Master's Thesis Process

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The Master’s Thesis process occurs under the oversight of the Vice Provost, Graduate and Interdisciplinary Studies.

These academic regulations are in effect for students who have started their degree program on or after April 1, 2013.

Definition of a Thesis

Thesis. A thesis is a systematic study of a significant problem, issue, or phenomenon. The thesis demonstrates the ability to analyze existing research, collate or collect data and apply it in the context of an existing problem, issue or opportunity. The result is a synthesis of theoretical and empirical information and/or recommendations for further action. The thesis identifies a problem or issue, states the research question, identifies major assumptions, explains the significance for the undertaking, grounds the research in relevant literature, sets forth the methods of gathering information, analyzes the data and offers a conclusion or recommendations based on the data and theoretical framing. Appropriate quality standards such as validity, reliability, or authenticity must be consistent with the selected research tradition and evident in tool development and data collection. The finished thesis evidences critical and independent thinking, subject expertise, appropriate organization and format, and thorough documentation.

Unless an exemption has been granted by the Vice President Academic & Provost, all theses must be submitted for publication in RRU’s Digital Archive, Pro-Quest and Library and Archives Canada to meet final graduation requirements. Theses in non-traditional formats must be accompanied by a PDF summary (minimum 2,500 words), which is the only component that is electronically submitted and archived.  Oversight by a Thesis Committee, including a supervisor normally qualified at the doctoral level and demonstrating relevant competencies of content and methodology, is required. A public defence and review by an external academic examiner are also required. The thesis should constitute approximately 400 hours of effort by the student resulting in the awarding of 12 credits. (

Composition of a Thesis Supervisory Committee

Each Supervisory Committee must be approved by the Office of the AVP Research and Faculty Affairs in consultation with the School Director, Dean of the Faculty and the Vice President Academic & Provost as required. Each Supervisory Committee must be comprised of a minimum of two and a maximum of three committee members. The Thesis Supervisor counts as one of these members. One of the Supervisory Committee members must be an adjunct, associate or full-time faculty member at Royal Roads University. Normally, all Supervisory Committee members would hold a doctorate, but in exceptional circumstances, individuals with extensive practitioner experience who are recognized as an expert in the field would be eligible to serve as Supervisor or Committee Member. At least one of the members of the Thesis Supervisory Committee must hold a doctorate. Nominations for supervisors and committee members who are not full-time RRU faculty will be reviewed and approved by the respective Faculty Dean and the Associate Vice President of Research and Faculty Affairs. Once approved, supervisor/committee member will retain active status with the university unless performance feedback warrants review or termination of such status.

Standards for a Master’s Thesis Defence

Each master’s thesis will need to successfully pass a public defence. At the oral defence the candidate must successfully defend the contents of the thesis, demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of research methods appropriate to the topic and fields of study; and demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the literature in the field(s) and the work of other scholars. All defences are open to the university community and the public at large. All defences will take place face to face or via video-conferencing unless exceptional circumstances apply. The defense may not be audio- or video-recorded.  Each defence begins with a brief (15-20 minutes) presentation by the student, summarizing the major themes and findings of the thesis. The defence takes place in two rounds of questioning in which the Committee members take turns asking questions. In general, questions are limited to work relevant to the thesis and to knowledge of matters directly related to it. After the Committee is satisfied that sufficient dialogue has occurred to make a decision, the student, along with any outside guests, is asked to leave while the Committee renders a decision. Normally, a defence should not exceed 90 minutes.

At that time, the Committee decides by majority vote on one of the five recommendations. In the event that the Committee’s decision is not unanimous, the majority (50%+1) shall prevail, including the External Examiner’s recommendation. 


Recommendation 1: Thesis acceptable, oral defence acceptable. Outright pass; minor copy-editing revisions to be reviewed by Supervisor prior to submission to Library.

Recommendation 2: Thesis requires minor revisions, oral defence acceptable. The thesis requires changes and additions including additional illustrative material, recasting of certain sections, additional data inclusion, and editing. The supervisor and the student work together to ensure that the recommended changes are executed satisfactorily. 

Recommendation 3: Thesis requires major revisions, oral defence acceptable. Major revisions entail a substantial rewriting of parts of the thesis and are expected to take more than three months to implement. In general, the committee finds that the thesis does not meet the minimum standards but agrees that the candidate has the potential, with additional preparation, to successfully defend a revised thesis. The thesis, under normal circumstances, should be resubmitted to the committee for approval within a six-month period. This recommendation can only be issued at a student’s first defence.

Recommendation 4: Thesis acceptable, oral defence unacceptable. The second oral defence should be rescheduled within three months of the first defence.

Recommendation 5: Thesis unacceptable, outright fail. The thesis does not meet the minimum standards; no reasonable amount of research and rewriting will raise it to a level of acceptability. The committee judges that the candidate does not have the potential to be able to successfully defend the work. Students receiving this recommendation will be automatically required to withdraw from the master’s program.

With Distinction A thesis that is judged to be outstanding (in the top 1-3 percent) may be recommended to be awarded distinction.

The recommendations can be appealed to the respective Dean, the Vice Provost, Research and Interdisciplinary Studies, and, ultimately, the Vice President Academic and Provost.

The Role of an External Examiner in a Master’s Thesis Defence

An external examiner participates in the examination of the thesis to provide an independent assessment of the quality of the candidate’s research. The external examiner should have an “arms-length” relationship with the student, the supervisor and members of the Thesis Supervisory Committee. It is not appropriate to name an external examiner who has had a personal or collaborative professional relationship with the student or the supervisor within the last five years.  Though it is the responsibility of the student and all members of the Supervisory Committee to avoid conflict of interest, the Office of the Vice Provost, Research and Interdisciplinary Studies is charged with ensuring that all members of the Supervisory Committee are aware of this responsibility. The Office of the Vice Provost, Research and Interdisciplinary Studies retains the authority to reject a recommended external examiner based upon a real or perceived conflict of interest which has not been anticipated in the existing criteria. Prior to the defence, the external examiner will submit to the Thesis Supervisor the External Examiner Report. All members of the Supervisory Committee and the student will receive copies of the External Examiner’s report. 

Students, supervisors, committee members, external examiners and thesis coordinators are required to use the institution’s Sharepoint site, which constitutes the university’s formal record of thesis progress. Individual program thesis handbooks are available on that site. Unless an exemption has been granted by the Vice President Academic & Provost, all theses must be submitted for publication in RRU’s Digital Archive, Pro-Quest, and Library and Archives Canada to meet final graduation requirements.

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Individual program requirements cannot deviate from the academic regulations adopted by Academic Council. Individual programs may provide students with complementary program-specific details.

For questions about the master’s thesis process, please contact matthew heinz, PhD, Vice Provost, Graduate and Interdisciplinary Studies, Royal Roads University.