MA in East Asian Studies Thesis & Exam FAQ

Thesis Guidelines

Masters students in East Asian Studies are invited to write a Master’s Thesis. The defense of the Master’s Thesis is offered as an alternative to the Exit Examinations. Students who intend to pursue a Ph.D. are particularly encouraged to write a Thesis. Students should keep in mind, however, that writing a thesis requires considerable planning and organization, adequate time management, discipline, and an innate interest in research-related writing. The following guidelines have been devised to help thesis students stay on track.

Review the office of graduate studies MA Thesis Guide

Designating a Topic Area

Early in the student’s second semester in the program, s/he should be able to identify the area in which they intends to focus for the thesis. Once this has been accomplished, the student should select a primary thesis advisor. Because the East Asian Studies MA program is relatively short, the student should begin considering potential topics/advisors as early after arrival as possible.

Selection of Primary Thesis Advisor

The student is responsible for designating a primary thesis advisor from among the tenure-track East Asian Faculty at Washington University. Non-tenure track professors, such as post-docs, may serve as a secondary thesis advisor with Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences permission.  Before doing so, the student needs to consult with the Director of Graduate Studies.

In selecting the thesis advisor, the student should be attentive to the research interests and areas of expertise represented by members of the EAS faculty. The student should identify the faculty member whose expertise most closely relates to the student’s proposed thesis topic. The student must then ensure that the faculty member will be willing to work with him/her on the proposed topic. (Students should note that faculty members periodically take leaves-of-absence and may not be available during the semester when the student intends to complete the thesis.)


Once a topic has been identified, the student should work with the thesis advisor to draw up a prospectus. The prospectus consists of a brief statement outlining the central goals of the study and describing the methods and procedures to be employed in meeting those goals.


Typically, the summer months are used to collect data and compile a bibliography under the supervision of the thesis advisor. Students preparing to write a Master’s Thesis should also be prepared to incorporate reference materials—both primary and secondary sources—in the focus language. Those working on an issue that relates to Chinese political structure, for example, should be able to incorporate references in Chinese.

Secondary Advisors

Armed with the draft of the prospectus, the student should meet with other East Asian faculty members and seek their participation in the thesis project. Consultation with other faculty members may necessitate slight changes in the thesis prospectus.

Scope and Procedures Form

Once a student has designated the faculty members who will serve on the Thesis Committee, s/he needs to submit a “Notice of Title, Scope, and Procedure Form” to the EALC Office. This will allow the office to make arrangements with the Office of Graduate Studies to have the student listed as “Graduating with Thesis.” Therefore, it is mandatory that students complete this procedure before the deadline for filing an “intent to graduate" through WebStac. (Note: For those intending to graduate in May, the deadline is December 1.)


By the midpoint of the student’s third semester in the program, s/he should begin showing the thesis advisor drafts of the thesis. Naturally, these drafts will not yet be near a final form. But they will allow the thesis advisor a greater opportunity to provide direction and advice. By the start of the fourth semester, the student should have a complete draft to show the advisor. At the thesis advisor’s discretion, these drafts might also be circulated with the secondary advisors.

Defense Draft

Students will need to defend their thesis during their fourth semester. It is important for students to arrange for their defenses well in advance of the semester’s end. It is equally important for students to allow their advisors (primary and secondary) ample time to read the Master’s Thesis in advance of the defense. Under no circumstances should the student allow the advisors less than two weeks to read the defense draft.

Planning the Defense

It is the student’s responsibility to arrange a time when all members of his/her committee can meet for the defense. The student should make these arrangements no later than a month prior to the planned defense, and do so in consultation with the thesis advisor and the EALC Office. The student is responsible for arranging the date/time of the defense. The office will arrange the place.

The Defense

Having provided the committee members a complete and clean copy of the thesis well in advance of the designated meeting time, the student and his/her advisors meet on the day of the defense to discuss the content of the thesis. Generally the defense will last for one hour. The student will be asked to describe their project briefly. Next, the advisors will take turns asking questions, seeking clarification, and making recommendations for improvement.


Based on the statements made at the defense, the student will be asked to revise his/her thesis accordingly. Although we would not wish for such to happen, it is possible that a thesis might not pass muster at the defense and that the committee recommends that the student not pursue revisions further. In such an event, the student will be allowed to incorporate the defense into an exit exam or MA essay with details of procedure to be worked out with the Director of Graduate Studies and the thesis committee.

Students whose theses pass the defense may be assigned a number of revisions. Depending on the degree of revisions required, it might be necessary to submit the revised draft to the committee for approval. Hence, it is very important that students allow for this possibility when completing their drafts and scheduling their defenses.

Submission of Thesis

When a student has successfully incorporated the revisions recommended by the committee and has secured the approval of the Thesis Advisor, they should submit the manuscript online. Please consult the Office of Graduate Studies' webpage for current guidelines pertaining to thesis submission. The EALC Office will pay to have one copy of the manuscript bound for the student. Also, to insure that the bound thesis is delivered promptly, students should be sure to leave a forwarding address with the EALC Office.

Master's Examination in East Asian Studies

All candidates for the Master’s degree in East Asian Studies who do not write a thesis are required to take a written and oral examination. It is the candidate’s responsibility to:

  1. select two distinct fields of study;
  2. secure the cooperation of two appropriate faculty members who approve of the student’s field selection and who will be willing to participate in the examination;
  3. secure the cooperation of a third professor who will serve as the moderator for the examinations;
  4. in consultation with the faculty members and the moderator, arrange a date and time for both the Written and the Oral examinations (see below) that is convenient for all parties concerned;
  5. inform the EALC Office of the approved schedule;
  6. apprise the DGS well in advance of the examinations of the selected fields, faculty examiners, and examination schedule.


Written Examination

The Written Examination contains three questions: one for each field of study and a bibliographic question. Upon notification by the candidate of the pre-arranged examination schedule, the EALC Office will obtain a room for the examination. The Office will also facilitate the exam procedure by providing the student with a copy of the examination questions (previously submitted by the selected examiners), timing the examination, and collecting the examination upon completion. The examination will be distributed to the three examination committee members.

The student has three hours to complete the exam. No reference books are permitted. The moderator will check on the student once or twice to insure that all is satisfactory.

Oral Examination

The Written Examination provides the basis for the Oral Examination, which is usually scheduled two or three days after the Written Examination. During the Oral Examination, the examiners ask the candidate to clarify or elaborate on his/her written answers. This portion of the examination normally takes one hour. Following this discussion, the committee confers to decide if the candidate has met the requirements of the examination. Having informed the candidate of the result, the committee makes a recommendation to the Office of Graduate Studies.

Completion Dates

All degree requirements for graduation must be completed by the appropriate date. Students should remember that it is their responsibility to apply for graduation by submitting the proper paperwork.

Students are asked to remember that the end of the term is a very busy time for faculty and staff. Preparation for the Exit Examinations should be made well in advance of the end of the term, preferably by the midterm.