Graduate Thesis Research

The most important part of graduate study is completing original research and producing a thesis.  Graduate students work with a committee of at least two faculty members, with one serving as the Thesis Adviser.  

Resources for Research

Thesis Proposals and Defenses

Students are encouraged to attend proposal presentations and thesis defenses. Refer to the document Graduate Student Proposal Presentation Guidelines to learn what you need to do to prepare for a proposal.


Thesis words over 10 years from SFSU Geography


Guidelines for publishing thesis work

A good thesis should be publishable, and increasingly graduate students are getting published. But how does this relate to the thesis process? Traditionally, the process of going to journal publication has been done subsequent to defending the thesis, and this remains a suitable option. However, we have found higher rates of success if during the writing of the thesis the needs of the journal are incorporated. Most journal guidelines are compatible with thesis requirements; for example, the citation and reference requirements specified by a journal will almost always be acceptable for a thesis. Probably the biggest formatting difference is that figures are embedded in a thesis, while in a journal they come at the end of the document, with markers in the text to indicate where they will appear. 

Whether it's done during or after thesis writing, the steps to follow include (a) identifying the appropriate journal by consultation with your adviser and thesis committee; (b) reviewing past issues of that journal to make sure that it's a good fit, and to get a sense of the kinds of works that journal typically accepts; (c) downloading the 'guide for authors' from the journal of choice; and (d) making the revisions to the document to make it appropriate for the journal. Often the longer literature review common in theses needs to boiled down to the most relevant sources. Sometimes the literature review completed for a thesis rises to the level of a separate review article, so two publications potentially can arise from a single piece of research. Figures must also be carefully chosen and may need modification for printing requirements; the necessity of color should also be considered. 

Co-authors: While not always the case, it's common for a submitted article to be a multi-author work, with the student as first author and the adviser and sometimes other committee members as co-authors. There is no consistent rule for this, as it depends on the nature of participation in the research. As part of developing a research plan, we recommend that a graduate student meet with the thesis committee early in the process to work out roles and develop publication goals.  A good way to consider who might be a suitable co-author is to consider the extent to which the individual is involved significantly in at least two of the following parts of the research:

  1. Conception of idea and design of study.
  2. Actual execution of field work, lab work, or other work necessary to acquire data.
  3. Analysis and interpretation of data (including data processing, statistical analysis, analytical map and figure design / production).
  4. Actual writing of manuscript.

(Modified from Culliton, BJ (1988), Authorship, data ownership examined.  Science 242 (4879): 658.)