Graduate Studies Guide: Master's in Sociology or Anthropology

As of Fall 2020, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology has two routes for students to obtain a Master of Arts degree in sociology or anthropology. As in the past, students may begin their master’s degree after completing an undergraduate degree. The new program allows SFU undergraduates with superior qualifications to begin their MA studies during the final year of their undergraduate honour’s degree, shortening the time to completion. This is referred to as an Accelerated MA. Students enrolled in the Accelerated MA should note that number of courses is the same for both tracks, however the sequencing differs. 

The MA program is designed to be completed within six consecutive terms (fall, spring, and summer), or two full years of study. Students complete a minimum 30 credit hours and conduct original and independent research leading to a thesis to successfully complete the program. Graduates are well prepared through course work and independent thesis research to enter PhD programs, pursue academic careers, or obtain professional positions in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

Required courses are normally completed within the first two terms of MA program enrollment and must be completed no later than the end of the third term of enrollment of the MA program. Students may be required to complete additional coursework beyond that specified below at the discretion of their supervisory committees.

Students are required to maintain a minimum CGPA of 3.0 to remain in good academic standing. Students who cannot maintain the minimum CGPA or complete other program requirements may be asked to withdraw from the program.

Supervisory Committee

Generally, students form a supervisory committee during their first term of graduate enrollment. The supervisory committee consists of a supervisor (formerly Senior Supervisor) and one committee member (formerly Second Supervisor). For MA students, the supervisor must be a member of the Sociology & Anthropology research faculty (tenured or tenure-track), but there are no disciplinary restrictions at the MA level. The committee member may be a faculty member of the Sociology & Anthropology department or another SFU unit. There are no restrictions on rank. Students select the committee member in consultation with their supervisor. While it is uncommon, MA committees may include additional members if those individuals have special expertise related to the thesis topic. Committee composition may be changed if necessary.

Before the end of the first year of their program, each student must submit two documents (see forms for current students) to the Program Assistant:

  1. Approval of Supervisory Committee
  2. Graduate Plan of Study

Degree Requirements

The requirements for completion of the MA degree program are:

  • Completion of required and elective course work as specified below;
  • Completion and committee defence of thesis research prospectus; and
  • Completion and public defence of an original MA thesis.


MA students complete a minimum of six courses (four required and two electives for minimum of 30 credit hours) including:

  • Four term-long graded courses (two required, two electives);
  • One term-long professional development Graduate Seminar (graded as Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory); and
  • MA Thesis (graded as In Progress/Complete)

All coursework, except SA 898 (MA Thesis), is normally completed within the first two terms of enrollment in the MA program and no later than the end of the third term of enrollment in the MA program. 

*The sequence of courses for students in the Accelerated MA differs somewhat from that of the standard MA program and is described on 'Time Limits and Timelines' at the end of this page.

Required courses for the MA in Sociology: 

  • SA 840-2 Graduate Seminar (2 units, S/U)
  • SA 850-5 Selected Topics in Social Theory (5 units, graded)
  • SA 856-5 Qualitative Sociological Research Methods (5 units, graded)
  • SA 898-10 MA Thesis (10 units, IP/CO)

Required courses for the MA in Anthropology:

  • SA 840-2 Graduate Seminar (2 units, S/U)
  • SA 870-5 Theories in Anthropology (5 units, graded) 
  • SA 875-5 Ethnographic Methodology: Social/Cultural Anthropology (5 units, graded)
  • SA 898-10 MA Thesis (10 units, IP/CO)

Requests to substitute the methods or theory course for the equivalent course in the other discipline (for example, SA 850 instead of SA 870) must be made in writing to the Graduate Program Committee.


Electives (2) should be selected in consultation with the student’s supervisor. In addition to the SA elective courses listed, students may complete a graduate course or a graduate Directed Readings course in another Simon Fraser University department, or at another university that is a signatory to the Western Dean's Agreement. Elective courses taken outside of the department must be approved by the student’s supervisory committee and included in the student’s Graduate Plan of Study.

For courses in other SFU departments, approval is required from the student’s supervisor and from the Graduate Program Chair (complete the Course Add/Drop form). Please note that extra elective courses cannot be taken prior to completion of core coursework, and can only be taken if the supervisory committee and the GPC provides written approval.

A course at another university through the Western Dean’s Agreement requires signatures from the student’s supervisor, the Graduate Program Chair, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at SFU, and the department in which you wish to take the course. This process should be started at least six (6) weeks before the course begins. Please see the Graduate Program Chair or the Program Assistant for assistance.

Elective Courses (Sociology):

  • SA 815-4 Theories of Latin American Development (4 units, graded)
  • SA 835-4 Social and Political Change in Latin America (4 units, graded)
  • SA 853-5 Readings in Sociology I* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 854-5 Readings in Sociology II* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 870-5 Theories in Anthropology (5 units, graded)
  • SA 875-5 Ethnographic Methodology: Social/Cultural Anthropology** (5 units, graded)
  • SA 886-5 Selected Problems in Social Analysis (5 units, graded)
  • SA 887-5 Special Topics in Sociology/Anthropology (5 units, graded)

Elective Courses (Anthropology):

  • SA 815-4 Theories of Latin American Development (4 units, graded)
  • SA 835-4 Social and Political Change in Latin America (4 units, graded)
  • SA 850-5 Selected Topics in Social Theory (5 units, graded)
  • SA 856-5 Qualitative Sociological Research Methods** (5 units, graded)
  • SA 871-5 Readings in Anthropology I* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 872-5 Readings in Anthropology II* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 886-5 Selected Problems in Social Analysis (5 units, graded)
  • SA 887-5 Special Topics in Sociology/Anthropology (5 units, graded)

* Specific requirements for any Directed Readings (DR) course are to be developed in consultation with the student's supervisor and documented on a Directed Readings template. Provide the completed form to the Program Assistant who will enroll the student in a DR course.

**During the 2020/21 academic year, the required courses SA 856 and SA 875 for Sociology and Anthropology MA students will be taught together.

MA Thesis Prospectus

A thesis prospectus should present a thesis of intellectual rigour that can be completed within the time frame of the degree. The prospectus situates the project within the relevant literature, fields, and theoretical frameworks. The thesis prospectus is a written statement (maximum 10 pages, double-spaced, exclusive of abstract, notes, appendices, and bibliography) of the proposed original thesis research.

The thesis prospectus must contain:

  1. A precise definition of the topic and original research question(s); 
  2. A demonstration of a critical awareness of the pertinent literature; 
  3. Argumentation concerning the perceived significance of the topic in relation to existing knowledge and/or theory in the area; and 
  4. A statement and defence of the research methods and general methodology to be employed.

The thesis prospectus is presented to the student’s supervisory committee at a mutually agreed date and time, normally no later than June 15 of Year One. While we refer to this event as a prospectus defence, the process is best understood as a conversation meant to prepare the student to conduct thesis research. The MA prospectus defence is not public.

Thesis Research

Upon completion of coursework, MA students enrolls in SA 898 (MA Thesis).

Following successful presentation of the MA Thesis Prospectus, students must submit a signed Research Plan agreed upon by the supervisor, committee member(s), and the student. This Research Plan must be submitted to the Program Assistant within two weeks of successfully presenting the thesis prospectus. This Research Plan must include dated milestones, planned meeting dates and times, and contact information for the student and committee members. It is the responsibility of the student and the committee members to notify each other and the Program Assistant of any changes.

Submission of a complete Research Plan accompanied by a satisfactory annual evaluation by the supervisor is the basis for continuing in the program.

MA Thesis

The completion and public presentation of the MA thesis is the culmination of the Master’s degree program. A thesis normally consists of 75 pages, inclusive of bibliographies, appendices, and tables. At the discretion of the supervisory committee, the maximum number of pages may be increased, normally only to facilitate the inclusion of large appendices and tables. The student’s supervisory committee and a qualified Examiner will examine the thesis during a public oral defence. Following a successful defence, the student will complete all necessary revisions and then electronically submit the thesis along with the Results, Approval and Degree Recommendation form (with original signatures) to the Library. For more details please visit the thesis assistance page on the Library website or contact the Program Assistant at for more details.

Students are urged to attend the defences of their peers as an expression of collegiality and to fully participate in the intellectual life of the department. Students are also encouraged to attend the department Colloquia.

From thesis draft to defence

It is expected that students will write two or more drafts before the supervisory committee deems the thesis as ready to be defended. A detailed timeline and instructions for scheduling a MA thesis defence may be found here. Once the thesis is ready for defence, the supervisor will notify the Program Assistant and the Graduate Program Chair about scheduling the defence. This should be done four (4) weeks prior to the anticipated defence.

The supervisor and committee member(s) must complete and sign an Examining Committee for a Master’s Student form along with the name and contact details of the Examiner. The Examiner may be from another unit at SFU or from another university. If the latter, GPS will require a copy of the Examiner’s curriculum vitae. The role of the Examiner is to protect the integrity of the thesis examination process. Therefore, the Examiner must have hands-off relationship to the student. The student may not contact the Examiner at any time prior to the defence.

The Program Assistant will submit the completed and signed Examining Committee form to GPS along with the student’s 150-word abstract, and the Examiner’s CV (if required) at least four (4) weeks prior to the defence.

The student is required to submit a digital copy of the thesis to the Program Assistant at least two (2) weeks before the defence date. Two weeks is the absolute minimum; it is preferable to allow the Examining Committee three or more weeks to review the thesis. This is the “defence version,” not the final version, of the thesis. It is expected that the student will make some revisions, if only to correct typographical errors, following the defence. Normally, the defence version should be in MS Word. The Chair of the Examining Committee or Program Assistant will distribute the thesis to the Examining Committee. The Program Assistant will also confirm if any hard copies of the thesis are required by the Examining Committee and let the student know how many. The student is responsible for the costs of any hard copies.

The Graduate Program Chair (or delegate) will chair the defence. The Chair is a non-voting member of the Examining Committee. The Examining Committee consists of the student’s supervisory committee and a member of faculty at SFU or a person otherwise suitably qualified who is not a member of the supervisory committee. It is the responsibility of the supervisor, in consultation with the student, to select an Examiner and confirm the defence date and time.

While the Examiner need not be a complete stranger to the student, they must be free from any potential conflict of interest, for example, from research collaboration with the student or prospective employment of the student.

Thesis Defence

Thesis defences are open to the public, and the candidate is welcome and encouraged to invite family, friends, and research participants to participate in this important milestone. MA defences generally are between 1.5 to 2 hours in length. The general format for an MA Thesis defence in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology is as follows:

    1.  Chair of the defence introduces the candidate, the Examiner, and members of the committee; and outlines the procedure (steps 2-6) 

    2.  Chair invites the candidate to give a short (15-20 minute) summary of the argument of the thesis; 

    3.  Questioning begins with the Examiner, followed by the committee members and, lastly, the supervisor; 

    4.  Second round of questions; 

    5.  Open to questions from the floor; 

    6.  Chair requests all but the Examining Committee to leave while the committee deliberates on the quality of the defence and the thesis. 

During deliberations, the Examining Committee will recommend one of the following outcomes:

    i.    Passed: As submitted OR Conditional upon revisions;
    ii.   Decision Deferred: Decision to be made upon revisions OR Formal re-examination needed; 
    iii.  Failed: Student is required to withdraw from the University. 

Time Limits and Timelines

Time Limits and Timelines for MA Degree Completion (including Accelerated MA - AMA)

The MA program is structured to facilitate degree completion within six terms (two years). The time limit for students in a master's program to complete all of the requirements is nine terms from the start of the program. Students who have not successfully defended and filed their thesis at the end of nine terms must apply for an extension in order to continue in the program. Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies limits the number of terms that a student may extend their MA program; please see the Graduate Program Chair or Program Assistant with questions.

***Unless on an approved leave of absence, students are required to remain continuously enrolled.***

For more information regarding time limits for program completion and exceptions or appeals to this timeline, the student should consult the Graduate Program Chair and the Graduate General Regulations, see section 1.12.1

(S) denotes requirements for MA in Sociology | (A) denotes requirements for MA in Anthropology (2-year program)

(S) denotes requirements for Accelerated MA in Sociology | (A) denotes requirements for Accelerated MA in Anthropology. SA 850, SA 856, SA 870, and SA 875, are counted towards both the BA and the MA.

Our goal in presenting this timeline is to facilitate timely completion of the degree. Timely completion requires a realistic combination of commitment, capacity and responsibility on the part of both the student and the supervising faculty. Supervisory committees and students should meet at least twice during each term (once at the beginning and once at the end) to monitor their programs and to encourage course completion and development. These meetings may take place by conference call or email, as long as the goal of close collaboration and communication is achieved to the satisfaction of supervising faculty and student.

The Graduate Program Committee strongly suggests that students and their supervisory committees discuss mutual expectations regarding deadlines and respective responsibilities, frankly and concretely, at the earliest possible opportunity. The Graduate Program Committee requires that these agreements be set out in writing and signed by all parties. Please complete a Graduate Plan of Study.