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SSEM Graduate Thesis

Student Handbook

The student thesis handbook is currently being revised.

Electing to Write a Thesis

Students in the Safety, Security and Emergency Management Master’s Program, will have the option to take the comprehensive examination or to write and defend a thesis on an approved research topic. The comprehensive examination is a graduation requirement for all SSEM Graduate students that do not complete a thesis, and covers various components of the candidate's program, focusing on the core requirements: SSE 815, 822, 826, 833, 865, and 885.

SSEM graduate students who have elected to pursue the thesis option provide themselves with the opportunity to research specific areas in a topic of interest to them. Developing a thesis may provide the academic community with new and insightful information related to real world issues which the student has uncovered during their research. Writing a thesis may also provide the student with the opportunity to have their work published in a journal or other scholarly publication. By writing a thesis, the student will gain critical experience which they may utilize if they choose to pursue a doctoral degree. Many doctorate students elect to use their master’s thesis as a foundation for their dissertations.

SSEM graduate students who have chosen the thesis option may select any member of the SSEM Graduate Faculty that hold a tenured or tenure-track faculty position as a thesis committee chair, provided the faculty member agrees to serve in that capacity. Then the student, with help from their committee chair, will form a thesis committee. The committee shall include the thesis committee chair and two other tenured or tenure-track faculty members from EKU. Additional committee members may be added if they provide valuable expertise in the research subject area.

All MS SSEM students are required to take six core courses (18 hours). Thesis students are required to take four electives (12 hours), SSE 880-Research and Planning in SSEM (3 hours), and SSE 898-Thesis (3 hours). SSE 880 and SSE 898 provide a structure to assist students on writing a thesis proposal, creating a timeline, and establishing goals with their thesis committee to complete their research projects in an orderly manner. Both courses count directly toward the 36 hour degree requirement, which allows them to spend additional time conducting their research as opposed to taking additional course electives. To register for SSE 880, an override must be approved by the SSEM Research Coordinator.

Selecting a Thesis Topic

Students who have chosen the thesis elective should first contact Kim Chitwood at Students should generally have a specific topic in an area of research in which they want to study before contact.

Selecting a thesis topic about which the student is passionate provides an advantage in keeping the student interested and focused in a research project of this magnitude. Thesis students should consider selecting a topic in which they have personal experience in related SSEM fields such as: Emergency Management, Emergency Medical Care, Fire Protection, Homeland Security, or Occupational Safety. When a personal connection is established, the student is much better equipped to articulate the importance and significance of their research project.

Thesis students are encouraged to investigate research that has already been conducted in their area of interest before meeting with the research coordinator. Many professors are often working on projects or have data on previous projects that they may offer to thesis students if approached. Students are encouraged to balance their ideas with feasibility of time, their abilities, data availability, and the type of analysis that they are going to perform. When thinking about a potential thesis topic, the student should ask themselves:

  • What specific research questions will my research project answer?
  • Who will benefit from my research?
  • Why is this information relevant to my area of study?
  • Will there be any recommendations for change?
  • How will I resolve this issue?

Essentially, thesis students should establish goals for themselves to achieve so that they may impact the field in which they choose to study. After the student has contemplated these issues, the research coordinator will work with the student to assemble a plan for their thesis, and will assist them with selecting the appropriate faculty member to serve as their committee chair.


Selecting a Thesis Committee

SSEM graduate students who have chosen the thesis option may select any member of the SSEM Graduate Faculty that hold a tenured or tenure-track faculty position as a thesis committee chair, provided the faculty member agrees to serve in that capacity. Then the student, with help from their committee chair, will form a thesis committee. The committee shall include the thesis committee chair and two other tenured or tenure-track faculty members from EKU. Additional committee members may be added if they provide valuable expertise in the research subject area.

The thesis committee chair will become the student’s main point of contact while working on their thesis project. Committee members will serve as experts in the student’s area of interest. Only the thesis committee chair must be graduate faculty in SSEM; the other two committee members need only be tenured or tenure-track graduate faculty at EKU. While committee members do not necessarily need to be from the department/program, the assumption is that whoever it is will add an area of expertise to the thesis. For example, it is acceptable for a statistician to serve on a committee where there is a lot of data analysis involved. A current list of eligible faculty members in the School of Safety, Security & Emergency Management is comprised on the next page of this document. Included with the list is the faculty members’ areas of expertise, as well as an indication of whether they are willing to sit on students’ committees/and or chair the committee. The student must contact the faculty member beforehand and request that they sit on their thesis committee, keeping in mind that no faculty member is obligated to consent to this request.

Committee members will be available for guidance throughout the research process and will help prepare the student to successfully defend their thesis project. When selecting faculty members to sit on their committee, the student should consider choosing individuals that are accessible and easy to communicate with. These faculty members will challenge the student to produce the best results for their research. All graduate faculty are here to assist the thesis student when needed; however, students should bear in mind that faculty are working with them in addition to teaching courses and may not be able to provide instant feedback. Students are encouraged to set reasonable expectations regarding feedback from committee chairs/members.


Institutional Review Board

Once the student has selected a topic, assembled their thesis committee, and formulated their research question(s) with the approval of their committee, they will be ready to begin the research process. If the research for the thesis involves working with human subjects, then the student is required to complete an application to the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

An Institutional Review Board is a group of individuals who will determine whether or not the thesis student’s research will be conducted in a manner that is ethical and will not be harmful to others. This is required by all individuals on campus, including faculty and staff, who are doing research with human subjects through Eastern Kentucky University. All thesis students shall apply for review by the Institutional Review Board using the following steps:


Step 1: Complete the required CITI training. The link can be found on the EKU Sponsored Programs home page or by following this link:

Step 2: Classify your research for review. The three categories are exempt, expedited, or full review.

Step 3: Complete application forms. You can find these forms on the EKU Sponsored programs home page or by using this link: and clicking the IRB Submission Procedures and Applications Forms sub heading.

Step 4: Submit all forms and other required attachments (including your CITI completion report) to the Sponsored Programs office in the Jones Building room 414 or Coates Building CPO 20.

Step 5: Check your student EKU email account for a response from the Institutional Review Board.

Note: No student should submit an IRB application without first receiving feedback from their committee chair!


Thesis Proposal Outline

All thesis students must submit a thesis proposal to their thesis committee before submitting an IRB application or collecting any data. All thesis committee members must approve this proposal. The thesis proposal should have the following elements in this order:

  • Title Page
  • Introduction
  • Thesis Statement
  • Literature Review Draft
  • Proposed Methodology
  • Work Plan (Including Time Table)
  • Implications of Research
  • List of References

Students are encouraged to keep in mind that individual theses will vary, and therefore the format of the elements discussed below will also vary.


Title Page

  • Contains descriptive title of the proposed thesis project.
  • Author, institution, department, thesis committee (indicating committee chair), and date.



  • This section sets the context for the proposed project and must capture the reader's interest.
  • Must briefly describe what is known about research question.
  • Cite relevant references.
  • The introduction should be at a level that makes it easy to understand for readers with a general background, for example, classmates in the program.


Thesis Statement

  • In a couple of sentences, student must state their thesis.
  • This statement can take the form of a hypothesis, research question, project statement, or goal statement.
  • The thesis statement should capture the essence of intended project and also help to put boundaries around it.


Literature Review Draft

  • Must provide a thorough explanation of the background of study starting from a broad picture narrowing in on research question.
  • Must have a review of existing literature to discuss what is known about research topic as far as it is relevant to student’s thesis.


Proposed Methodology

  • This section contains an overall description of the approach,  materials, and procedures including:
    • What methods will be used?
    • How will data be collected and analyzed?
    • What materials will be used?
  • Must include calculations, technique, procedure, and equipment.
  • Detail limitations, assumptions, and range of validity.
  • Citations should be limited to data sources and more complete descriptions of procedures.
  • Student should make sure not to include results and discussion of results here.


Work Plan (Including Time Table)

  • Description in detail of what student plans to do until completion of their Master’s thesis.
  • Accurately list the stages of thesis project in a table format.
  • Indicate deadlines student has set for completing each stage of the project, including any work they have already completed.
  • Discussion of any particular challenges that is needed to be overcome.


Implications of Research

  • What new knowledge will the proposed thesis project produce that is not already known?
  • Why is it worth knowing and what are the major implications?


List of References

  • A complete list of references cited in the text (List of References).
  • A complete list of works consulted in the thesis (Bibliography).
  • Typically arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name:
    • If there are run over lines, place the author’s name flush left and indent the run over line(s) five spaces.

For the School of SSEM, citations must be formatted according to APA guidelines.


Presenting a Thesis Proposal

If required by their thesis committee chair, students will formally present their completed thesis proposal using the guidelines from the previous pages to their thesis committees. These presentations typically consist of no more than 10-15 slides. The purpose for presenting a proposal for a thesis is that the proposal gives a Master’s student the opportunity to present to a group of experts in their respective fields.

a)      What the student proposes to study: What is the research problem in the thesis?

b)      Why the student proposes the research problem: What is the importance and relevance of research problem?

c)       How the student proposes to perform the research: What statistical methodology does the student propose to use in the thesis?

d)      When they intend to do this work: When do plan to complete the different components of the thesis?

The student’s thesis proposal should be a statement of intent. That is, how do they intend to accomplish (a), (b), (c), and (d)?

Note: Students are not expected to present research results in their proposal.

After presenting the proposal, the committee will ask questions and will often recommend changes before the student can proceed with the research. The committee may add new objectives if they think the proposal is missing main concepts or does not include enough original research. The committee can also remove proposed objectives from your proposal if they think it is too long, not manageable, or the objectives are not relevant.

In the written proposal and proposal presentation, the student’s goal should be to convince their committee that they are capable of completing all of the necessary research tasks. This includes demonstrating statistical knowledge, technical skills, and the motivation needed to write and defend a thesis. If the committee approves the student’s proposal and they receive IRB approval (only if thesis includes human subjects), then they will be ready to move forward with their thesis project.


Research Methodology

In this part of the thesis process, the student will work in conjunction with their committee chair and research coordinator, who will guide the student to the best method for conducting their research. The research methodology describes the broad philosophical underpinning to the student’s chosen research methods, including whether they are using qualitative or quantitative methods, or a mixture of both, and why. The student should be clear about the academic basis for all their choices of research methods. “I was interested” or “I thought...” are not acceptable justifications; there must be strong academic reasons for research methodology decisions.

The student’s methodology should also be linked back to the existing literature to explain why they are using certain methods, and the academic basis of their choice. The methodology should explain what they did, with any refinements that were made as the work progressed. Again, it should have a clear academic justification of all the choices that were made and be linked back to the existing literature. There are numerous research methods that can be utilized when researching topics, some methods may include:

  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Questionnaires
  • Documentary Analysis
  • Experimentation

Thesis students should be clear throughout this section about the strengths and weaknesses of their chosen approach and how they plan to address them. Students should also note any issues of which to be aware, for example, in sample selection or generalization of results.


Thesis Outline

The Graduate School provides detailed thesis guidelines on their webpage: All thesis students must submit their final thesis project in accordance with this outline to their thesis committee before their thesis defense. All thesis committee members must approve the written version of student’s project before allowing the student to defend. The thesis outline should have the following elements in this order:

Acknowledgements – Provide a statement of thanks to those who have supported you along the course of your academic study.

Abstract – Present a brief summary that includes the research questions (if qualitative) or hypothesis (if quantitative) that you sought to answer, the theoretical framework that you utilized, an overview of the data that you collected, and what was hoped to be achieved as a result of conducting the research.

Introduction – The Introduction section is composed of the following subsections:

Background – Provide a contextual background in which the problem that you plan to research exists.

Statement of the Problem – State the problem in clear terms. Utilize data to support what the problem is and why the problem exists.

Purpose of the Study – State the purpose of your research as it relates to the problem that you have presented.

Potential Significance – State the potential significance that your study will have as it pertains to the problem that you have identified.

Definition of Terms – Define important terms used throughout your research that might not be readily understood by the reader.

Assumptions – State assumptions that you will make throughout your research, such as participant statements will be truthful or data that has been collected is accurate based on the source from where it was gathered.

Limitations – State the limitations that will be present in relation to the applicability of your research. This will refer to generalizability of your findings if conducting quantitative research or the ability for the reader to identify transferable elements if conducting qualitative research.

Organization of the Study – Describe how your research will be physically presented in written form indicating the sections of your thesis and what will be included in each section.

Literature Review – The Literature Review section is composed of the following subsections:

Literature Presented by Topical Category – Provide a summary of previous research that has been conducted that is directly related or is tangential to the research that you plan to accomplish. For each study, provide what research was done, how the research was conducted, and the findings of the research.

Conclusions – Briefly summarize the whole of the Literature Review and indicate how your research will build upon the dialogue that has been going on through the previous research.

Methodology – The Methodology section is composed of the following subsections:

Context of the Study – Building upon information presented in the Background section mentioned earlier, clearly state the context in which your research will take place.

Selection of Participants – Present the research methodology that you utilized to select your participants.

Research Questions (if qualitative) or Hypothesis (if quantitative) – Concisely state the research questions that you plan to answer if conducting qualitative research or the research hypothesis that you plan to address if conducting quantitative research.

Data Collection – State the methodology that you will use to collect data.

Data Analysis – State the methodology that you will use to analyze the data. This may include the process of using codes, categories, and themes if conducting qualitative research or the statistical test(s) used if conducting quantitative research.

Subjectivities or Bias – Disclose the personal interest you have in conducting the research and how this will be controlled throughout your research. Such personal interest and the resulting perception of the issues are referred to as subjectivities if conducting qualitative research or bias if conducting quantitative research.

Research Findings and Analysis – Deeply explore the results of each phase of data analysis and what the findings mean through critical analysis.

Discussion and Implications – Discuss what you believe to be the implications of your research findings on the context in which you conducted your research. The focus can be on the identification of potential transferable elements if conducting qualitative research or on generalizability if conducting quantitative research.

References – Record in alphabetical order by author all references that were presented at any point in your research.


Note: The thesis proposal is comprised of the following items mentioned in the outline above:

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Methodology
  • References

The text in the thesis proposal must be written in future tense due to the information being presented is what you plan to do within the scope of your research. Once your research is complete you will change the tense to reflect past tense in light of you having conducted the research. The remaining sections in the outline above will be combined with the proposal sections to form your completed thesis.


Defending a Thesis

After the thesis student has completed their research project, it shall be reviewed by their thesis committee chair and committee members. When all criticisms and comments have been addressed by the appropriate parties, the student will be approved to formally defend their research project. There are two parts to a thesis defense: (a) the presentation of the findings by the student, and (b) questions by the thesis defense committee (and others present) that follows the presentation.

The thesis defense may be, arguably, the most important step in the thesis process. Although it may seem intimidating, the defense provides the student with the opportunity to share their research with peers, colleagues, and members of the community at large. It allows the student to showcase their efforts and present their findings in a supportive environment. The thesis defense is an extension of the student’s thesis proposal presentation. The defense presentation should be about one-half hour long and should concentrate on the findings and recommendations. A sample outline of a defense presentation might look like this:

  • Goals/Objectives of the Research (2 min)
  • Literature Review/Theoretical Framework (5 min)
  • Methodology (5 min)
  • Findings (10 min)
  • Recommendations for Change (5 min)

The findings and recommendations for change are the crux of the thesis defense presentation. The literature review, theoretical framework (for qualitative studies) and methodological/ethical issues should form the backdrop and context for these findings. Although the thesis defense is one of the final steps in the road toward graduation, the student should remember that there will almost certainly be revisions to the thesis as a result from the defense. This is a normal part of the process. However, revisions also take time, so if you are meeting deadlines, particularly for graduation, remember to take this time into account. Success or failure is determined mainly by the content of the thesis. If the research is sound and the work was performed adequately, it is highly unlikely that a nervous performance in the thesis defense will lead to failure.

The EKU Graduate School sets deadlines for final submission of all thesis documents for the Fall, Spring, and Summer terms. These dates can be found on the Graduate School webpage:


Additional Information

EKU Libraries

Consider using a free bibliographic management software at the very beginning of your resarch to help organize, track and even cite your growing list of references. EKU Libraries recommends Zotero:

The College of Justice and Safety at EKU has a designated University Librarian:

Nicole Montgomery, Associate University Librarian

Nicole enjoys working with students and is available to meet on-campus, in the Richmond/Lexington area, in an online chat, or on Adobe Connect.

Nicole maintains SSEM-specific research guides for our students containing beneficial information and a button to schedule a meeting:

Finally, if you are new to Eastern Kentucky University or are restarting after several years away, take a look at the Library tutorials page for a how to guide that covers many of the most frequently asked questions about using the library tools and services:


Noel Studio for Academic Creativity

The Noel Studio is an excellent resource for thesis students. Individual consultations can be scheduled both on campus and online. Consultants provide one-on-one support with scholarly writing, conducting a literature review, formatting according to The Graduate School guidelines, APA, and more. For more information, visit their website:

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