Memorandum 3802 Thesis and Thesis Proposal
September 2001

Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Graduate Office, Room 38-444



A. Suggestions and Requirements

1. When to start on your thesis

2. Thesis time allowance

3. Choice of a thesis topic

4. Thesis proposal

5. Thesis supervisor

6. Classified thesis

7. Unclassified theses done in classified laboratories

8. Off-campus theses

9. Invention and copyright agreements

B. Thesis Proposal for SM and EE Degrees

1. Title page

2. Body of the proposal

3. Joint proposal

C. Thesis Proposal for Doctoral Degrees

1 Doctoral thesis proposal

2. Form

3. Supervisor and reader agreements

D. Final Preparation of Thesis

1. Typing of thesis

2. Abstract of thesis required

3. Number of thesis copies required

4. Copyright of thesis

5. Publication of thesis

6. Electronic submission of doctoral theses

7. Joint theses


The hardcopy of the Thesis and Thesis Proposal Memorandum contains Appendices of the Proposal Agreement, Proposal Agreement Letter (classification review required) and Thesis release letter (classification review required).

A. Suggestions and Requirements


You should start thinking about your thesis research project at the earliest possible date. At the very least, you should be on the alert for interesting problems that may come to your attention through personal contacts or through the technical literature. New graduate students who do not hold research or teaching appointments usually register for 6.961 Introduction to Research in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in their first term to help establish contact with faculty members.


Registration for thesis is normally in blocks of 12 units; two such blocks--a total of 24 units of registration--are required by the Department for the SM or EE thesis. Counting each unit as 15 hours, this represents 360 hours of effort. In the doctoral program, the thesis research is the major feature. The calibre and scope of the doctoral thesis are generally such as to require the equivalent of at least one full-time academic year (96 units) of research.


Defining an appropriate topic is an important educational part of the thesis experience. It will require effort on your part; do not expect to be handed a topic. You should endeavor to find one which

a. is of such direct and intense interest to you that your enthusiasm is not likely to drop with time and adversity. However, you should realize that there is a variety of possible subjects that are eminently suitable. It is a mistake to spend too much time trying to find "the optimum thesis topic";

b. gives you a maximum opportunity to learn--not only about the particular subject being investigated, but more importantly, about the proper methods to use in technical investigation;

c. is not so remote from your field of special training that acquiring the necessary background will lead to an excessive delay;

d. adds, however modestly, to professional knowledge in the field.

As you begin searching for such a thesis subject, it may prove useful to pursue the following steps.


Each student must submit a thesis proposal for approval by the Department Committee on Graduate Students before undertaking the major work of the research. The proposal should be handed in at the EECS Graduate Office. Instructions for properly preparing the thesis proposal are contained in the following pages. If there are any special features about the contemplated problem which raise questions about its suitability, or if unusual difficulties are encountered in carrying out the procedures below, consult the Graduate Office or your Graduate Counselor.


The majority of theses are supervised by EECS faculty members. Faculty in other departments may also supervise theses. A number of research staff members have been given Departmental approval to supervise theses. Those who have recently supervised theses are listed at the end of the list published annually by the Department, Research Interests of Faculty Members Who Supervise Graduate Theses. If you wish to undertake thesis research under the supervision of a non-faculty member who is not listed, you must request specific approval from the Committee on Graduate Students. Such a request should be made through the Chairman of your Area. Appropriately qualified non-faculty may serve as doctoral thesis readers without specific approval; however, at least two members of the doctoral thesis committee (supervisor and readers) must be EECS faculty members.


Faculty rules require that copies of all graduate theses shall be deposited in the Institute Library where they are available to the public. Consequently, no student is permitted to embark on a thesis which might be subject to restriction for reasons of either proprietary interest or national security.


Theses done in the Draper Laboratory (and in classified areas of other laboratories) are subject to review by government authority to confirm that they are unclassified. A statement must be attached to the proposal when it is submitted for approval indicating that in the best judgment of the student and the supervisor the thesis will be unclassified (see EECS Graduate Office for forms). A release letter is required when the thesis is submitted (see EECS Graduate Office for forms).


Thesis research is usually carried out in laboratories operated by MIT and located on the campus. However, in some circumstances, off-campus thesis research is permitted. All such theses must have a faculty supervisor (or approved research staff supervisor) as well as a supervisor at the off-campus location.

Explicit approval is not required for students doing thesis research at Lincoln Laboratory, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory or for students in the Joint Program with the Woods Hold Oceanographics Institution doing research there.

Students who are in residence, i.e., registered as regular graduate students and paying full tuition, may request permission to pursue thesis research at an off-campus location. The request should be addressed to the Department Committee on Graduate Students and must have the approval of the thesis supervisor. Two necessary conditions for approval of such a request are that

If the off-campus location is a commercial or industrial location, there may be special problems of patents, copyrights and conflict of interest which must be addressed. As a general rule, the student may not receive compensation from a company for thesis research.

It is possible for some doctoral students to do their thesis research in absentia paying full tuition or to do a portion of their thesis research off-campus as non-resident students at reduced tuition. The conditions and procedures to be followed in such cases are stated in the Graduate Education Manual (

(Read further for additional information about off-campus research.)


Students who receive support from sponsored research or MIT-funded projects or who make significant use of MIT-administered funds and facilities are required to sign the MIT Invention and Copyright Agreement. MIT's policy in regard to intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights, etc.) is described in the Guide to the Ownership, Distribution and Commercial Development of MIT Technology which is available from the Technology Licensing Office ( Students holding fellowships (e.g. NSF Fellows) which impose requirements regarding patents and copyrights should consult with Ms. Peggy Carney in the Graduate Office before signing a patent agreement.

B. Thesis Proposal for SM and EE Degrees

The Department Graduate Committee requires that a thesis proposal be submitted for each SM or EE thesis before the major work on the thesis is undertaken. Proposals should be brief--preferably no more than 10 pages--and should focus on the proposed research. Don't be dismayed if the course of the research seems impossible to predict in detail; make the best preliminary estimate you can. A proposal delayed until the work is completed has little value except as the formal fulfillment of a requirement.


The proposal must contain a title page, similar to the sample here consisting of the following items:

a. The heading should contain "Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science".

b. The degree(s) for which the thesis research is intended.

c. The tentative title of the thesis, limited, if possible, to eight words or less.

d. Your name, mailing address, and signature.

e. The date of submission of the proposal and the expected date of completion of the thesis.

f. The laboratory in which the research will be done,

g. A brief statement of the problem consisting of at most a few sentences.

h. A signed supervision agreement as shown on the attached sample. If the thesis is done off-campus, the off-campus supervisor should also sign the thesis proposal. (If a change in supervisor becomes necessary, notify the Graduate Office.)

i. If a Master's thesis will also be used to satisfy the thesis requirement for the EE degree, the following sentence should be added to the supervision agreement, "In evaluating the thesis, I will judge whether it is adequate to satisfy the requirements" for the EE degree."

Insert or point to sample title page for SM thesis proposal


The body of the proposal must be well organized and phrased in good English, but the specific arrangement and details of coverage can vary depending on the problem, your preferences, and those of your supervisor. Each proposal, however, should include at least the following topics:

a. A brief summary of the background of the problem up to the present must be included giving evidence by reference or otherwise that you have become familiar with this background. In discussing the present status of the problem, you should make evident the extent to which the proposed solution is novel and/or an improvement.

b. A bibliography of references must be included.

c. The probable procedure must be outlined --from start to finish --showing which steps are doubtful and therefore subject to change. Include a time schedule which either specifies dates by which various parts of the work should be completed or else allocates a certain number of hours to each major part of the thesis task, such as preparation of samples, experimental work and analysis, correlation and interpretation of results, and preparation of the report. (The total number of hours assigned to a Master's or EE thesis is nominally 360.)

d. A list of the principal equipment and facilities needs must be included, together with the places which will supply these needs. You should have some assurance that what you need will be available at the time desired. For non-experimental theses, the sources of data (if any) must be stated and the availability of the data assured. The staff of the Writing Center in the Department of Humanities is available to give assistance with thesis proposals. They provide seminars, workshops and individual help with such matters as organization, style and grammar.


If a joint proposal is prepared by two or more students, it should show clearly the division of responsibility, and a copy should be submitted for each student's file in the Graduate Office.


If off-campus thesis research has been approved by the Department (see section A on Suggestions and Requirements), it is important that both the student and the off-campus laboratory understand the conditions under which work done off-campus can be accepted by the Institute in fulfillment of the thesis requirement. The conditions to be met are:

C. Thesis proposal for Doctoral Degrees

It is expected that candidates for the doctoral degrees will exhibit initiative and judgment in the pursuit of a thesis research program to the extent that most of the rules involved will be those of common sense. There are a few requirements, however, which must be met.


An acceptable doctoral thesis proposal is required by the end of the sixth regular term of registration as a regular graduate student (summer session is not a regular term). If not received by that time, the student's case will automatically be considered by the Department Committee on Graduate Students, which will recommend appropriate action.


It is not required that a doctoral thesis proposal follow any particular style or format, except that:

a. A title page similar to that shown for Master's degree thesis proposals should be employed, omitting the supervision agreement at the bottom.

b. The title page should be followed by the supervisor and reader agreements. (See below).


The thesis supervisor must be a faculty member of the Institute or an MIT staff member approved by the Department. It is customary to discuss the thesis proposal in detail with the supervisor before the final draft is submitted. At least two additional faculty or staff members shall be selected as readers. They will cooperate with the supervisor in evaluating and guiding all phases of the doctoral research program. The supervisor and readers form the committee which administers the thesis examination when the thesis is substantially complete. At least two members committee must be EECS Department faculty members. (See Memos 3800new and 3800old for further information.)

The original of the thesis proposal is submitted to the Graduate Office, and must be accompanied by the signed agreements of the supervisor and readers. These forms may also be secured in the Graduate Office. If a change of supervisor or reader becomes necessary, a new form should be submitted.

D. Final Preparation of Thesis


Refer to Department Memorandum 3803 and to "Specifications for Thesis Preparation" prepared by the Director of Libraries. These are both available from the Graduate Office, and should be consulted before final preparation is begun.


After a thesis has been completed, its further value is largely dependent on the extent to which it is read and found useful by others. It is important to supply a well-written abstract which outlines the scope and achievements of the thesis so that prospective readers can determine whether or not they should read any further. An incidental advantage is gained because the abstract will in many cases enable the library staff to catalogue the work more fully and more accurately. Accordingly, the Committee on Graduate School Policy requires that each thesis contain an abstract--preferably one typewritten page (single-spaced), but in no case more than two such pages--in which is given a description of the problem and of the procedure used in the investigation, together with a brief statement of the results found or of the conclusions reached. Other material may be included in the summary if you find it pertinent. Your objective is to inform another engineer or scientist, who is not necessarily a specialist in your field, what you worked on, how you did it, and what one may expect to learn about the problem by reading further .


The Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science requires that an original and one copy of each Master's, Electrical Engineer's or Doctor's thesis be handed to the Department Graduate Office. Many of the laboratories in which the thesis research is done also require a copy for their libraries, and in most cases the supervisor wants a copy.


The thesis should carry a statement of copyright ownership on the title page. Ownership of the copyright shall reside with the student except when the thesis research is performed in whole or in part, with wages, salary, stipend or grant support, from funds administered by the Institute or if the thesis research is performed in whole or in part utilizing equipment or facilities provided by the Institute under conditions that impose copyright restrictions, in which case the Institute will retain ownership of all copyrights. If you have been a Research Assistant during your thesis research, the Institute will own the copyright. In most other cases the student retains ownership. If a student assigns ownership of the copyright, the student's name should appear on the title page as copyright owner. A notice of the transfer of owndership may be included on a following page. If you have any question as to copyright ownership, consult the Institute's Technology Licensing Office, but please keep the Graduate Office informed. Note that a copyright refers to the document and not to the ideas contained therein.

When copyright ownership rests with the student, the author must, as a condition of a degree award, grant permission to the Institute to reproduce and distribute publicly copies of the thesis. A statement to this effect must appear on the title page.

When copyright resides with the Institute, any further publication, in whole or in part, shall be made only by authorization of the Institiute's Technology Licensing Office. This authorization may be requested by letter of by using a form available in the Graduate Office.


Publicaiton of part or all of the thesis in professional journals is encouraged. When copyright resides with the Institute, permission to publish must be obtained as described in the preceding section. If copyright belongs to the student, publication should be discussed with the thesis supervisor.

The publication of the thesis, or any portion thereof, should include the following acknowledgements:

This paper is based on a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of [degree name] in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in [month, year].


Doctoral these may be submitted in electronic form. If you are interested in doing so, please consult the Graduate Office for information on the process and timing. Additional information can also be found here.


The Department may approve joint research for the SM degree. However, since the preparation of the final document is an important part of the educational value of the thesis research, each student must submit a distinct document. Where possible, the individual contributions of each student should be identified. The thesis supervisor will provide guidance concerning the material which can be common to the two theses.