GIST Master’s Thesis

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The Value of the GIST Master’s Thesis

The GIST master’s thesis gives students the opportunity to design and produce an original, independent, professional work on a compelling topic of their choice. Students work closely with a faculty advisor who serves as the thesis committee chair and two committee members from among the GIST faculty to produce an abstract and the thesis.

Thesis topics have ranged across the full suite of geographic information science and technology, including novel applications of GIS as well as implementations of web and mobile technology. Specific projects span a wide range of fields, including architecture, biogeography, business, geology, history, human geography, public health, natural hazards, planetary sciences, and sustainability. Read more about past GIST master’s theses.

Outstanding Thesis Examples

Students have produced thesis projects of publishable and award-winning caliber. For his thesis, Chris Weidemann developed a novel geospatial application called Twitter2GIS to analyze what locational information Twitter users may inadvertently give away and investigated how third parties could make use of this information. His study was published in the International Journal of Geoinformatics in June 2013.

In another thesis, Samuel Krueger mapped the location of urban amenities in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and calculated centrality scores, which identified a strong urban core running from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles. The path, which he dubs “The Wilshire/Santa Monica Corridor,” is named for the two main arteries along which the city’s center is concentrated, scientifically dismissing writer Dorothy Parker’s characterization of Los Angeles as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” The Los Angeles Times covered his findings. Krueger’s thesis also earned him two prestigious recognitions, one as first place winner of the UNIGIS 2012 Academic Excellence Award. The UNIGIS International Association is a global network of higher education institutions dedicated to enhancing the competence of geographic information science and systems professionals. The award recognizes the top master’s thesis from entries across the UNIGIS international network, of which the USC Spatial Sciences Institute is a founding member. He also won the North American Regional Science Association’s 2012 Graduate Student-Author Paper Competition. As part of that honor, his paper will be considered for publication in the academic journal Papers in Regional Science.

These are just two examples of how our students learn the fundamental science of spatial thinking and analysis, and are enabled to implement and apply that science through technology to produce new discoveries and knowledge.

Preparing and Defending the Thesis

First Semester: During the one-week Catalina field excursion in SSCI 587, the 587 instructor gives a presentation on the thesis process.  Students begin to consider their thesis topic, prepare a thesis abstract, and prepare a thesis prospectus.  They also start identifying a thesis advisor from among the faculty and two other faculty members to serve as members of their thesis committee.  Students are encouraged to select among the four degree tracks.

Third Semester: Students either improve their first-semester thesis prospectus, or may select a new topic and prepare a new thesis prospectus.

Fourth Semester:  In SSCI 594a, students finalize their thesis prospectus and the composition of their thesis guidance committee. Students schedule their presentations and meeting with their committees, and work with the SSCI 594a faculty member, their thesis advisor, and writing instructor to prepare the first drafts of chapters 1-3.  Students conduct research, which may entail writing code, building an app, gathering data, performing analysis, or other elements germane to their topics.

Fifth Semester:   In SSCI 594b, students schedule their presentations and meetings with their thesis guidance committee.  They complete their research and drafts of chapters 4-5.  They work with their advisor and writing instructor to prepare the final draft of their thesis, which they distribute to their committee for feedback.  Students and their advisors schedule and conduct the thesis defense.  Once students incorporate final changes into their thesis document, they are deemed to have successfully completed their thesis when the USC Libraries accepts it.

Writing Support

M.S. in GIST students requiring writing support can work with GIST writing faculty from their preparation of their statement of research interest in SSCI 587 through development of their thesis in SSCI 594a. Writing faculty work individually with students to discuss strategies for better writing, to examine the strength of ideas, and to ensure the integrity of analysis and discussion. While students are responsible for editing their own work, writing instructors will guide students through particular areas of difficulty, working on both global issues—idea generation, clarity of hypothesis, focus, specificity of study—as well as surface-level issues, including paragraphing, sentence structure, grammar, and mechanics. GIST writing instructors are faculty members of the USC Writing Program.

Thesis Format Guidelines

For all references, please consult the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) Version 16 Citation Style Guidelines (‘Author-Date’).  The CMS Version 16 author-date style is summarized in Chapters 18 and 19 of Kate L. Turabian et al. 2013. A Manual for Writers. 8th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  (Note that this not the same as what’s known as “Turabian style.”)