meeting, you will be working with your supervisor and either the GLS director or the assistant director to draft a final version of your proposal. Once you have done so, save it as a PDF and submit according to the instructions here.  You should submit a proposal by the deadline at least one semester before the master’s project semester.  

Proposal Submission Deadlines
  • Summer project:  April 30
  • Fall project: July 31
  • Spring project: November 30 

Attain Project Approval (required)

Approval of a master’s project proposal by the GLS Director is required prior to the master’s project semester.  When your Project is approved, you will be given a PIN that will allow you to change your registration from Continuation to Master’s Project Colloquium (LS850).   Begin work on your project at any time after approval.

After Approval

Getting Started on the Project

What do you need to be thinking about once your proposal is approved?   What needs to be in place at the beginning of the Project semester?

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Plan Your Project Semester 

Once your master's project proposal is approved, begin work by planning your project semester with your supervisor.  If you have not already done so, set up a regular meeting time with your faculty supervisor for the project semester, along with a schedule of goals and deadlines.  The supervisor then advises you on progress toward those goals.  

We strongly suggest that you plan to meet with your supervisor at least every two weeks to discuss your research and ideas.  Think carefully about how to best break up daunting writing tasks into shorter, more manageable chapters, sections or subsections.  Keep the following broad parameters in mind:

  • Weeks 1-3:  Finish most research and begin writing.  Begin submitting sections or chapters of your written work to your supervisor for feedback.
  • Weeks 3-9:  Continue submitting sections or chapters to your supervisor until you have submitted a first draft of the entire project.
  • Weeks 9-12: Revise the first draft according to your supervisor's advice, in order to have a final good version ready to submit at least ten days before your master's examination. 

Such an approach is more likely to produce a high-quality traditional master's thesis, but may have to be modified for a project that involves creative work, applied research or primary research.  One way or another, work with your faculty supervisor to develop a realistic research and writing plan that results in a full first draft within the first nine weeks of the semester, and a good final draft at least ten days before your master’s examination. 

Schedule Your Master’s Examination  (required)

The master’s examination is the final, formal academic event of the MALS degree program.   It occurs when the three members of your examining committee (your supervisor, a second graduate faculty member, and the GLS director or assistant director as chair) meet with you to discuss your work and make their evaluation.  The GLS program will create your examining committee.  (If there is a particular graduate faculty member other than your supervisor who you would want to serve on the committee, please let us know.)   It is your responsibility to find out your supervisor’s availability and schedule your examination with the GLS office; you should call the GLS office as early in the semester as possible to schedule the examination in order to secure a favorable time toward the end of the semester.  Estimate a date by which you can reasonably complete a good final draft of your project.   Schedule your master’s examination ten days or more after this date. 

Apply to Graduate  (required)

In order to graduate, you must notify the Graduate School by submitting your Apply to Graduate form by the following deadlines:

  • January 25 for May degree
  • June 15 for September degree
  • October 15 for December degree

This can be done online at Duke Hub.  Click on the “Services” tab.  At the next screen, you will see the “apply to graduate” tab.  Fill in the information and then submit.  Click “continue” and proceed with the remainder of the information requested.

You do not need to list your master’s project title. In the box that says “If you are pursuing a non-thesis master’s program, please describe other academic exercise to be completed in lieu of master’s thesis,” write in “MALS Master’s Project.”   Your “real” exam committee will not appear on the form -- so don’t panic if you don’t see your supervisor’s name. 

Note: If you have filed the form in a previous semester, you must do so again in order to graduate in a subsequent semester. There is no penalty for submitting the form in a semester in which you do not graduate.  However, you cannot graduate if you have not filled out this form before the deadline.

Project Semester

Keeping on Track

Work closely with your supervisor throughout the semester, keeping in mind that you must finish your project ten days before your scheduled master's examination.

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LS850, The Master’s Project Colloquium is a three-credit pass/fail course that has two components:

Master's Project Seminar

A classroom component, the Master’s Project Seminar, which meets approximately every other week throughout the semester, provides advice and support for work in progress.  Attendance at these sessions is required for at least one semester in which you are working on your project.  Come prepared to discuss issues in producing your master’s project, to support your fellow master’s project students, and to receive support and advice.  Samples of work-in-progress will be shared at various points in the semester.

Supervised Study

The main work of your Master's project is essentially an independent study supervised by a graduate faculty member with some expertise in the issues or methods involved.  Work on your project following the plan of goals, deadlines and meetings you worked out with your supervisor upon approval of your proposal.  

  • Weeks 1-3:  Finish most research and begin writing.  Begin submitting sections or chapters of your written work to your supervisor for feedback.  (Don't forget to schedule your master's examination and apply to graduate.)
  • Weeks 3-9:  Continue submitting sections or chapters to your supervisor until you have submitted a first draft of the entire project.
  • Weeks 9-12: Revise the first draft according to your supervisor's advice, in order to have a final good version ready to submit at least ten days before your master's examination. 

You should plan to produce a full first draft within the first nine weeks of the semester, and a good final draft at least ten days before your master’s examination.  We strongly suggest that you meet with your supervisor at least every two weeks to discuss your research and ideas.  

Advice for Writing a Long Paper

Writing Process
  • Set up your paper in the required format before you even start drafting.  That way, you can concentrate on your content in the last weeks of the semester rather than worrying about a lot of time-consuming last-minute technical revisions.
  • Longer papers of good quality can’t be knocked off in just  a couple of drafts.  Allow plenty of time in your writing process for invention, arrangement and presentation.  Don't get so caught up in the research that you forget to write the paper.
  • Break up daunting writing tasks into shorter, more manageable chapters, sections or subsections. 
  • Don’t write your paper straight through from beginning to end.  It is nearly impos­­sible to predict precisely how all the parts of your essay will fit together until you have written them, especially in a longer paper. 
  • If writing is your main form of invention, be sure to play with your drafts as you revise them, always ready to move sections of thought in order to determine the best structure for your paper, and rewriting the intro accordingly.
Analysis and Argumentation
  • In a humanities paper, or in the Discussion section of a scientific paper, you can explore meanings, draw conclusions, even make qualified speculations  – but do not go beyond the scope of what your evidence can reasonably support. 
  • In a humanities paper, your thesis will most likely not be sweeping nor make an absolute, black vs. white, zero-sum argument.  Instead, it will probably be a qualified argument about how to weigh and balance various factors of your subject in determining meaning and value (“On the one hand… On the other hand…).  You will definitely want to deal objectively but creatively with the arguments of “the other side.”
  • In a humanities paper, articulate your argument in the form of a 1-3 sentence thesis statement.  Design the introduction to set up this statement: explain crucial concepts and issues, and why you find them significant here.
  • In a humanities paper, the main principle of organization should be (after any brief background) the sections of your argument.   To determine the order of those sections, ask yourself what structure makes your ideas easy to follow or persuasive.  It is only after those considerations that you can use, as a default organization, the real-world chronology or the ordering of your text. 
  • Use the beginnings of paragraphs, and especially of sections, to locate your reader in your argument, by telling me:
    • How we got here.  How does this connect with the previous section or paragraph?  Your reader doesn’t know these crucial connections unless you articulate them.
    • What your point is.  Don’t just state a topic: articulate your analytical angle on that topic.
  • Section breaks and headings can help your reader keep track of your argument, because they make the sections of your thought clear in a longer paper.   But keep in mind that headings are supplemental: your essay cannot depend on them.  And too many headings or sub-heads can interfere with your text. 
  • Use appendices for background details, charts, etc.
Formal Stuff
  • Refer to all texts (fiction, nonfiction; print, film) in the present tense unless there is a good reason to do otherwise.  
  • Attribute quotations in your own text.  Use appropriate grammar, punctuation and citation format in your quotations.  Put commas and periods either inside quotation marks – or after a parenthetical reference, if there is one.   Don’t give any information in a parenthetical reference that I already know from your essay. 
  • Repeat names (vs. pronouns) at the beginning of paragraphs.  In other words, don’t begin a paragraph with “She also helped develop the theory of…” but with “Davis also helped develop the theory of…”  After that initial reminder, pronouns are fine.


Final Steps

The Master's Exam and Beyond

What is the master's examination?  How do I submit my finished, approved project?  When do I attend graduation?

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Submission Copy (10 days before the examination)

At least ten days before your master's examination, you must submit a copy of the project as an MS Word document to for distribution to all three members of your master's examination committee.  (This committee consists of your supervisor, another graduate faculty member and either the GLS director or assistant director as chair.)  At this stage, the project should include a brief 200-250 word abstract that summarizes your project (its central concerns, its methods, its results and conclusions). This abstract plays no part in the argument of your project (other than summarizing it), but functions as a stand-alone advertisement for your project. This penultimate draft should conform to the GLS master’s project format, meet all appropriate academic standards, be easily readable and need nothing more than minor corrections.  Last-minute efforts by any students who have failed to work steadily with their supervisors will not be considered.  

Supervisor’s Endorsement (10 days before the examination)

At the same time you submit your Submission Copy (ten days before the exam), your supervisor must submit by email or in writing a statement to the GLS office for distribution to the other two members of the examination committee that: 

  • Confirms that your project is ready for the examination; and 
  • Briefly explains why this project meets the requirements of the degree.  

If your supervisor feels you have not yet successfully completed your project by the end of the semester, you will have to wait until the next semester to graduate.

Examination Committee’s Determination (2-3 days before the examination)  

Two to three days before the examination, the examining committee will confer by email to determine whether it is appropriate to proceed with the examination, based upon the submitted version of the project.  If the committee finds that the project does not yet meet standards, your examination will be rescheduled for the following semester.  This process ensures that your project is passable before going forward with your master's examination.  

The Master's Examination 

You meet with your examination committee (your supervisor, another graduate faculty member and either the GLS director or assistant director as chair) to discuss what you have learned while engaged in the master’s project, and in the GLS program in general.  This is not a defense, but your opportunity to share with others your intellectual journey and the work that it produced.   Upon receiving a passing grade by this committee (and assuming all other degree requirements have been fulfilled), you are awarded the master’s degree, and graduate that semester.  The examination committee may recommend corrections to the final version.  At the examination, your committee members will sign the card that confirms you have completed degree requirements for graduation.

​​Final, Corrected Project (two weeks after the examination)

Within ten days of the master’s examination, you must submit the final version of the project.   Once you have completed all corrections, convert your entire project – including the title page, abstract, table of contents, main text, and bibliography – into one pdf document in the master's project format.  

Submit your revised master’s project to  GLS master’s projects are archived electronically in the GLS office.  Projects that meet certain program standards can also be published on a site dedicated to the program on DukeSpace through the Perkins Library.  Once your project is approved by GLS for DukeSpace, you can follow these guidelines for publishing there.  

Graduation 2016.jpg


Once you have turned in your final, corrected project -- and completed all courses, coursework and other degree requirements -- you graduate with a Master in Arts degree from Duke University!  Those who finish in the summer semester graduate in September; those who finish in the fall semester graduate in December; those who finish in the spring semester graduate in May.  While graduation ceremonies are held in May, all those who graduate in the previous academic year (including September and December graduates) are welcome to participate in the school-wide ceremony (typically held on a Sunday) -- and are urged to attend the very pleasant and meaningful Graduate Liberal Studies hooding ceremony (typically held on a Saturday).  


See GLS Dates and Deadlines for this semester's upcoming dates and deadlines.