A First-hand Account of the MAIS Thesis Process

A First-hand Account of the MAIS Thesis Process

Have you ever wondered about the process that Hopkins-Nanjing Center MAIS students go through when completing their graduate thesis? Final-year student Grace Faerber gives us the rundown. 

One of the main factors that distinguishes the Master of Arts in International Studies (MAIS) program at the HNC from the Certificate program is the thesis component. MAIS students prepare for writing their thesis during their first academic year by taking a thesis preparation course each semester; then, they spend their second year writing an academic thesis in their target language of study, in a subject related to their MAIS concentration and under the guidance of an HNC professor. 


As a third-semester MAIS student, I am deep into my thesis experience at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, and am seeing a tiny light at the end of the tunnel that I will reach in May of 2022, when I submit and defend my thesis before graduating. For my thesis topic, I am researching the recent rise in Chinese diaspora return migration and the Chinese government’s efforts to encourage overseas Chinese students to bring their talents back to China’s workforce. 

MAIS Thesis-writing

The MAIS is an interdisciplinary program in international studies that engages substantively with international  relations, politics, economics, public policy, law, society, and culture. In addition to  completing the required courses, all MAIS students must write a thesis based on original research in their target language. Chinese language theses have a minimum requirement of 15,000 characters. English Language theses have a minimum requirement of 20,000 words. The thesis must be engaged in an international context, with topics having a substantial international, transnational, or global dimension.  
First  Semester:
● Required Course: MA Interdisciplinary Studies Tutorial: co-taught by HNC Co-Director Adam Webb and a Chinese HNC professor, this course introduces students to the graduate level academic pursuit of international studies, including theoretical frameworks, academic principles, and notable Chinese and American scholars. Students explore scholarly works on many dimensions of international studies, including politics, international relations, economics, sociocultural studies and more. After the course students submit a short plan of study detailing their substantive areas of interest. 
Second Semester 
 Required Course: MA Thesis Preparation: co-taught by a pair of American and Chinese HNC professors, this course prepares students to write their thesis, detailing the thesis requirements, breaking down the merits and pitfalls of different topics, introducing thesis writing approaches, and connecting students with advisors. Students are given the opportunity to brainstorm different thesis topics and plans, culminating in a presentation at the end of the semester on their chosen thesis topic. 
 Select an adviser by early April and meet with that advisor at least three times in the spring
 Submit a draft thesis prospectus: In a short paragraph, students propose their thesis topic.
Summer Vacation
 Continue planning, research, reading, data collection: Over the summer I revised my thesis topic as my research interests changed, which is normal. I met with my advisor over the summer to discuss thesis topic revisions and establish a plan for tackling the thesis during the next semester.
Third Semester 
 Continue regular meetings with the adviser and continue the writing process: My advisor and I laid out a plan for me to find my sources, conduct a literature review, and select a theoretical framework for my thesis this semester. I set aside about 5 hours a week - or one afternoon a week - to research my thesis, find and read sources for the literature review, and at the same time engage with the scholars’ theoretical approaches to the topic. 
 Thesis Progress Report: students prepare a brief presentation on their thesis topic, initial research and approach the first two weeks of December, which is followed by a Q&A session with two HNC faculty members. I just completed my thesis progress report and presentation, and greatly appreciated the advice and guidance I received from the professors in attendance. I now plan to continue work on my thesis over winter break and prepare a first draft to share with my advisor in the first few months of the spring semester! Wish me luck!