I recently met an artist. He was very proud of the shortness of his Master's thesis, which was published back in early 90's and has only 3 pages! He had been graduated from the California college of arts with a MFA (Master of Fine Arts?) degree.

I have heard that some PhD theses in mathematics are sometimes very short. However, his thesis had no introduction, no background, no question, no references, nothing! In fact, it was nothing similar to a thesis. It was basically his idea of modern arts. To me, it looked like a research proposal; albeit one without a research question!

Having said that, I mentioned his thesis as an example and I am not looking to find ways to criticize something he has done many years ago. I just want to know if the idea of very short theses is correct or is it a hoax? Shouldn't a thesis have a standard (-or at least, some) structure?


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    @SolarMike I have it, but unfortunately, I do not have the permission to share it. I described how it is in the question.
    – RFAI
    May 3, 2020 at 8:19
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    So it could be the best 500 or so words ever written and well deserving of the award given... And you have no grounds to justify your position as you cannot show the evidence.
    – Solar Mike
    May 3, 2020 at 8:49
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    "Would you consider something like this a thesis?" this depends significantly on who answers, how they are positioned, what department or discipline they are from. Thus, this question does not qualify.
    – user122146
    May 3, 2020 at 9:00
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    Your question can be much more concise, for instance, as follows: "What ere the MFA thesis requirements?" Examples of related questions: Must a Masters thesis involve original research? Can it be merely a review of some recent research direction?; What is the minimum contribution expected from an M.Sc. thesis?.
    – Noir
    May 3, 2020 at 10:23
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    Well, your first two paragraphs do a good job of showing how you regard this work...
    – Solar Mike
    May 3, 2020 at 12:06

1 Answer 1


You're comparing PhD theses and Master's theses. They are nothing alike and you shouldn't expect a Master's thesis to be on the level of a PhD thesis. At least where I'm from, and since you mention math I'll say it's in math, a Master's thesis has no requirement for originality or length. I've seen students graduate with theses 30 pages long. There does not need to be a research question in them, it's essentially an exercise in writing something in an academic style about current research.

You're also comparing science with humanities (here, fine arts). Again, nothing alike. I'm a scientist so I have no idea what the expectations are in the humanities, but again, I wouldn't expect them to be even remotely similar to my expectations for a scientific Master's thesis. My layman's impression is that in the humanities the author's personal style and ideas count for much more than general established standards of form and structure. Things are much less uniform. I am vaguely aware of how things work in architecture and this certainly seems to be the case there.

The college found the thesis good enough to award the degree, apparently. Calling the thesis a "hoax" is more than criticism of your acquaintance's work, it's an insult. You can make up your mind about the quality of the college's degrees if you want, but without being particularly knowledgeable about general requirements of master's theses in fine arts, this would not be a very well informed opinion.

  • I think you misunderstood my question! I wrote " if the idea of very short theses is correct or it is a hoax?". Please pay attention that I used terms 'the idea of' and 'theses'! Not 'this person's thesis'. Also, please pay attention where I clarified that I used this person's thesis as an example for my question!
    – RFAI
    May 3, 2020 at 12:08
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    I think saying a MSc thesis and PhD theses are nothing alike is a very broad and incorrect statement. Where I'm from, Canada, the difference between a MSc thesis and PhD thesis is only length and the requirement for originality. The MSc thesis here requires an original hypothesis, results, and discussion. The only difference is you still graduate if your project isn't publishable. Saying "it's basically an exercise in writing" is very insulting to people like me that spent 2+ painful years full time conducting wet lab experiments and careful data analysis. At least mention where you are from.
    – Cell
    May 3, 2020 at 12:58
  • @Cell I agree with you! I believe a thesis, regardless of being a Masters or PhD thesis, should have some sort of structure.
    – RFAI
    May 3, 2020 at 14:36
  • "difference between a MSc thesis and PhD thesis is only length and the requirement for originality." To me, that in itself is the "difference between lightening and the lightening bug". May 3, 2020 at 17:05
  • @CharlesE.Grant It's not surprising that you'd make such a foolish analogy given only my vague description of the differences. No industry employer nor professor I know would care if you produced original knowledge vs. attempting original work that didn't pan out. It's only the quality and rigour of the thesis that matters. Also there's no e in lightning.
    – Cell
    May 3, 2020 at 18:17

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