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Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology

The Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Criminology is available on the Pullman campus. The program is designed to develop and enhance the student’s knowledge of criminal justice; expand and develop a student’s analytical and assessment skills; and further develop their facility with oral and written communication and with research.

The program is flexible and provides a superb basis for entry into graduate work at the doctoral level or applied work in criminal justice agencies. Approximately 70% of our M.A. graduates are employed in applied settings while the balance have pursued teaching and research careers.

The Program offers two tracks toward the completion of the Master’s Program:

  • Thesis Track
  • Non-Thesis Track 

Each track has different course requirements that are provided here and in the Graduate Handbook

Students should read the descriptions of the two tracks outlined below carefully. The decision which track a student wants to pursue can be decided once a student arrives on campus during discussion with the graduate advisor.

Master’s Thesis Track

In addition to completing coursework, students in the Thesis Track are required, under the guidance of a thesis committee, to complete a thesis presenting the results of a systematic research project on a topic related to criminal justice and criminology. The thesis committee will normally be composed of the chairperson and two other members of the Graduate Faculty. The subject matter of the thesis will, of course, have an important bearing on the committee’s composition.

The thesis must consist of original scholarship and contribute to the body of knowledge in criminal justice and criminology. The aim of the thesis is to produce an independent work of research that is comparable to a published journal article within the discipline. As such, a completed thesis should be approximately 30 pages in length and should address a relatively narrow research question. The thesis topic must be approved by the student’s supervisory committee. The thesis prospectus and the thesis itself must also be approved by the supervisory committee. It is anticipated that most thesis topics will make use of secondary data analysis, though original data may be collected if deemed appropriate and feasible by the thesis committee. Types of research allowable for the MA thesis include but are not limited to survey projects, qualitative designs, content analysis, and case studies.

Thesis Prospectus

The thesis is a three-stage process including the thesis prospectus, the writing of the thesis, and the final thesis defense. The prospectus shall comprise the introduction to the thesis (which must describe the research problem and justify its importance through the use of the literature and/or empirical data) and a brief discussion of proposed methods and analytic techniques. The length of a prospectus may vary, though most should be approximately 10 pages. Exceptions to this format will be at the discretion of the committee chair. As the prospectus and prospectus defense are intended to review the proposed methodological approach, students are strongly discouraged from collecting data prior to a successful prospectus examination. Collecting such data prior to a successful prospectus defense may result in requiring the student to discard any such data and results (this decision is made by the student’s Graduate Committee). The prospectus is expected to be reviewed by the student’s thesis committee and successfully defended and approved by the committee prior to the completion of the thesis. Ideally, the student is encouraged to defend a prospectus by the end of their second semester in the program. This will provide the student with the summer and last two semesters to conduct the research of the thesis.

Students must plan to give the thesis committee sufficient time to evaluate the prospectus and thesis documents. The committee chair is allotted three weeks to return edits and changes to the student, who will then revise the document. This is iterative—although a chair may turn drafts around more quickly, students must allow for this interval each time. With the chair’s approval, the student submits a prospectus or thesis to the other committee members, and they also are allotted, at minimum, three weeks to return edits and changes. This process is iterative and concludes when the committee views the document as ready for a defense. These rules pertain to the academic year only; no committee member is obligated to consider drafts during the summer except at that individual’s discretion. Students are encouraged to keep the iterative nature of this process in mind, as it could affect the date of defense.

The prospectus defense must be public (i.e., can be attended by those who are not on the thesis committee). For each defense, the finished document will be provided to the Graduate Coordinator prior to the presentation date for review and an invitation to attend the defense will be sent out to the faculty and graduate students. The defense will consist of a presentation of the project lasting not less than 15 and not more than 30 minutes, followed by questions and answers. After the committee has asked its questions of the presenting student, those also in attendance may question the student at the discretion of the chair. Presentations must be clear, comprehensive, and accessible even to those who have not read the document. All prospectus defenses shall follow this standard format.

Preparing and Defending the Thesis

After the prospectus is successfully defended, students need to review and summarize the relevant literatures, prepare the necessary and agreed methodological tools, collect and analyze data, which will be used to answer the thesis research question and complete a draft of the thesis. The student should provide regular progress reports to the committee chair as research is conducted. Students should consult with their chair if they have questions about how much information they should provide to other committee members and when. Of course, a student should call upon members of their committee whenever the student wants or needs their expertise. At least once a semester, students should make a point of acquainting each committee member with their progress. Students should keep in mind the criteria for distributing and receiving comments on drafts described above.

Once the thesis is completed and approved by the committee chair, students should provide each member of the committee with a copy of the thesis. This should occur by the 3rd week of the 4th semester, to provide sufficient time for feedback and the scheduling of the final exam. Once each member deems it acceptable (following the iterative process described in the prospectus defense section), it is time for the student to schedule an oral defense which must happen by the last allowable date during their fourth semester under Graduate School Policy. Note that under existing Graduate School policies, a defense cannot be scheduled until the thesis is ready for presentation to the Graduate School and for deposit in the University library. The final oral examination usually centers on the thesis, but, as the Graduate School regulations indicate, the student must be prepared to meet questions relating to any of the work he or she has done for the degree.

Each member of the committee must attend the defense. Other faculty and students may attend as well and graduate faculty may join the balloting process, as indicated by Graduate School policy. A thesis defense lasts at least one hour and may not exceed two and one-half hours. Students are encouraged to talk with the chair about how the defense will be conducted. Following a 30-45 minute presentation on the thesis, members of the committee will ask questions about how the research was conducted, data analyzed and so forth. Other faculty may ask questions as well. In the unlikely event that a student fails the defense, the Graduate School allows that “a second and last attempt may be scheduled after a lapse of at least three months.”

Master’s Non-Thesis Track

In addition to the course requirements, M.A. students are required to complete a non-thesis project consisting of a professional quality oral poster presentation on a criminal justice and criminology topic that they have previously written about in their coursework as a graduate student in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Students begin by constructing a committee as detailed in their handbook. This should be done by the deadline to submit a program of study. Note that for the non-thesis option, the instructor of record for the paper selected must be part of the committee, unless that faculty member is not available or unwilling to serve. If the original faculty member is not able to serve on the committee, this must be documented in writing via communication with the Graduate Coordinator.

This non-thesis option is a three-stage process including topic selection, preparation, and presentation. Students must consult with and have their MA committee approve the topic of the presentation. Importantly, this topic must be derived from a paper the student has previously completed as part of their graduate coursework in Criminal Justice and Criminology at WSU.  Once the topic is approved, the student should begin work on revising the paper substantially, considering feedback received from the original instructor and feedback received from the rest of committee. Students can start this process after establishing their committee, though it may also wait until the beginning of their third semester in the program. The student should work closely with the chair of their committee in this process and must plan to give the chair and the committee members sufficient time to evaluate the document. The committee chair is allotted three weeks to return edits and changes to the student, who will then revise the document. This is iterative—although a chair may turn drafts around more quickly, students must allow for this interval each time. With the chair’s approval, the student submits the document to the other committee members, and they also are allotted, at minimum, three weeks to return edits and changes. This process is also iterative until the committee is satisfied with the manuscript. Students should expect this iterative process will not be completed until either their third or fourth semester in the program.

After the final drafts are returned, the student should begin work preparing a poster presentation on the paper in question. Students will be responsible for presenting this poster to their committee and other members of the department at a date selected by the department for a MA poster symposium. All students pursuing the non-thesis option will present during this date and the poster session will be a public event.

The performance at the oral presentation is evaluated by the student’s committee to ensure that the student has achieved the learning goals and objectives in the M.A. program. Students should expect to present for approximately 3-5 minutes to the committee, with additional time allocated for Q&A. Students may also need to discuss their research with other faculty. As per graduate school policy, any graduate faculty may ballot for this examination. After the oral examination, if a student’s oral defense performance is found to be deficient, after consulting with the Graduate Director but within 5 days of the defense, the committee will provide the student specific steps needed to correct such deficiencies. The student must, in the form of a written document, detail changes made to the presentation and the rationale for these changes. To finalize this appeal, the student must submit this document and the updated poster to their committee chair. The student then meets with their committee chair to discuss these changes. A student who does not successfully correct the inadequacies identified by the student’s Master’s Committee will be allowed to reregister for CRM J 702 the following semester and repeat the oral exam process

Teaching and Research Assistantships

While not required of master’s students, there are opportunities to assist with teaching and research. Many graduate students find these experiences very valuable, both in deepening their own scholarship and in providing useful professional experience.

Graduate Director

Dr. Dale Willits

Graduate Program Coordinator

Danielle M. Makin

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