Students on the thesis track must complete a Program of Study of at least 30 credits which includes at least 21 credits of coursework and 9 credits of thesis. The Program of Study is to be filled out during a student's first semester of graduate school in consultation with his or her advisor.

Credit Requirements

  • CSCI 532 and CSCI 538 must be taken by all students.
  • Although there is no limit to the number of CSCI 590 credits that may be taken, only 9 credits of CSCI 590 can be listed on the Program of Study.
  • At least 21 credits on the Program of Study must be at the 500 level or higher.  A maximum of 9 CSCI 590 credits can be used towards this requirement.
  • No more than three credits total can appear on the Program of Study from CSCI 592 and CSCI 594 combined.  (Note: Some 3-credit offerings of CSCI 594 that are first-time offerings of traditional graduate level courses are exempt from this restriction.)
  • CSCI 598 may not appear on the Program of Study as part of the minimal 30 credits.
  • Credits at the 400 level may be listed on the program of study, excluding CSCI 482, CSCI 483, CSCI 490, CSCI 491, CSCI 492, CSCI 494,  CSCI 495 and CSCI 498.
  • No course whose subject matter was taken in fulfillment of a previous degree (e.g., a BS in computer science degree) may be used. One exception to this rule arises if a student's advisor determines from an interview with a student and from a description of a course taken by the student with a title similar to course offered at MSU that the subject matter of the previously taken course does not match the similarly-titled MSU course. In such a case, the student may include the similarly titled MSU course on the Program of Study at the advisor's discretion.
  • Other than CSCI 590 (thesis), no course that is a required foundational course or is a course listed on the Program of Study may be taken pass/fail.

Elective coursework included on the Program of Study beyond the required CSCI 532 and CSCI 538 is to be determined by the student in consultation with his or her graduate advisor.

The Master's Thesis

There are five distinct issues that you must address when completing an MS thesis:

  • time management
  • research
  • content
  • format
  • publication

Time Management

Time management refers to the organization of your time to ensure completion of the necessary research and writing of the thesis prior to your proposed graduation date. Be aware that even though the thesis is a ten-credit proposition, it cannot be completed in one semester. It takes concerted effort to perform research. It also takes more time than most people expect to write the thesis. Furthermore, the MS exam must be held at least three weeks prior to the end of the semester (not counting finals week), and the thesis must be approved (not just submitted) by the graduate school at least two weeks prior to the end of classes (not counting finals week). Since the thesis cannot be completed until the research is done, there simply isn't time to complete both during the semester of graduation.


Research is the intellectual effort you invest in the exploration of some computer science problem or issue. Given the time management problem described above, all students on the thesis track are required to begin their research at least one semester prior to the intended semester of graduation. Indeed, the best approach is to become well acquainted with your advisor and a selected research topic early in your studies and spread both the research and the writing of the thesis across three semesters and the intervening summers. This does not imply that you will be doing more than 10 credits worth of work (although that can happen) but simply that you spread the effort out over more time, which nearly always results in a better thesis.


Content is the results of your research that you record in your thesis.The following suggested organization of the content can serve as a guide as you write your thesis, but you must be sure to resolve content presentation with your advisor for your individual case. In general, a thesis should have at least these five parts:

  1. An introduction - The introduction is where you introduce your research, outline what the main results of your research are, and describe the organization of the presentation that follows in the next sections. Remember, the purpose of the thesis is to inform, not to hold readers in suspense about your results. So, in the introduction you tell readers up front what your research results are without yet detailing how you arrived at the results.
  2. Related Work - At some point in your thesis you must place your work in the context of work that has been done by others who have performed similar research. A good place for this is right after the introduction. (Depending on your preferred organization, it could also go after you have described your own work in detail). This part should be thorough and should include citations to every related work you have encountered, as well as its relevance to your work, its strengths, its weaknesses, and brief comparisons with your own results. The most embarrassing thing that can happen to a student when defending a thesis is to discover that someone else has already done what you did unbeknownst to you, or that you have left out an important reference to a contribution to the research you did for your thesis.
  3. Your Methods and Results - This should be the largest part of the thesis and should include a detailed reporting of your results and how you arrived at those results.
  4. Summary and Future Work - The final section of the body of your thesis should include a short summary of the thesis and the context of your work with respect to future directions the research could take.
  5. References - From the moment you begin working on your research (possibly long before you begin writing your thesis) you should be keeping a list of references in the format required by The Graduate School. Then, when you write your thesis, all you need to do is include the references where they belong and cite them as you write the thesis. Remember that this is a list of references, not a bibliography. All of the references you list here should be cited somewhere in your thesis.


Format refers to the way your thesis must be written--margin sizes, line spacing, how to include and refer to illustrations, how the table of contents must be formulated, and so forth--in order to satisfy The Graduate School. There are no hard rules about content presentation, but there are very strict rules about formatting. The reason is that The Graduate School needs to ensure the publication quality and uniformity of all theses submitted at MSU. Therefore, the CS Department has the following requirements; all MS students must:

  • review the formatting requirements found on The Graduate School web site prior to starting the writing of the thesis.
  • strictly follow the formatting guidelines for theses provided by The Graduate School while preparing the thesis.
  • take the first few pages you write for your thesis (following the guidelines) to The Graduate School for a quick review to ensure that you are indeed following the guidelines.
  • Take a near final draft of your thesis to The Graduate School well in advance of the final date the thesis is due to ensure that it will be accepted when you finally do submit it.

Again, we stress that these steps are mandatory to ensure that your graduation date (and the amount of money you must pay to finish your degree) are not jeopardized.


The results of the thesis are expected to be submitted to a journal or conference for publication. This requirement can be met in one of two ways.

  1. Presentation to the MS commitee of a paper that has already been submitted to a journal or conference along with details of the publication venue.  The committee must receive this information prior to the comprehensive examination.
  2. Presentation to the MS committee of a paper that has been completed and is ready for publication.  The committee must receive this paper no later than the time that the thesis is submitted to the committee for final review before the comprehensive examinaiton.  Details must accompany the paper that identify which journal or conference the paper will be submitted to along with the corresponding submission deadline.