MARSLAC Thesis Guidelines

The MARSLAC thesis is meant to demonstrate a student’s ability to apply formal training in Latin American and Caribbean studies toward a specific and original research problem. The thesis must be an original piece of research, interpretation, or analysis based, at least in part, on primary source materials. Students may take a comparative, critical approach to extant research and scholarship; analyze data already collected by others; or test established theories in new situations. Properly formatted MARSLAC theses should be about 50 pages in length, double‐spaced with 1-inch margins and 12‐point font, which is approximately 12,500 words.

Thesis Development Process

The M.A. thesis is developed and written in conjunction with the required MARSLAC core courses, and under the supervision of the director of graduate studies and a co-advisor. Students develop their theses through participation in the required two-semester core course sequence. These courses are LCRS G6400 (Scholarly Literature and Research on Latin American and Caribbean Studies I) and LCRS G6401 (Scholarly Literature and Research on Latin American and Caribbean Studies II). Taught by the director of graduate studies, these courses must be taken in sequence starting in the fall.

During the fall semester, students develop a proposal for their thesis, the prospectus, in consultation with the director of graduate studies and another faculty member from the student’s field of interest who serves as a co-advisor. The thesis prospectus is expected to be 10 to 15 pages long, excluding bibliography. The spring semester core course serves as a thesis development workshop, where students write their thesis based on the prospectus finalized in the preceding semester. Students continue to work with the director of graduate studies and consult their co-advisor to refine and develop their ideas.

Thesis Timeline 

The final deadline to complete the thesis is the end of April for May for degree conferral. If students require more than two semesters to complete a satisfactory thesis, they can do so in consultation with the director of graduate studies and their second reader. Students may, for example, want additional time for writing and revision of the thesis, or for further data analysis. Some students opt to conduct field research for their thesis over the summer, archival, ethnographic, or survey research. In these cases, the deadlines to submit the final thesis are September 15 for October graduation or November 15 for February graduation.

Academic Integrity and Responsible Conduct of Research

Students are expected to fully abide by Graduate School of Arts and Sciences guidelines and standards for academic integrity and responsible conduct of research. Students are expected to exhibit a high level of personal and academic integrity and honesty as they engage in scholarly discourse and research. Violations of university standards include:

  • Copying from or paraphrasing another source without proper citation
  • Falsification of citations
  • Building on the ideas of another without citation

It is important that students are familiar with the distinctions between original writing, summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, and the applicable academic norms of attribution in these instances. In addition, your thesis work should be your own work; hiring someone to write a paper is a violation of the Columbia’s academic standards. Students should be aware that plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses and will be dealt with severely under Dean’s Discipline. If you have any doubts about the expectations and norms regarding academic integrity, consult the director of graduate studies. You are expected to fully review the GSAS Statement on Academic Integrity and Responsible Conduct of Research.

Human Subjects Research

Students who conduct research involving human subjects for a thesis are required to apply to the Institutional Review Board for exemption or approval prior to engaging in the human subjects component of their research. Application for IRB exemption or approval should be completed in coordination with the director of graduate studies when the thesis prospectus is completed (typically by the end of the fall semester). The review process usually takes two to four weeks, and students must take and pass short online course modules on human subjects research ethics and procedures prior to initiating the process. It is the responsibility of students to plan ahead accordingly to ensure that they are able to carry out fieldwork during anticipated timelines.

Thesis Advisement: Faculty Co-Advisors

While the director of graduate studies serves as the primary thesis supervisor, students also work with a co-advisor who possesses relevant expertise as an additional mentor on their thesis project. Students will identify—in consultation with the director of graduate studies—an additional faculty co-advisor with pertinent disciplinary, thematic, and/or country knowledge or other intellectual affinity to the thesis project. The main role of co-advisors is to provide mentorship and feedback in the development and writing of the thesis, and to evaluate the final thesis.

Below are some general guidelines on thesis advisement and the respective roles and expectations of faculty co-advisors and student advisees. Both advisors and advisees should not hesitate to contact the director of graduate studies or the student coordinator when questions arise that the co-advisor cannot answer, or when an issue arises that should be brought to the attention of those overseeing the program.

Selection of Co-advisors

Full-time students completing the program in two semesters should identify a co-advisor by the end of the first semester of the program. Students completing the program in more than two semesters should consult the director of graduate studies to determine a timeline for co-advisor selection.

Students are responsible for finding their own faculty thesis co-advisors.

The director of graduate studies provides guidance and suggestions on potential co-advisors, but it is up to the student to communicate with and secure a co-advisor. Co-advisors must be current Columbia faculty members of a relevant department and must hold a PhD or other comparable degree. Every attempt is given to match students with co-advisors from their own fields, though sometimes faculty research leaves or administrative duties make this impossible. While students are encouraged to seek out ILAS-affiliated faculty as co-advisors, they may also consider faculty from other Columbia institutes or departments with relevant expertise and interests. Most academic department websites list faculty profiles and research concentrations. Students are encouraged to review faculty information to target possible co-advisors and contact faculty early to discuss the thesis.

Co-advisor and Student Responsibilities

Co-advisors have a responsibility to schedule meetings promptly and to respond to student inquiries made via email within a week, even during breaks. It is, however, the advisee's responsibility to communicate with the co-advisor and to initiate meetings. Co-advisors in turn are expected to make it a priority to find time to meet when asked, during office hours when mutually convenient, or otherwise at another time. At least twenty minutes should be blocked out for each of the two required meetings each semester.

Meetings Between Co-advisors and Students

Typically, students meet with their co-advisor at least twice a semester. During the fall semester, students should have a preliminary meeting to discuss their thesis project ideas. By the end of the semester, they should meet a second time to discuss the full thesis proposal, i.e., the thesis prospectus. During their final spring semester, students should meet with their co-advisor toward the beginning of the semester to touch base on thesis progress. They should also schedule a meeting to discuss the first full draft of their thesis, which is usually completed and sent to the co-advisor in late March or early April. Students are encouraged to seek out co-advisors for additional meetings, as necessary and mutually agreed upon. With attention to the final deadlines determined by the MARSLAC program, the student and the co-advisors must agree on their own schedule for discussions, revision, and grading of the thesis. It is the responsibility of advisee to be sure to allow enough time for the supervisors to read and grade the thesis and to make any final revisions based on their comments.

Below is a suggested timeline to guide co-advisor meeting timing:

Thesis Evaluation Process

The director of graduate studies determines the student’s thesis grade in consultation with the co-advisor. Upon submission of the thesis, the co-advisor receives a MARSLAC Co-Advisor Evaluation Form (a copy of this form can be obtained from the director of graduate studies). In this form, the co-advisor provides 1) an evaluation of the thesis and its strengths and weaknesses and 2) a recommended grade for the thesis. This evaluation and the recommended grade are sent directly to the director of graduate studies. The thesis grade takes into account the co-advisor’s recommended grade as well as that of the director of graduate studies. The thesis grade will be the main component of the grade the student receives for the spring semester core course, LCRS G6401 Scholarly Literature and Research on Latin American and Caribbean Studies II. While the course grade is primarily comprised of the thesis grade, it also encompasses student’s performance in the thesis workshop, as assessed by the instructor of the MA core course.


    • The text of the thesis should be about 50 pages in length, approximately 12,500 words. Bibliographies or appendices may be extra.
    • The thesis should be double‐spaced. However, long quotations, footnotes, and the bibliography should be single‐spaced.
    • Use standard one-inch margins and 12‐point font.
    • Create a cover sheet similar to this one
    •  Pages should be numbered, except for the cover sheet and table of contents.
    • Although we do not specify a single citation style, choose a widely accepted standard, e.g., the Chicago Manual of Style, which can be accessed as an electronic resource, via CLIO. It should also correspond to the general discipline in which your thesis falls (i.e., if you are writing a history thesis, your formatting should follow conventions of historical scholarship). If you are unsure, check a recent book or journal article in appropriate discipline for a model.
    • You must submit electronic copies (both Word and PDF) to Eliza Kwon-AhnGustavo Azenha, and your second reader.