University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Masters Degree Program Requirements

Degree Requirements

  • 30 graduate level credits, 15 of which must be in courses in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies
  • 880: Proseminar: Graduate Study in Gender and Women’s Studies
  • 900: Research in Gender and Women’s Studies
  • Graduate level feminist theory course
  • Thesis or Exam
  • Research and Thesis (990) and Independent Study (999)
    • Only up to 3 credits of GWS 990 Research and Thesis can count toward the GWS 15 credit minimum requirement, but up to 6 credits of 990 may count toward the total degree credits. Students may enroll in 3-6 credits of GWS 990 per semester. GWS 990 Research and Thesis is not a required course, but is recommended for those students writing a thesis.
    • Out of 30 minimum graduate level credits, only up to 6 credits can be in the form of independent/directed study (GWS 990, 999, and other departments’ independent study courses).
    • Students will be allowed to take independent/directed-study credits that do not count toward the degree minimum without approval, if they wish.
    • Special circumstances or requests for additional independent/directed-study credits to count toward minimum requirement must be approved in advance by the DGS and the advisor.
  • Thesis

    Option A: The Thesis

    Each student’s MA thesis project is approved by a committee composed of the permanent advisor and two other faculty members. Although individual projects may focus on more particular locations and/or problems in gender and women’s studies, all thesis projects will demonstrate understanding of interdisciplinary approaches to gender analysis and gender’s relationship to other forms of difference.

    The typical format of the thesis is a research paper, which in form, content, and length approximates an article that might be submitted for publication in a scholarly journal of a relevant field. Although no formal limits have been established for the length, in general a minimum of 30 and maximum of 80 pages is typical (bibliography and notes are not included in these page lengths). Students normally work closely
    with their advisor in researching and writing the thesis; students are also encouraged to consult with the members of their thesis committee or other faculty.

    The thesis may also take a variety of other formats in keeping with the student’s particular interests and expertise, i.e. the thesis might consist of a portfolio of art work, a documentary film, a composition, a performance or a designed program for practical implementation. In such cases, the student needs to find an advisor with expertise in the given art-form or methodology employed in the thesis, who can advise the student to the standards expected in their given fields. If the student cannot find an advisor who has expertise in the chosen format within the department, the student needs to first find a primary GWS advisor and then choose a co-advisor from another department. All thesis projects that are not research papers are to be accompanied by a written statement (roughly 3000-5000 words) that discusses the project’s theoretical backgrounds and methodological considerations.

    In either case, students will defend the thesis in front of the committee. A thesis defense can be either a) a public presentation and a closed Q and A session; or b) a closed meeting in which a student presents the summary of the thesis and answers the committee’s questions. Students and their advisors should consult to choose one of these two options.

  • Exam

    Option B: The Exam

    The culminating M.A. exam in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies has two fields: a Feminist Approaches field that asks students to demonstrate a general understanding of the field of gender and women’s studies, and an Interdisciplinary Substantive field that requires a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of a particular area of study.

    Each field will be based on a reading list of roughly 25 books, 75 articles, or their equivalent, constructed in collaboration with the student’s permanent advisor and an additional faculty examiner. (Students are encouraged to enroll in an independent study with one or both of their supervisors.) The second examiner should also be a budged, joint governance, or affiliate member of Gender and Women’s Studies, but exceptions may be considered by the DGS. At least one of the two examiners must be a “Budgeted and Joint Governance” member of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

    After the student has worked through the lists, and no later than a month before the end of the semester in which the student plans to graduate, each examiner will give the student a question to be answered in no more than 10 double-spaced pages. Students then have two weeks to write their answers. In no fewer than 5 days and no more than 9 days after submitting their answers to both examiners, students will take an oral exam based on their written answers.

    Although the content of these exams are specific to Gender and Women’s Studies, they seek to foster skills necessary to academic life more generally. In particular, successful students will learn to: a) integrate and synthesize the ideas represented in their reading list; b) accurately summarize and represent theories and ideas from their reading list; c) critically compare and contrast different perspectives; and d) identify debates and analyze their arguments.

    Feminist Approaches

    This field will build on and extend the readings and topics that students encountered in GWS 880 and GWS 900. The field is designed to develop four complementary but distinctive competencies.

    Students taking this exam should be able to:

    1. Describe and analyze the changing terrain of gender and women’s studies, paying particular attention to the complexities that create intellectual and political challenges in the field;
    2. Demonstrate an understanding of some key theoretical or conceptual tools that are staples of feminist approaches to scholarship;
    3. Recognize and analyze how scholars situated within and without women’s studies departments (and their various iterations) mark their work as feminist or otherwise consistent with the intellectual and activist goals of women’s studies;
    4. Demonstrate knowledge of feminism in a global perspective.

    Interdisciplinary Substantive Exam in Gender and Women’s Studies

    This field will allow the student to develop some expertise in a substantive topic in gender and women’s studies. Possible topics are endless, but can include areas like “women, work and family”, “women and social movements”, “sexuality and gender”, “gender and global migration”, “women of color in the U. S.”, and “masculinity and bodies.” (These are not suggestions for fields; they are meant to provide examples of the range of acceptable topics.) The field is designed to develop four complementary but distinctive competencies.

    Students taking this exam should be able to:

    1. Articulate knowledge of the principal arguments and theoretical advances related to this topic;
    2. Demonstrate an appreciation for the opportunities and limits of disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary approaches to the topic;
    3. Examine how a focus on women or gender does (or does not) link to scholarship surrounding this topic;
    4. Locate the topic in a global context.

Course Load

Students in the MA program are expected to carry 6 credits per semester. They may carry up to 12 although we do not encourage more than 9. Students who would like to carry fewer than 6 credits must apply in writing to the DGS for a waiver of this requirement and are not eligible to work as TAs.

In addition, it is highly recommended that MA students take a methodology course related to their specific thesis or exam interests (e.g. discourse analysis, historiography, ethnography, statistics, survey methods, etc.), preferably in their second semester of the program.

Satisfactory Progress & Due Dates

To remain in good standing in the MA program, certain deadlines and expectations must be met in a timely fashion. Failure to meet any of these requirements or expectations may result in a student being asked to leave the program. Per Graduate School guidelines, students with university funding must maintain satisfactory progress to remain eligible for funding. All required forms should be submitted in duplicate, with one copy to the DGS and one to the Student Services Administrator.

A full description of the requirements for the MA degree program is available in our graduate program Graduate Handbook.

See Graduate School Catalog for other MA degree requirements and deadlines

  • Masters Program Due Dates & Expectations

    To remain in good standing in the M.A. program, certain deadlines and expectation must be met in a timely fashion.

    1. Students are expected to file their advisor form by the first week of classes of their second year of study.
    2. Students are required to have a thesis or exam committee arranged by the first week of their fourth semester.
    3. Students are required defend their thesis or complete their exams by the end of their fourth semester; formal requests for an extension of the time for the thesis or exam will be considered, but not guaranteed.
    4. Filing the thesis or the written exam: The thesis or the written exam needs to be submitted to the DGS for filing by the designated thesis deposit deadline of the Graduate School.
    5. Any incomplete grades must be resolved by the end of the following semester, unless a faculty extension is granted.
    6. Students not in good standing are not eligible for departmental funding.
    7. Due Dates (Based on consecutive full time enrollment of all four semesters without summer sessions)

    Formal requests for an extension of the time for the thesis or exam will be considered, but not guaranteed.

    Failure to meet any of these requirements may result in a student being asked to leave the program.