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Thesis (Handbook)

Masters Thesis

All students in the Data Science, Applied Mathematics, and Computer Science MS programs are required to complete a Masters Thesis.

Spring 2024 – Thesis Information – Slides

This Thesis is typically completed in your last semester before graduation.

Requirements (Prior to Fall 2024)

  • Prior to registration, students must have an approved proposal for their project. The proposal must have signatures from the thesis advisor and two readers.
  • In order for a proposal to be approved prior to registration, the student must have started a dialog between the advisor and readers at least 4 weeks prior to registration. It is recommended that students initially contact (select) their advisor during the early part of the preceding semester to begin the discussion. Students do not need fully elaborated project plans to start the dialog with their advisor – the advisor will assist in solidifying and clarifying the project. Students do need to have an idea, topic, and rough goal to start the discussion.
  • Projects that require the collection or evaluation of personal information may require approval from the College’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). The thesis advisor will help determine whether the project requires IRB approval – which must be applied for prior to DATA/MATH/CMPS 750 registration. Students who plan to use data sets that include personally identifiable information or actively collect information from individuals must begin discussing their project towards the beginning of the semester preceding their thesis, as IRB approval can take several weeks.


If you are entering the MS program in Summer 2024 or later, you will follow new requirements for completing your thesis. These requirements do not change what your thesis is, they change how you progress to your thesis semester. This pathway is available ALL graduate students, as long as you have at least 2 semesters left before graduation. If you are currently a 4+1 undergraduate student, you must follow the new guidelines/pathway. If you are entering the MS program in Summer 2024 or Fall 2024 or later, you must follow the new guidelines.

New Requirements

  • During your second to last semester, you will register for either DATA 745, CMPS 745, or MATH 750 (depending on your program). This course is titles THESIS PROPOSAL. It is a 1 credit course, and can be registered just like any other course. The course provides instruction and support for developing your thesis proposal. At the end of the course, in order to achieve a passing grade, you must have created a thesis proposal, formed a thesis committee, and have had the thesis proposal approved.
  • After completing DATA/MATH/CMPS 745, you will be permitted to register for DATA/MATH/CMPS 750 for 2 credits. The total credits awarded for DATA/MATH/CMPS 745 and 750 is 3 credits, the same as the older pathway described above.

Thesis Expectations

A Master’s level thesis project in Data Science can take on many different shapes, and students are encouraged to begin discussing their ideas with potential thesis advisors and readers as soon as possible in order to mold their project ideas into a suitable thesis.

Thesis projects may be characterized as (but are not limited to) any of the following:

  1. Technique-focused: Improving upon existing, or developing new mathematical and computational techniques for a specific problem.
  2. Tool-focused: The creation of a computational tool that can be used to solve or describe specific types of generalizable problems.
  3. Domain-focused: The application or development of a tool or technique to a specific domain, to answer domain-specific questions relevant to the stakeholders within that domain.

The key commonality among all Master’s theses is that students must demonstrate the value of their project’s outcomes. The thesis must contribute useful knowledge to the Data Science, Applied Mathematics, or Computer Science community or a particular domain/industry. While the deliverable of a project may be a technique/tool to solve specific or general categories of problems, projects may also produce visualizations, dashboards, or meta-analyses that expand upon and synthesize existing literature and data to build on knowledge within the field and/or explore ethical implications of data.

The project’s scope must be realistic, to fit within the constraints of a 15-week semester – while also substantial enough to warrant an entire semester of work (DATA/MATH/CMPS 750 are 3-credit courses).

A necessary component of any thesis is some degree of risk. When proposing a project, the student advisor will explore what aspects of the project may prove more difficult than expected.

  • When a project involves using data sets to answer new questions using new techniques, the answers to those questions may not be what was expected.
  • When developing a new mathematical or computational technique to better solve a problem, it may turn out that it does not!

The evaluation of your thesis centers around the process in which you went about completing your project – not solely on the outcome/deliverable. Your thesis committee will work with you throughout the project to guide you through the expected challenges you encounter – which is why constant communication with your thesis committee is so crucial to your success.

Thesis Proposal

A thesis proposal must clearly articulate the following aspects of your plan:

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Why is the problem worth solving? What industry, research question, or group would benefit from the outcome of the thesis project?
  • Why is the problem hard? What are the key challenges that make the project / solution / deliverable impactful?
  • What are the ethical considerations around your project? How might various stakeholders benefit from or be harmed by your work?
  • What are the core Data Science skills that you will need to complete your thesis?
  • What is the specific deliverable? This might be an “answer” to a set of questions about a particular domain, a framework for solving generalized questions in your field, an application or program to assist common and difficult problems in your field, etc.
  • What are the specific milestones you expect to accomplish, and when? Your proposal should have a project plan, outlining specific steps you will take to complete the project.

Thesis Proposal Template


Please consult the Thesis Handbook for your specific discipline (Data Science, Applied Mathematics, or Computer Science) for more information about additional requirements pertaining to your thesis.