All candidates for the master’s degree in American Culture Studies are required to complete a final written project. Normally completed during the final semester of the program (or, in some cases, the final year), the project entails substantial research and analysis on a topic determined by the student in consultation with the program coordinator.
The project is completed under the primary supervision of a faculty advisor, along with a faculty committee, and is evaluated by this committee in the form of an oral examination at the conclusion of the student’s program.
There are two options for the final written project:
- Directed Research Project (DRP), the minimum requirement for all students; or
- Master’s Thesis, available to exceptionally strong students, and authorized by the program coordinator.
Students may wish to review some final research topic examples from previous students.
Directed Research Project
A three-credit Directed Research Project (DRP), developed under the supervision of a Washington University faculty member, is required for the Master of Arts degree. The project is to be completed at the conclusion of a student's course work, normally during the final semester. This project presents an opportunity to explore an area of personal interest. The project also provides an opportunity for students to work closely with a member of the ACS faculty. The project may be a subject first identified during a course or one that has emerged over time in the program.
The DRP for American Culture Studies, should be comparable to a research paper produced in a graduate research seminar, and should reflect a substantive engagement with relevant issues, questions, and scholarship. Typical projects are approximately 40 pages long.
Students with exceptionally strong academic records and writing skills may be authorized by the American Culture Studies program coordinator to pursue a two-semester, six-credit Master’s Thesis rather than the three-credit Directed Research Project. The difference between the Master's Thesis and the Directed Research Project is primarily one of scope. Students who undertake the Master's Thesis will spend the first semester researching their topic and beginning to write, and the second semester writing and revising. The Master's Thesis in American Culture Studies should be approximately 60 pages, and like the three-credit DRP, must reflect a substantive engagement with relevant issues, questions, and scholarship. The student will develop this work in consultation with a faculty advisor responsible for helping the student define the project's scope and objectives and identify useful sources. Students who are approved for this thesis must meet Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Master's Thesis guidelines.
Students are strongly recommended to write an academic paper for their Directed Research Project or Master’s Thesis. However, students may also apply to receive credit for other projects, such as museum exhibits, courses, and creative writing projects. If the nontraditional project is approved, the student should submit all relevant materials and a brief paper (4-6 pages) discussing the experience of working on the project, and its importance and objectives.
American Culture Studies students are required to submit an implementation plan, a brief essay (4 to 6 pages) with the final written project, whether it is a DRP or Master’s Thesis. The implementation plan will address how the student will apply the issues addressed in the final written project to activities in her or his professional life, or more generally to the world outside the classroom. For example, a teacher could develop a syllabus or course unit that would translate the subject of the paper to the classroom, a museum professional could propose a hypothetical exhibit, or a journalist could propose a series of articles. The paper should be written before the final project with continued revision during and after the project's completion. Students must consult with the AMCS coordinator before and after the project. The implementation plan will be a brief addition to the final written project in which the student considers the material in that project in a contemporary social context.
Advisor and Committee
All candidates for the master’s degree in American Culture Studies complete the final project (DRP or Master’s Thesis) under the supervision of a faculty advisor and committee. The program coordinator will assist the student in selecting a faculty advisor and two other faculty readers for a thesis or a faculty advisor and one other faculty member for the DRP. The advisor or “director” works closely with the student at all stages of the project. The committee, in addition to the advisor reads the final paper and participates in the student’s oral examination. DRP advisors and committee members should be teaching faculty with the relevant graduate program. Master’s Thesis advisors and committee members should be tenured or tenure-track faculty at Washington University. Students select the appropriate advisor and committee members in consultation with the program director and University College.
American Culture Studies students must pass an oral examination at the end of their program of study. The exam is one hour long, and the examining committee consists of the final project director and committee. The oral examination gives the student an opportunity to discuss the directed research project or master's thesis, as well as the entire American Culture Studies program experience.
Please consult the University College online calendar for specific deadlines for the oral defense. Usually the defense must be completed by the beginning of September for summer graduates, the beginning of January for fall graduates, and late April or early May for spring graduates. Please note that these dates conform to deadlines for all graduate programs and are not flexible.
In preparation for the oral examination, the student should write a 4-6 page essay describing her or his course of study in the American Culture Studies program, highlighting some of the ideas or themes the student has pursued, and relating the final project to his or her professional life or the world outside the classroom.