Choosing Between a Professional Project or a Master’s Thesis

Students have the option of culminating their program by completing either a professional master’s project or a master’s thesis.  This section reviews these options, which vary by nature of supervision, number of credits, and product outcome.  

Professional Master’s Project

The professional project report option simulates an exercise typical of professional planners in practice.  The exercise occurs in the final semester of a student’s program and is completed as part of a 3-credit semester-long course that provides practice and guidance under faculty direction.  The exercise yields a professional report of approximately 12-15 pages (not including cover and executive summary) that includes an introduction to an assigned planning issue or problem, background information sufficient to understand the issue or problem, application of appropriate analytic methods and data, and recommendation of appropriate approaches or solutions all of a professional quality sufficient to be submitted for public scrutiny.  Students pursuing a specialization within the program will also be expected to demonstrate mastery of material and skills in that area of concentration.

The instructor will present a planning issue, municipality or challenge on which the student must work.  The planning issue or challenge will be formulated to allow students sufficient breadth to individually synthesize material and apply skills and knowledge to competently address the situation, just as in a real-world planning context.

Master’s Thesis

The master’s thesis is an academic product prepared under the direction of a faculty committee with a minimum of two department faculty members, one of whom is designated the chair and the other the reader.  Additional academic or professionally qualified persons may also serve as readers. 

The thesis is a scholarly work conforming to academic conventions and yielding a finished product typically including a clear research question, review of literature, hypotheses, appropriate research design/methodology, implementation of the research design, findings, and conclusions.  The format of the thesis product is an electronic version of a formal document consistent with stipulations of the UB Graduate School.  Theses may also take the form of an applied product emphasizing data collection, analysis, and interpretation, perhaps involving plan preparation or policy analysis. 

The thesis option carries 6 course credits, with a maximum of 3 credits taken in any single semester.  Students must take 3 credits of URP 698 Master’s Thesis Preparation in their next-to-last semester, with the remaining 3 credits in their final semester as URP 699 Master’s Thesis.  Students completing a thesis will be scheduled for a final oral public presentation of their work toward the end of their final semester.  The scheduling of the thesis presentation/defense should be arranged by the student and his/her thesis committee.

Students do not automatically qualify to pursue a thesis as their culminating option.  To follow this option, students must prepare a formal thesis proposal and must gain agreement from a two-person faculty committee willing to supervise the work.  This is then forwarded to our school’s Divisional Committee for approval.  If students are unable to form a thesis committee, they shall follow the professional project option as their culminating exercise. 

Which Path Should You Follow?

Students should select the option that most closely matches their professional and academic career path. Students pursuing professional planning practice may prefer the professional project report option. This option draws upon a student’s coursework and skills to demonstrate professional competency in the field.  As a 3-credit project, it frees the student to take an additional 3-credit course in the program. Most students select the professional project report option. 

Students who have a deep interest in a particular planning topic, have strong writing and analytic skills, have an interest in conducting independent research, and who anticipate additional academic degree work in the future (say, toward a Ph.D. degree) may wish to pursue the master’s thesis option.  The thesis is the more traditionally academic of the two options.