To complete a thesis, students must enroll in the 'independent instruction' course COSI 299 - Computational Linguistics Master's Thesis. This involves (analogously to COSI 293b - Exit Requirement Internship Course) registering for an individual section taught by one of the CL faculty—in this case, whatever faculty member is supervising the thesis.
Students interested in completing a thesis should be in touch with the faculty member with whom they would like to work, ideally during the term before the thesis will be done—and at the latest by the start of term in which the thesis will be done.
In order to register for the course, the student will need to have worked out a topic (or at least a domain of study) which the supervisor has agreed to. This means specifically (and minimally) that the professor has a sense that the topic is suitable and will be fruitful as a research topic, that the student will be able to complete it in the time required, and that the professor has enough time to serve as supervisor.
Because it is common for students to go through a few potential topics before coming to one that both they and the supervisor agree to, students are strongly encouraged to begin discussing possible topics with potential supervisors as early as possible. (It is good to discuss a potential topic, for instance, at the start or during the course of the semester before the one in which the thesis will actually be done.)
Completing a thesis typically involves regular (usually weekly) meetings with the thesis supervisor, and numerous drafts of the thesis before the final version is ready to submit. As a rough guideline, CL MS theses are roughly 40-60 pages, including the bibliography and any appendices. The content should be worked out in close collaboration with the thesis supervisor, but typically includes:
An introduction that defines the problem, laying out why it is interesting and hard, reviewing prior related literature, outlining possible strategies for solving the problem, and describing the approach proposed
A chapter detailing the author's approach, including an introduction of the proposed analysis' components and the experimental/corpus design
A chapter specifically on the corpus design and experiments
A chapter discussing the results and consequences
A bibliography, and, if appropriate, one or more appendices
The Thesis Defense
When the thesis is ultimately in a finished state that the supervisor agrees is ready for a defense, the CL advising faculty will schedule a defense date for the thesis. Typically, a period of at least one week must be allowed between the day on which the student sends the thesis to committee members and the date of the defense itself. This is needed to allow committee members the time to read the thesis before the defense occurs.
The defense is essentially an oral examination. It involves the student first giving a presentation of the thesis content, and then responding to questions on this content posed by a committee—where the committee consists of the thesis supervisor plus a few other faculty members (typically 2, and sometimes 3) with knowledge on the thesis topic. The committee then confers, and gives its decision on whether or not the thesis will pass. Once the thesis passes, a grade for the thesis course can be assigned, and the thesis (and thus the Exit Requirement) is considered completed. Typically theses pass without the need for subsequent substantial revisions, but it is possible for the committee to require that certain changes, revisions, or additions be made before the thesis can pass.
The Registrar's Office and GSAS set deadlines for each degree date by which the FINAL version of a thesis must be approved and uploaded into the university's computer system. This deadline has begun recently to occur earlier than is ideal—namely, within last few weeks of the term in which the student plans to graduate, and often before the last day of classes that term. For instance, MS theses for students wishing to graduate in Spring 2018 have to have passed the thesis defense, with any required revisions having been completed and approved by the supervisor, by April 13. However, classes do not end until April 26, and final exams run through May 8.
Students and their supervisors should plan thesis progress carefully, planning backwards from the university's date for the thesis to be accepted and uploaded, to ensure that the thesis can be finished, defended, and passed by its committee in time for the appropriate graduation dates. When this is not achieved, the student's graduation date will need to be delayed. (For instance, if the May graduation deadlines are not reached, then the student would not be able to officially graduate until August—though all degree requirements could be finished before that, and we would be able to produce a letter certifying this, if needed for an employer or additional graduate program.)
Despite the fact that internships for the exit requirement can generally be completed straightforwardly in the one semester minimum required, students interested in completing a thesis for their exit requirement are advised to seriously consider completing it in two semesters, to allow enough time for process to take place by the graduation deadlines. Students who opt for one-semester will still benefit from beginning discussions with a potential supervisor about the thesis topic and content, and beginning background reading and thinking, during the term prior to the one in which the thesis is officially undertaken.