Master’s Policy

In rare circumstances, a NUIN student and/or their advisor may reach the conclusion that a student will not continue in the NUIN program to earn a PhD.  In cases in which all of the following criteria are met, the student may petition the NUIN Advisory Board for permission to pursue a Master of Science degree.

Criteria for petition to pursue a NUIN Master of Science degree:

  1. The student must have spent at least 2 years in the NUIN program, completed 9 credits of approved coursework, and be in good academic standing.
  2. The student must have passed both the Basic Knowledge and Research sections of the NUIN Qualifying Exam.
  3. The student must have completed a sufficient body of independent research to compose and defend a research-based Master’s thesis before a committee of faculty (details below).

Procedure for petition to pursue a NUIN Master of Science degree:

If all of the criteria above have been met, the student and advisor should compose a letter to the NUIN Advisory Board providing details of the student’s academic history at Northwestern including coursework and Qualifying Exam results, a succinct description of the student’s independent research accomplishments on which the thesis will be based, and a detailed plan for completion of the Master’s degree requirements within 4 months of receiving permission to pursue a Master’s degree.  The plan for completion of a Master’s degree should include names of faculty who have agreed to serve on the student’s Master’s thesis committee, a timeline for completion of the thesis, and evidence of the advisor’s commitment to mentor the student and assume responsibility for progress, successful completion, and defense of a written thesis. The source of financial support, if any, for the student during this period should also be addressed.  If the student has already formed a thesis committee, written support from thesis committee members should also be provided.  The Master’s thesis committee should be composed of at least 3 faculty members (in addition to the advisor), including at least one from a department other than the advisor’s home department.  Both student and advisor must sign the petition letter.

Procedure for completing a NUIN Master’s degree

If permission to pursue a Master’s degree is granted by the NUIN Advisory Board, the student must complete and successfully defend a written Master’s thesis within the timeframe specified in the letter to the Advisory Board.  To ensure that the scope of the research to be included in the thesis is appropriate, the student must present a thesis proposal to their committee and obtain written approval of the proposal.  The thesis proposal should be a 2-5 page document composed by the student outlining the scientific rationale for the project and the experiments to be included in the thesis.  Once the proposal is approved by all thesis committee members, the student may proceed with any remaining work on the project and complete the thesis document.  The thesis itself should include an Introduction chapter explaining the background/rationale for the specific questions addressed by the thesis research, at least one Data chapter describing research conducted by the student, and a final Discussion chapter.  The thesis must be written by the student and provisionally approved by the advisor before submission to the committee, at least 2 weeks in advance of the scheduled defense.

The thesis defense must be attended by the student, the advisor, and all committee members and will consist of a presentation by the student of the background and experiments contained within the thesis and a rigorous discussion of the presented research.   Students should be aware that revisions may be required by the thesis committee and time to complete revisions and/or defend the thesis a second time should be taken into consideration when scheduling the defense.  The student should bring to the defense a hard copy of the Master’s Degree Completion form (from CAESAR) and submit the signed form to the NUIN office once all committee members approve the thesis and its defense.  The student should submit a final electronic version of the thesis to NUIN.  Institutional requirements for Master’s degree completion may be found here: .

Note that permission to pursue a Master’s degree will not be granted under the following conditions:

  • For research that is not already substantially complete
  • For an extensive literature review
  • For premature departure from the program without independent research accomplishment
  • For time spent in the NUIN program