Thesis option for MI & MMSt students

Printer-friendly version

Information on this page:


Forms linked from this page:


About the thesis option

The thesis option allows students to gain experience in developing and executing a research project from beginning to end. This option is designed for students who have a clearly defined topic, can find a supervisor, and can meet tight deadlines in order to complete all program requirements within the normal time limit. The thesis option is typically carried out in the 2nd year of the two-year program. Faculty approval is required.

Students in both the MI and MMSt degree programs may choose the thesis option.  Part-time MI students may enroll in the thesis option only after the successful completion of eight half-courses.  The thesis option cannot be combined with the Concurrent Registration Option (CRO) or the MI Co-Op option. Students wishing to combine the thesis option with a Collaborative Program are advised to consult with the MI or MMSt program director about compatibility.

The length and structure of iSchool Master’s theses may vary widely depending on their disciplinary context. The general guideline is that the length of a thesis, and the scope of work it reflects, should be proportionate to the 2.0 FCE allotted to the thesis in the MI and MMSt programs. The minimum length of a thesis should be determined in consultation with the supervisory committee, but the maximum length should not exceed 21,000 words (including notes, but excluding appendixes, bibliography, tables, and figures). Students and supervisors are responsible for keeping the scope of the work within these limits, and should agree on a target length at the proposal stage. Theses that exceed the length limit may not be permitted to go forward for defense.

The format and scope of the thesis project will be determined by the supervisory committee based on the expectations and norms of the disciplines the thesis draws upon. In some cases, a prototype, design, or coded element may be considered the substantive component of the thesis work. Supervisors and program directors may be able to recommend recent examples relevant to the student’s interests. The Inforum maintains a listing of iSchool Master’s theses (, many of which are downloadable in full.

The MMSt and MI Program Directors oversee all aspects of the thesis process in their respective programs. Students and supervisors are encouraged to consult with them periodically throughout the thesis process.


Program of study for MI thesis students

There are two ways to complete the thesis option in the MI program. One is to complete the thesis within the General Program Option, and the other is to combine a thesis with one of the MI concentrations.

For the General Program + Thesis option, the requirement of 16 half-courses (8.0 FCE) is to be met as follows:

  •  2.0 FCE of core courses:
    • INF1001H Knowledge and Information in Society
    • INF1240H Research Methods
    • INF1003H Information Systems, Services and Design
    • INF1005 + 1006H Information Workshop
  • One research methods course (0.5 FCE), appropriate to the program of study, with a final grade of at least A–.  Normally, INF1240H satisfies this requirement.
  • One reading course (0.5 FCE) with a student’s intended supervisor, with a final grade of at least A-
  • 3.0 elective FCEs (six additional half courses, which may include up to four graduate half courses [2.0 FCEs] taken outside the MI program)
  • A thesis (2.0 FCE)

For the Concentration + Thesis option, the requirement of 16 half-courses (8.0 FCE) is to be met as follows:

  • All core and required courses for the student’s declared concentration (3.0 FCE)
  • One research methods course (0.5 FCE), appropriate to the program of study, with a final grade of at least A– (INF1240H automatically satisfies this requirement. To request that another course satisfy this requirement, contact the MI program director prior to taking the course.)
  • One reading course (0.5 FCE) with a student’s intended supervisor, with a final grade of at least A-
  • 2.0 elective FCEs (four additional half courses, some or all of which may include graduate courses taken outside the MI program); ideally these courses should be selected from among the suggested electives for the student’s concentration, but students may take electives from outside those lists with permission from their thesis supervisor
  • A thesis (2.0 FCE)

Students planning to undertake theses should follow these course sequences (PDF format):

Students who began their MI degree programs prior to 2015 have the option of following the current thesis options or working under the thesis requirements in place when they first enrolled at the iSchool.

Program of study for MMSt thesis students

The requirement of 15 half-courses (7.5 FCE) is to be met as follows:

  • Four required Museum Studies half-courses (2.5 FCE)
  • MSL2350H Museum Planning and Management: Projects, Fundraising and Human Resources OR INF2040H Project Management (0.5 FCE)
  • One research methods course (0.5 FCE), appropriate to the program of study, with a final grade of at least A- (INF1240H automatically satisfies this requirement. To request that another course satisfy this requirement, contact the MMSt Program Director prior to taking this course.)
  • Five other half-courses (2.5 FCE), of which at least 1 elective (0.5 FCE) must be an MMSt elective course.
  • A thesis (2.0 FCE)


Forming the Supervisory and Examination Committees

A student's supervisory committee provides advice and guidance as the student develops and carries out the thesis project. The supervisory committee consists of:

  • A thesis supervisor, who must be a regular iSchool faculty member
  • A second reader, who may be a regular, adjunct, or emeritus iSchool faculty member, or a regular or emeritus faculty member at another U of T department

For more information and advice on the roles of the student and the committee members, see the School of Graduate Studies Supervision Guidelines (allowing for the differences between PhD and Master's programs, where applicable).

The Thesis Examination Committee is formed once the thesis is ready for defense, about seven weeks prior to the defense date. It consists of the thesis supervisor, the second reader, a non-voting Chair, and an external examiner who is:

  • external to the Faculty of Information;
  • a faculty member from another U of T department, a qualified senior practitioner, or an appointed individual from an academic or research institution;
  • arm's-length from the student and the thesis project.

External examiners who cannot be present in person for the defense may participate via teleconference or the equivalent.


Thesis Proposal

The proposal should contain detail sufficient to describe the significance, background and rationale for the thesis and the work the student will perform for the thesis. Supervisors should guide students in structuring a proposal appropriate to the disciplinary context of the project. The following list of elements is typical for a thesis proposal in Information; however, the Faculty recognizes that this list may not fit all thesis proposals and thus should be considered as illustrative only:

  1. Statement of the problem–includes the background, context in the information field and in the broader scheme of academic pursuits, key questions, significance of the problem, and description of chosen methodology.
  2. Grounding and rationale–provides a representative review of theoretical, conceptual, technological or methodological precedents which directly relate to the thesis topic.
  3. Research plan–details the methods that will be used or the processes that will be followed during the course of investigation. This section describes how the questions posed by the thesis will be addressed, and how the research will translate into a project timeline leading to the defense.

The proposal should also include a statement about the estimated length of the thesis (see guidelines above). If a course other than INF 1240H: Research Methods is to satisfy the methods requirement, a brief rationale for the choice of methods course should be included as part of the thesis proposal, as well as the course syllabus, and a formal endorsement of the appropriateness of the course from the program director. (Students and supervisors are therefore advised to consult with program directors about non-standard methods courses well in advance.)

The proposal should be no more than 10 pages (double-spaced, not including bibliography or any appendixes, tables, and figures), though it may be shorter depending on the nature of the project. The proposal must be accompanied by a Thesis Proposal Form, with signatures from the supervisor and second reader. Both documents must be submitted to the Chair of the Committee on Standing before the beginning of the term in which the student wishes to be enrolled in the year-long thesis option (normally Sept. 5 for Fall term). See the Timeline section below for more information.



Research using human subjects

Research protocols must be approved by the University of Toronto's Social Sciences & Humanities Review Committee– Human Research Area, if human subjects are involved. Your supervisor and the Associate Dean Research can advise you on the process and timelines. The Research Ethics Board (REB) review process takes 3-4 weeks from submission to approval depending on the complexity of the project, the vulnerability of the population to be studied, and the degree of risk involved in the project. Students and supervisors should take the REB submission dates and timelines into account when planning the thesis.


The following timeline is based on full-time registration in the normal two-year program for the MI or MMSt degrees. Students not on the following two-year program schedule should consult with their supervisors and program directors about adapting the following timeline to their schedule. Any departure from this standard timeline must be justified in the thesis proposal and approved by the Committee on Standing before the student may be enrolled in the thesis option. SGS policies regarding overall degree timelines apply in all cases.

Note that the thesis option (RST 9999Y) functions as a three-term course worth 2.0 FCE. Students who have not completed the thesis within the three-term limit must request an extension to coursework from the Committee on Standing.

First year (September – April):

No enrollment in the thesis option is necessary in the first year. Students use the first year of coursework to consider potential supervisors and second readers while exploring their potential thesis topic.

During their first year, students must take a course that satisfies the research methods requirement (see above). Students who intend to satisfy this requirement with a course other than INF 1240H: Research Methods are advised to consult with their program director and (if known) their potential supervisor prior to Winter-term course selection.

By the end of April of their first year, thesis students in both programs should either be completing their methods course with a grade of A- or above, or be registered for a methods course in their upcoming Summer term. By this time, MI thesis students should also have found a supervisor, arranged with him or her to do a Reading Course in the Summer term, and submitted a Reading Course proposal. MMSt thesis students have slightly more time to secure a supervisor (see below).


Summer term (May – August of first year):

MI students take a Reading Course with their supervisor. MI and MMSt students consult with their supervisor to prepare their thesis proposal. Students in both programs who haven’t already completed their research methods course should be taking one in the Summer term, if available. By the end of summer, students in both programs should also have a second reader confirmed for their supervisory committee.


Second year (September – April):

The Thesis Proposal Form and full thesis proposal must be submitted to the Chair of the Committee on Standing by September 5th. Approval or rejection of the proposal is communicated to the student and supervisor by the Committee on Standing chair soon after the first Committee on Standing meeting of the term. If the proposal is approved, iSchool Student Services will enroll the student in the 2.0 FCE thesis course (course code is RST9999Y).

As research for the thesis begins, students and supervisors should agree upon meeting schedules, implementing the research plan described in the proposal, project milestones, and the process for submitting drafts, receiving feedback, and handling revisions. (See also the School of Graduate Studies’s supervision guidelines, allowing for the differences between PhD and Master’s programs, where applicable). A second reader may wish to be closely involved in the research process at an early stage, or may wish only to read and give feedback on a complete draft of the thesis at a later stage. The student, supervisor, and second reader should consult together early to agree upon the process and make expectations clear.


Thesis completion (May – September of second year):

The completion of the thesis should be well within sight by the beginning of summer, and students and the supervisory committee should be entering the final stages leading to the defense. No thesis defenses may take place less than two weeks before the SGS deadline for the completion of degree requirements (normally September 30th). Students who are unable to complete their work in time to hold a defense before September 15th will normally become ineligible for November convocation, be required to re-register and pay extra fees, and apply for an extension to course work to remain in the thesis option. Students and supervisors are strongly encouraged to avoid September defenses, and to plan the thesis’s scope and research process to allow for an early- or mid-summer defense.

The second reader should be given a minimum of two weeks to read the complete thesis and give feedback. Students should also consult well in advance with their committees about their availability over the summer, allowing for vacations, research trips, and other periods of unavailability.

Once the supervisor and second reader have read the complete thesis and agree that it is ready for defense, the supervisor must notify the program director in writing and submit a Committee for the Final Oral Examination Form to Student Services at least seven weeks prior to the desired defense date. For example, for a defense to be scheduled on September 15th (the last possible day), the program director should be notified in the first week of August at the latest. This interval is to allow for faculty absences due to summer vacation, and to ensure that Examining Committee members have appropriate time to evaluate the thesis. Students and supervisors are advised to have second and third choices ready when proposing external examiners.

It is the responsibility of the program director to determine the external’s eligibility, and to make the official invitation on behalf of the iSchool. Once the examination form is received, the program director:

  • ensures that student has completed all other degree and course requirements (examinations cannot be scheduled if any grades are outstanding);
  • confirms that the thesis is within the length guidelines (theses that egregiously exceed the length limit will not be sent to the external examiner until they are edited);
  • contacts the external examiner about serving on the Thesis Examination Committee, and informs her/him about the role;
  • appoints an independent, non-voting Committee chair (normally the program director fills this role, schedule permitting);
  • books an examination room and necessary equipment.

Once the Examination Committee and defense date have been finalized by the program director, the student is responsible for providing digital copies of the defense draft to the Examining Committee, including the external examiner, at least four weeks prior to the defense date.

At least two weeks prior to the examination, the external examiner submits a short written report (1–2 pages) to the program director, who then makes the report available to the student and the rest of the Examination Committee.


Final oral examination

The final oral examination consists of a 10–20 minute presentation by the student (which may include visual aids), followed by a question period not exceeding 60 minutes. Quorum for the examination is two voting members of the Examination Committee. Participation by telephone conference call or videoconferencing is permitted. Other faculty members and students may be invited to attend the examination, with permission of the candidate. Guests may not vote, and must leave the room during the discussions of the Examining Committee before and after the question period.

Assessment is based on examination performance, and quality of the written thesis, taking into account that iSchool Master’s theses are worth 4 credits in degree programs of either 15 (MMSt) or 16 (MI) credits in total.

The Examination Committee Chair follows the Procedures for the Final Oral Examination as follows:

  1. Committee assembles and Chair briefly outlines these procedures.
  2. Chair requests that the student leave the room.
  3. Chair informs the Committee as to whether degree requirements have been met.
  4. Chair invites the Committee to briefly discuss any considerations that the student will need to address in the defense questioning, such as weaknesses identified in the external’s report.
  5. Student is invited back into the room to present their work (10–20 minutes). No questions are asked during the presentation.
  6. 1st Round: Chair invites the Committee to comment/ask questions about the presentation and thesis in the following order: 1) external examiner; 2) second reader; and, 3) supervisor. The external examiner is normally given more time for questions in this round than the other two examiners. 2nd Round: Committee members may ask additional questions, following from the 1st round.
  7. Chair requests the student leave the room.
  8. Committee discusses the presentation in terms of the student’s ability, knowledge of her/his research field, and defense. If the Committee agrees that modifications are required (see below), the Chair makes a list of the specific modifications, including their scope — i.e. whether the modification should be manageable via a couple of new paragraphs, or a short subsection, or a new footnote, or a few strategically placed clarifying sentences.
  9. Committee votes for Pass, Pass with Modifications, or Fail; outcome is determined by a majority vote.
  10. Chair recalls the student, and informs him/her of the Committee's decision. (See below for detailed instructions in the event of a Pass with Modifications decision.)

The Thesis Examination Committee fills out the Thesis Completion Form at the end of the examination. If the vote is for a Pass with Modifications, a member of the Thesis Examination Committee, normally the supervisor, is appointed to: 1) inform the student in writing of the modifications; 2) review the modifications and advise the student during the process if necessary; and 3) report the result to the program director by a deadline agreed upon by the Examining Committee.

Normally, modifications are those which may be reasonably handled by the student within a two-week timeframe or less. Major revisions involving substantial new analysis or data collection should be considered beyond the scope of Pass with Modifications. If the thesis requires major modifications of this nature to be judged passable by the Examination Committee, the outcome of the defense should be Fail (see below). Minor typos and corrections that can be handled quickly in a single sitting can be included in a straightforward Pass outcome. If the modifications are not completed within this interval, or do not adequately address the Examining Committee’s instructions, the outcome is Fail.


Thesis submission  

The thesis must be submitted in electronic format through the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) submission process. SGS only accepts theses in electronic format. There is no longer a requirement for submission of the thesis in hard copy to the iSchool Inforum. SGS has helpful information about how to format and prepare the thesis, and about publication factors to consider.

SGS notifies students about convocation arrangements about 4–6 weeks in advance. Students failing to complete all steps by the SGS deadlines will be required to re-register and pay additional fees.


Examination failure

Students are provided with written reasons in the case of a Fail recommendation.

A second examination may be scheduled within six months of the defense date.

If a second Fail recommendation is made, the student fails the thesis option, and may not repeat it.

A failed student may have his/her registration terminated. However, to make up the total number of credits required for the degree, the necessary number of elective courses may be substituted in place of the thesis option with SGS approval, and on the recommendation of the iSchool.