Scholarly Paper and Thesis Overview

Candidates for the Spatial Data Sciences (SDS) MS degree participate in a culminating experience under the supervision of Penn State graduate faculty members. Students choose between a scholarly paper or a thesis.

MS SDS candidates who choose to write a scholarly paper will participate in a capstone course taught by a member of the graduate faculty. The scholarly paper will demonstrate knowledge synthesis in the chosen subject area. The capstone course provides the flexibility for both individual and group instruction around best practices in analytical thinking in the spatial data sciences. Students may work individually or in groups but will, at all times, have a graduate faculty instructor and/or adviser to provide oversight for the specific element related to the work product that they are creating for their degree.

MS SDS candidates who choose the thesis route will perform original research and produce a traditional thesis under direct supervision of a committee with expertise in the area of the research.

Advising Assignments

This is a list of current advisers and their research interests. Feel free to look to see which faculty members have interest and expertise in your topic area:

MS SDS Proposal Development Workshop

All MS SDS students are advised to participate in the MS SDS Proposal Development Workshop.

Workshop Deliverables

  • Explore research topics that interest you.
  • Formulate a research question (scholarly paper)
  • Develop a research proposal (thesis)
  • Conduct a literature review.
  • Identify possible advisers (scholarly paper) 
  • Identify possible committee members (thesis)

Scholarly Paper - GEOG 570 (3 credits) 
Weeks 1 - 2:

  • Complete the literature review.
  • Refine the research question.
  • Write a formal proposal.

Weeks 3 - 5

  • Define methodology. (This will include data you need, statistical methods you will incorporate, computer resources, etc.)
  • Write a scholarly abstract. (The abstract contains a short summary of the article as well as a description of the objective, method, result and conclusion of the study. Keywords (or subject words), which identify the contents of the article, are also given in the abstract. The abstract should be ~250 words.)

Weeks 6 - 8

  • Carry out your research.
  • Work on a draft of the paper.

Week 9

  • Submit draft for feedback and incorporate suggestions from adviser.

Week 10

  • Submit final paper.

Thesis - GEOG 600 (6 credits) 
The thesis is the culminating experience for students in the SDS Master's program. The thesis represents an independent body of scholarly work that exemplifies the student’s knowledge of the literature, prevailing assumptions about relevant data, and underlying methodologies that analyze the topic. The student's thesis is expected to make an original contribution of knowledge to the field. This class builds on the research ideas that the student worked on during the SDS workshop. Enrollment in GEOG 600 assumes that the student has an existing research question or topic.

The student will be assigned a primary advisor who will be instrumental in guiding the student through and providing feedback toward a successful thesis proposal and thesis. The thesis committee shall be composed of at least two advisors: primary and secondary. The role of the secondary advisor is to serve as a reader for the various elements of the thesis and provide constructive feedback. The primary advisor, can, at their discretion, invite a secondary advisor to join the committee or an invitation to a faculty from the SDS program to become a secondary advisor can be extended. Additional advisors can be invited to become committee members. However, only two advisors are required. 

The student and the primary advisor should meet on a weekly basis throughout this session to make sure that adequate progress on developing the proposal is occurring. Meetings with the secondary committee member (or other committee members) can occur as frequently as needed. While the student's primary advisor will be a solid resource for your progress, a good master thesis requires careful preparation, research, critical thinking, and writing on behalf of the student. These steps take time. Allow time for the unexpected.

Session 1 (3 credits)
The main deliverable for this session should be a thesis proposal. The proposal should outline the necessary steps and methodology envisioned to complete the thesis and be approved by all committee members before the student continues with the session 2 course.

Ideally, the proposal should build on what was outlined in the SDS workshop. The scholarly proposal should identify the student's research topic, the value of researching this topic, the important literature related to the topic, methods you will use in your research, and anticipated outcomes. The student should defend their proposal in front of the committee who will then evaluate the scholarly merit of the proposal. Once the proposal has been approved, the student can advance to conducting the research and writing the thesis document, which is the focus of session 2.

Session 2 (3 credits)
The primary purpose of this session is to carry out the research that was stated in the proposal. The culminating deliverable for this session is a thesis. The student will defend their thesis in a public forum. The oral defense will be evaluated by the committee members.