MA Program

The School of Communication specializes in critical scholarship on urgent social and political problems affecting contemporary societies, locally and globally. The MA program provides training at a graduate level that will equip students with the skills and experience required to design and conduct original research in the field of Communication Studies.

Learn about the program and requirements below.

The expectation is that students will develop the competency to use established theoretical and methodological frameworks to design a project and analyze the research findings and/or theoretical issues, meeting the rigour and standards of academic research. In addition, students are expected to be able to effectively communicate and explain their research in essays and in academic forums like seminars and graduate conferences.

There are four options for the  MA Program:

  • 4 courses and a thesis (defended before 2 examiners and another faculty member)
  • 4 courses and a project + paper (defended before 2 examiners and another faculty member)
  • 5 courses and 2 extended essays (examined by two supervisors)
  • 5 courses and a project (examined by two supervisors)

MA Course Requirements

This program consists of course work and the option to either complete two extended essays, a project or a thesis for a minimum of 30 units. Students typically take two courses per term.

Students must complete

  • CMNS 801 – Design and Methodology in Communication Research

and one of

  • CMNS 800 – Contemporary Approaches in Communication Studies
  • CMNS 802 – History of Communication Theory
  • CMNS 804 – Seminar in Advanced Communication Theory

and either 10 credits (for the thesis or project options with a defence that has an external examiner) or 14 credits (for project or essays options with an examination by two readers who can be from the supervisory committee) of graduate courses as stated in Graduate General Regulation 1.7.2. In both cases, one course must be in CMNS.

and one of

  • CMNS 893 – MA Project (6 cr; examined by two supervisors)*
  • CMNS 896 – MA Extended Essays (6 cr; examined by two supervisors)*
  • CMNS 897 – MA Project (10 cr; defended before 2 examiners and another faculty member)**
  • CMNS 898 – MA Thesis (10 cr; defended before 2 examiners and another faculty member)**

*CMNS 893 & 896 require 24 credits of coursework

**CMNS 897 & 898 require 20 credits of coursework

No more than one course may be completed with the same instructor, except by permission of the Graduate Program Committee.

MA Program Length

Students are expected to complete the program requirements in 6 terms.

MA Program Schedule

  • Term 1 & 2 – complete coursework; confirm senior supervisor and confirm second committee member
  • Term 3 – develop research proposal and conduct research*
  • Term 4 & 5 – conduct research and write or produce project
  • Term 6 – examination of thesis, essays or project.

*If research involves human subjects, after their research proposal is approved, students are required to submit an ethics applications to the Office of Research Ethics.

MA Thesis, Essay and Project Requirements

Theses are expected to be 75 to 100 pages long. Extended Essays are no more than 40 pages each, while the length of projects (which may take different media forms, such as video documentaries) will vary. Projects normally include a written component of approximately 40 pages. After completion and examination, students are required to submit their thesis, extended essays, or project to SFU’s library.

MA Thesis, Essay and Project Proposal

The MA proposal identifies the research plan the student will follow to answer the research question the student aims to examine. To develop a question, the student needs to first identify the problem that will be examined, outlining relevant academic studies as well as the methods used to research the problem. The student needs to draw on these studies to justify why and how the student plans to research the problem, which can include pointing to the lack of research on the problem, oversights in the published studies or the need to examine the particular case study the student proposes to research. The proposal is reviewed and approved by the student’s Supervisory Committee before the student begins full-time research. While there is no one model for an academic proposal, the aim of the proposal is to present the general/specific research question, problem or hypothesis; the position taken with respect to the key arguments in the field; and the expected contributions of the research (keeping in mind the central requirement of academic research is to make an original contribution to knowledge).

Proposal Contents

The proposal must clearly demonstrate the relationship between the thesis, essays or project and existing scholarship in Communication Studies as well as identify the methodological approach(es) and steps in the research process, including, for example, a time-line to indicate when the research, interviews or field work will be conducted and, where applicable, how media texts will be selected and interpreted or the project will be produced. Proposals for MA theses, projects, or extended essays will normally be a written document of 8-15 pages, including the following components:

  • outline of the research question
  • a description of the study's contribution to the field (noting its significance to the field of Communication Studies, or its wider social, cultural and political significance)
  • methodological approach(es)
  • steps in research and timeline for completion
  • chapter outline
  • bibliography

Preparation of the full proposal is normally completed no later than one semester after the student’s coursework is completed. When the Senior Supervisor finds  the proposal satisfactory it is circulated to all committee members for comment and may be discussed individually or by Committee in a meeting with the Senior Supervisor and the other committee member (preferable), depending on the student and supervisor's preference

MA Thesis Guidelines

The purpose of the MA thesis is to demonstrate the theoretical and methodological mastery required to research a topic or the use of a method of analysis specific to the field of Communication. The research question as well as the methodological and theoretical frameworks used to examine that question are formulated in consultation with the Senior Supervisor with input from the student’s Committee. The MA thesis is typically organized as an argument, justifying each component of its design and analysis. MA theses are 75- 100 pages (including endnotes and bibliography), normally featuring an introduction, three chapters of about 20-25 pages each, and a conclusion. The thesis can take other forms, depending on the methodological and epistemological frameworks used, like ethnography or Indigenous epistemologies.

MA Extended Essay Guidelines

Like the thesis, the topics and theoretical and methodological frameworks for each essay are determined in consultation with the Senior Supervisor. Care should be taken to prevent the essays from expanding to the length or scope of a thesis. The essays must be must be significantly different than the essays completed for coursework to meet the graduating requirement. For example, they must draw on new research subsequently conducted by the student or use analytical frameworks not used in course essays or they must be used in a much more in-depth and theoretically informed, nuanced and rigorous manner. Graduate coursework can provide conceptual, theoretical and practical background preparation for the research required for the essays but the essays (this also applies to projects) completed for courses cannot be simply submitted for their graduating essays requirement. Also note that paid contract work, or work done during Co-op program placements, is not admissible.

MA Project Guidelines

The project needs to be informed by the academic studies relevant to the issues explored by the student and it also must be informed by academic research on the technologies, media, format, genres and distribution and reception of similar projects. Projects can involve formats such as video, audio documentaries, or digital storytelling. They can be prototypes (otherwise there can be ethical issues) or pilots for social campaigns, radio programs or podcasts, interactive on-line archives or other media and/or technology-based formats. It may also take a written form that differs from the normal thesis structure. Students should familiarize themselves with the facilities and technical support offered by the School and the University. However, students are expected to have the necessary technical skills to undertake the project. Students are also generally responsible for any direct costs incurred working on the project.

All projects need to be documented in a written form, not to exceed 40 pages, determined in consultation with the Senior Supervisor. This documentation should include the rationale behind the project, a description of the research undertaken, how it differs from or has been inspired by similar (or a lack of such) projects as well as a description and evaluation of the project itself. A short summary of the project will function as the abstract required by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The written documentation may include an appendix of visual or other materials relevant to the project. A copy of this documentation, plus any audio-visual material involved in the project, is submitted to the library in a manner similar to a thesis.

MA Examining Committee

For students completing CMNS 897 or 898, who are defending their thesis or project, the MA Examining Committee is comprised of a chair (normally a CMNS faculty member), their supervisory committee (Senior Supervisor and second committee member), and an “an examiner who is a member of faculty, or a person suitably qualified, who is not a member of the student's supervisory committee” (per SFU’s Graduate General Regulations). The examiner is selected in consultation with the Senior Supervisor and student at the time of scheduling the defence. The student should not have any prior academic, professional, personal or working relation with the examiner and must not contact or be in correspondence with the examiner before the defence.

For students completing CMNS 893 or 896, whose essay or project are examined by two faculty members, the MA Examining Committee is comprised of the Senior Supervisor who is a tenured or tenure-track member in the School of Communication and a second reader within the School or another department or research institution or an expert with equivalent qualifications.

Procedures for Oral Examinations and Defences

For students completing CMNS 897 or 898, who are defending their thesis or project, the Senior Supervisor and all members of the examining committee must agree that the students’ thesis, project or two essays are ready for examination. The examination copy of the thesis should be circulated to the examining committee at least one month before the defence. At the defence, the student takes 15-20 minutes to present their work, justifying and explaining what the thesis or project accomplished. They then answer two or more rounds of questions by the Examining Committee. The Examining Committee decides whether or not the student has successfully defended the thesis or project. Note that the format can be changed in consultation with the Senior Supervisor, Indigenous experts and the Dean of Graduate Studies to ensure it conforms to Indigenous protocols or other principles if the integrity of the student’s project requires alteration of the examination.  

For students completing CMNS 893 or 896, whose essay or project are examined by two faculty members, examinations include the Senior Supervisor and the second reader and do not require a Chair or external examiner, but can (but do not need to) include additional examiners, witnesses, Indigenous elders, research participants or collaborators. While the format for these examinations is more flexible and as long as the Senior Supervisor approves the format, at minimum, the student is required to present the research and/or project and the Senior Supervisor and second reader must examine the student.

The thesis and project defence with an examiner is open to the public; the examination by two faculty may be invitation-only, though students are encouraged to use this opportunity to share their achievements and welcome discussion of their work.

Evaluation of Thesis

There are four options: pass without revisions, pass with revisions to be approved by the Senior Supervisor, deferred judgment, or failure.

Defence Planning

Please refer to this page for important details regarding planning the defence.