Master of Arts (M.A.) Geography

The M.A. in Geography is a thirty-hour degree that combines broad training in the field with a specialty. It also includes a thesis. The M.S. in Geography expands the student's knowledge of how earth systems work and how humans interact with its components. The Geography Ph.D. program offers student concentrations in the following areas: cultural-regional geography of Africa, East Asia, Latin America, Russia/Eurasia, and the United States; geographic information science (including cartography and remote sensing); and physical/environmental geography. 


The department envisions master's theses to be demonstrations of a student's ability to formulate a geographic research problem, collect and analyze relevant data or appropriate literature, arrive at logical conclusions, and present the entire exercise in an acceptably professional form. Theses are more often learning experiences than substantive contributions to the field. The Ph.D. dissertation, on the other hand, is a major research effort designed to contribute significant new knowledge to geography.

Guidelines for Proposals.

Although a dissertation proposal is necessarily more elaborate than that for a M.A. thesis, all proposals are expected to contain three basic elements:

  1. Problem statement—the research problem and/or questions presented in concise terms.
  2. Relevant literature—a demonstration of how the proposed research relates to existing knowledge.
  3. Outline of methodology—an outline of the general methodology if not specific techniques to be utilized in solving the research problem or answering the basic research questions.
  4. A projected timeline for completion

While these are the minimum content requirements for all proposals, students should consult with their advisor early in the proposal writing process with regard to specific format, length, or content requirements. It is expected that the student will consult closely with the advisor during the development and drafting of the proposal and that the student will receive the advisor's approval of the proposal before submitting it to committee members and scheduling the M.A. thesis proposal defense or the Ph.D. oral exam.

Thesis and Dissertation Format

Because of the diversity of Geography as a discipline, the Department does not specify a required format for theses and disssertations. The preferred format varies from subfield to subfield and from advisor to advisor; therefore, you should consult with your advisor early in your graduate studies with regard to your advisor's required format. In all cases, of course, the thesis or dissertation must meet University guidelines.

Submission of Thesis/Dissertation for Committee Examination

Students should submit theses and dissertations directly to their advisors, and this advisor's approval must be received before a “clean and complete” version of this document is passed on to other committee members and the final oral defense is scheduled. A "clean" manuscript is typed in legible fashion with a minimum of handwritten corrections and is "complete" in the sense that the entire text is provided, together with table of contents, notes, bibliography, appendices, and supporting materials such as tables, graphs, maps, and illustrations. Graphics and maps should be carefully laid out with complete information in a format (size and shape) that is appropriate for inclusion in the final document. The thesis/dissertation need not, and in fact should not, be in final form for binding. The presumption is that some changes will be necessary and these are easier to recommend and implement if the copy is "clean and complete" but not "final." 


All M.A. and Ph.D. defenses must have a public component, which typically will involve an oral presentation by the student. These defenses must be announced via departmental email, the departmental Web page, and flyers posted in Lindley Hall. Once the presentation has been given and the public has been given a chance to ask questions, the public will be required to leave, and committee members will be able to ask questions in a private session.

Publication of Thesis and Dissertation Research

It is an expectation of the Department of Geography that all thesis and dissertation research be of publishable quality. All graduate students, under the guidance of their advisors and graduate committees, are strongly encouraged to develop a plan to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, edited books, or other appropriate venues. Elements of that plan may include publishing abstracts and making presentations at scholarly conferences, submitting conference proceedings papers, and structuring the thesis or dissertation so as to facilitate publications.

Program and Coursework

The program at the M.A. level continues the general training of the bachelor's degree, but also provides for the development of some concentration in preparation for employment or further study. Upon a student's admission to the department, the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) will appoint an advisor. Early in the first semester (preferably in the first week of classes), the student should meet with this advisor to outline a tentative program of coursework for the degree. Such programs should be solidified by the time of enrollment for the second semester and submitted to the GSC for approval. The student and advisor then continue to discuss and update programs each semester, bearing in mind that any substantive changes must be approved by the GSC. Program sheets are available in the department office and must be filed before the proposal defense can be scheduled. All candidates must pass a proposal defense and then submit and successfully defend a thesis in a final oral defense.

Current course requirements can be viewed in the KU online catalogue.

Ideally, work on the M.A. thesis should begin during the second full-time semester so that field, laboratory, or library work can be done the following summer. During this second semester of the M.A. program, the student should decide on the general area of thesis research and select a member of the Geography faculty who is competent in that area and is willing to supervise the thesis and serve as the student's general advisor. In consultation with the faculty advisor, the student should invite two additional members of the graduate faculty to serve on the M.A. Committee. At least one of the additional committee members must be a member of the Geography faculty - all committee members must be approved by the GSC. Additional committee members beyond the minimum of three may be appointed to the M.A. Committee if desired and if approved by the GSC. Members of the M.A. Committee conduct the proposal defense, read the thesis, and conduct the final thesis defense.

Proposal Defense

Each M.A. student will undergo a proposal defense with members of his or her M.A. committee to demonstrate that he or she is prepared to conduct research that will result in a satisfactory thesis. This examination should take place after a substantial portion of the coursework is complete and after at least one full draft of the proposal has been submitted to the advisor for review. The proposal defense may address all components of the proposal, including the problem statement, the literature review, and, particularly, the methods of research and analysis to be applied.

At the conclusion of the proposal defense, the committee awards an evaluation of either Satisfactory or Needs Revision. In cases where the committee determines that the proposal needs to be revised, the student is provided specific criticisms that need to be addressed. Once the criticisms have been addressed, the proposal is circulated to the advisor and then to the committee members. There is no need for the committee to formally meet again unless the advisor deems it necessary. Once the proposal is determined to be satisfactory by all committee members, the advisor forwards the decision to the Graduate Studies Committee.

M.A. Final Examination

A final general examination in geography is required of all M.A. students. This examination, a defense of the thesis, is normally held during the semester of the student's final enrollment in course work but cannot occur until the entire thesis has been completed and has received approval from the advisor. The examination should be scheduled for a two-hour time slot, and in no case is it to extend beyond three hours. This final examination is separate from, and should not be confused with, the proposal defense, which is held earlier in the program when the proposal is complete and the student is ready to begin research.

Continuous Enrollment

All master's students who have completed required coursework for their degrees are required to be continuously enrolled until all requirements for the degree are completed. No enrollment is necessary for the summer term unless the degree will be completed at that time. The Graduate School has established a maximum time limit of seven years between initial graduate enrollment and completion of all degree requirements.

Submission of Thesis

When the thesis has been completed, a thesis defense is scheduled. The student must submit a list of committee members, the proposed date and time of the defense, and the thesis title three weeks prior to the scheduled defense. After a successful defense, both electronic and hardbound copies need to be prepared. Both should include an abstract of no more than 150 words. A hardbound copy (8 1/2" x 11") is required for the department. The KU Libraries recommend the following binders that can bind paper copies of your thesis and additionally offer print-from-electronic file services: 1) Heckman Bindery  or 2) Acme Bookbinding.  Bound copies can also be obtained through UMI Dissertation Publishing. The student must turn in a receipt showing that arrangements have been made for such work prior to the deadline for graduation set by the Graduate School.  It is also customary for the student to provide a bound copy for the advisor.

The thesis must be submitted to the Graduate School and UMI Dissertation Publishing electronically using Portable Document Format (PDF). Instructions for this process are available at the KU graduate school website. See also UMI’s website. In addition to this electronic submittal, a student must submit a paper copy of the title page and an “acceptance page” with original signatures to the College Graduate Studies office in 102 Strong Hall. Formats for both of these are at the graduate school website. A copy of the title page should also be turned in to the Geography office.

KU M.A. Students Continuing for the Ph.D.

Departmental M.A. students desiring to continue at KU for their Ph.D. studies must apply to the Graduate Studies Committee. The application consists of a letter requesting admission accompanied by letters of evaluation from at least two KU faculty members in a position to judge the student's performance at the graduate level; one of these letters must be from the chair of the student's M.A. committee. A student is eligible to apply any time after successfully passing his or her M.A. examination. No more than nine hours of coursework completed within the M.A. program and in excess of the thirty-hour minimal requirement therein will be allowed to count toward Ph.D. requirements.