Digital Arts and New Media: MFA: Collaboration, Innovation, Social Impact

You are here

Thesis Process

A two-year MFA program is short and intense. Students begin thinking about their thesis research as early as the application process and continue defining the scope of their research from the very first day of classes. Second year students work almost exclusively on their thesis projects and papers which are the culmination of each student’s research in the program. Thesis projects may be individual or collaborative. The final thesis will make an original contribution to scholarship, praxis and research in digital arts and new media. The final outcome of the Digital Arts and New Media MFA includes:

  • the project, that is, an art work, a performance, digital/new media experimental research, or an invention or computer program that enables the production of digital or new media work
  • the thesis paper, that is, a 20–30 page scholarly paper that contextualizes the project historically, theoretically, and socio-culturally
  • a presentation of the project in the annual MFA Exhibition



Thesis Committee - Formation and Member Responsibilities

DANM 212 Thesis Proposal, a zero-unit course supervised by the Program Director, exists to support each student in developing their thesis committee. It takes place in the spring of the first year. The Program Director meets with each first year student to advise on and approve the constitution of the committee. By the end of the first year each student will have consulted with faculty, formed a thesis committee and filed the MFA Thesis Committee Form with the Program Manager. At the beginning of the second year of the program, the student begins meeting with their Committee.

Each student’s thesis committee will consist of a minimum of three members, of which at least two are members of the DANM faculty. The chair will be a full or associate professor and a DANM principal or affiliate faculty member. One member of the committee must be faculty within the Arts Division, this thesis committee member may also be the chair of the committee. Any committee member who is not UCSC faculty must be reviewed and approved by the Program Director. Changes to the thesis committee must also be approved by the Program Director.

By the last day of Spring quarter (~June 15) in the Student’s first year, the Thesis Committee Form is due to the DANM Office.

It is each student’s responsibility to assemble their thesis committee. Students should consider the composition of the committee carefully so that their committee will be able to support and advise on both the thesis project and paper. It is important that the members are aware of their responsibilities:

• commitment to appear at required meetings

• awareness of thesis process milestones

• willingness to conform to thesis process deadlines

• willingness to respond in a timely manner to student concerns and thesis process deadlines

• willingness to be proactive in engaging student and communicating with program, especially if the student is falling behind

• willingness to review the student’s work during the spring Studio Review

• willingness to supervise DANM 299 Thesis Research independent studies


Written Thesis, Proposal, and Abstract

By Week 5 (~November 1) of Fall Quarter in the student’s second year, the student prepares a thesis proposal. The proposal includes a project description with a detailed outline of the project research and the steps to be undertaken for the written thesis. The length of the proposal should be determined in conversation with the student’s thesis committee chair but 2500-5000 words (250 words double-spaced per page) is a common length. The finished draft of the proposal is given to the thesis committee for prior to a meeting.

By Week 7 (~Nov 15), the student meets with their committee to discuss the proposal, get feedback, and prepare to create an abstract based on the proposal.

An abstract is a summary of the thesis proposal in less than 250 words, reflecting the thesis project as agreed upon at the review.

Templates and samples of Proposals, Abstracts and Thesis are available on the DANM forms page.
The College Art Association provides valuable guidelines for professional artists at

By the last day of fall quarter (~Dec 14) all thesis committee members must have approved the submitted Thesis Abstract based on project proposal. "Thesis Abstract" signed form. (link to form)


DANM 299 Thesis Research

Students must enroll in two DANM 299 Thesis Research courses in their second year to complete the final thesis project. Students are advised to take one section in the second quarter and one in the third quarter to facilitate the development of the thesis project and paper. Each section of DANM 299 should be supervised by one of the student’s committee members.

Complete a DANM Independent Study Form including permission of the instructor and send to the Graduate Adviser who will provide you with a class number for enrollment. The deadline to add a class is in the third week of each quarter.

In order to graduate, students must complete both DANM 299 Thesis Research courses with a Satisfactory. An Incomplete in DANM 299 Thesis Research will result in an extension of one quarter to complete the course work. If the course work, e.g. the final thesis project or paper, is not completed satisfactorily by the end of the following fall quarter, the grade will automatically change to an Unsatisfactory. Students cannot graduate with a grade of Incomplete or Unsatisfactory.


Studio Review Critique

By Week 2 (~April 15) of Spring quarter, all second year students meet with their committe in a studio review of functioning beta versions of their MFA project. During the Studio Review the committee decides upon topics for student to address in their finished piece, identified through critique, and the chair notes them on the Studio Critique Form. During the Oral Defense the committee assesses whether the student successfully addressed the critique topics identified during the Studio Review in the MFA Exhibition.


Application for MFA Degree and Commencement

By the last day of Week 2 (~April 14) of Spring quarter of the student’s second year, they must turn in the Application for the Master’s Degree to the DANM Adviser.

Commencement regalia (cap & gown) must be reserved by mid-April to avoid rush charges. See details at


Thesis Oral Defense and Final Submission Deadlines

The final steps in the Thesis process are to complete the written thesis, submit to committee and defend thesis at an Oral Defense meeting, (complete additional edits if needed) submit digital copy of final thesis to ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, and submit a physical copy of the title page of the thesis with ink signatures from all committee members to the Graduate Division.

The signatures on the signed title page are the final approval of your thesis.

  • By Week 7 (~May 18) students should send a completed draft of their thesis paper to their committee, at least 5 days before Oral Defense.
  • During Week 8 (~May 25) students should meet with their committee for their Oral Defense.
    • During the Oral Defense the committee assesses whether the student successfully addressed the critique topics identified during the Studio Review in the MFA Exhibition. If you do not have access to a space you can reserve time in the DANM Seminar classroom via the DANM assistant or adviser.
    • (Weeks 8-10  Resubmit thesis paper to committee if edits were requested after Oral Review.)
  • Chair completes and submits Oral Defense Review Form to DANM office. Student retains a copy.
  • ~June 1 (*See Grad Div Site) Initial deadline for submission of completed thesis via ProQuest and the signed title page to Grad Division if you would like your name in the Commencement program
  • ~June 4th (*See Grad Div Site) Last day to register with Graduate Division for Commencement ceremony
  • Last day of the Quarter (~ Jun 14) Final deadline for submission of completed thesis via ProQuest and the signed title page to Grad Division.


Request for an Extension of Deadlines

If the written thesis cannot be completed in time for a Spring graduation, your committee may agree to a submission over Summer, with all materials due by August 31. You must complete and submit a new Application for the Master's Degree form and update the date on your thesis title page to reflect a summer graduateion date. It is recommended that you secure signatures from any faculty who will not be available over the summer, and have your chair or other committe member withold signature until final approval is granted from all members.

If special circumstances occur that prevent a student from meeting the deadline for completing any requirement specified here, the student may petition in writing for an extension. The petition must explain the special circumstances and specify the date by which the requirement will be completed. The granting of that extension will be decided by the thesis committee and the Program Director. The petition must be signed by the student, thesis committee chair, and Program Director for final approval, and filed with the Program Manager. During the extension, the student will receive no further support from the DANM Program. An extension granted for completing the thesis must be concluded at the end of fall quarter (after the end of the spring quarter of the student’s second year) at the latest. The project or a representation thereof must be presented in the following year’s MFA Exhibition for the student to be eligible for graduation.