Guide to Graduate Study

Welcome new and returning graduate students! We compiled this guide to give you, in one document, most of the basic information you will need at each stage of your graduate work.  Please save it, and refer to it throughout your time at GW.  Also be sure to bookmark or download the CCAS Graduate Handbook.


Before registering, incoming students should consult with their advisor to discuss courses and programs of study.  Although there are no regular faculty office hours between May 31 and August 15, advisors are often available by email at various points during the summer.  Advisors usually arrange office hours for walk-in visits or appointments the week before classes start; these are advertised via email.

Graduate Studies

Liberal Arts:
Professor Kavita Daiya


[email protected] 

Phillips Hall 302


Public Policy:

Professor Cynthia Deitch 


[email protected]

Phillips Hall 344



Professor Chad Heap
[email protected]

American Studies "Annex Building"

609 22nd Street, Room 101



As students proceed through their course work, they should find a mentor who will serve as a more in-depth source of intellectual and professional guidance. 

By the end of their first semester,  students should meet with their advisor and complete a Program of Study form. The form should be signed by their advisor and forwarded to WGSS program office for the student's file. Revisions to the Program of Study form may be made as needed in consultation with the advisor.

Designing Your Program of Study

MA in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with a concentration in a discipline:

three theory/methods courses (9 credit hours):

  • WGSS 6220: Fundamentals of Feminist Theory (Fall, usually first year)
  • WGSS 6225: Contemporary Feminist Theory (or women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies approved theory course)
  • WGSS 6221: Research Issues in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (2nd Year, Fall)

6 credit hours from among the following three options:

In addition, students take four graduate courses (12 credit hours) in their chosen discipline/field and three courses (9 credit hours) of electives related to their program of study for a total of 36 credit hours.  It is highly recommended that one course in the chosen discipline/field should be a graduate research methods course.  Students may take more than four courses in their discipline/field of choice.  For advice about these courses, students should locate a mentor in the relevant department as early as possible. 

A typical program of study for the MA in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with Anthropology as the chosen discipline and the thesis option, for example, might look like:





WGSS 6220 

WGSS 6225 

WGSS 6221

WGSS 6998

ANTH 6591


ANTH Elective 

WGSS 6999

ANTH 6501


ANTH 6331


Typical choices for a liberal arts concentration include disciplines such as Philosophy, History, Sociology, Anthropology, English, Religion, Political Science, or Economics. Some students have designed non-traditional concentrations such as Communications, Public Administration, International Development, and Counseling.

MA in Public Policy with a concentration in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

One theory course: 

  • WGSS 6220: Fundamentals of Feminist Theory (Fall) or
  • WGSS 6225: Contemporary Feminist Theory (or WGSS approved theory course) 

One methods course

  • WGSS 6221: Research Issues in Feminist Studies (2nd Year, Fall)

5 courses in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Public Policy core (15 credit hours):

6 credit hours from among the following three options:

In addition, students take three elective courses related to their program of study (9 credit hours) to complete the total of 36 credit hours. A typical program of study for the MA in Public Policy with a concentration in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies might look like:





WGSS 6220 

PPPA 6002

WGSS 6221 

WGSS 6283

PPPA 6010

PPPA 6003

PPPA 6006

(6 credit hrs) 


WGSS 6240 




Choosing Between the Public Policy and Liberal Arts Options

The M.A. in Public Policy with a Concentration in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies was established in 1982 as a "first-of-its-kind" graduate degree option formally combining Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Public Policy.  It remains a unique and distinctive feature of the GW program.  Students take required core  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies courses and electives with other  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies graduate students and required core Public Policy courses with students in other public policy graduate programs.  This program provides students with a professionally oriented degree, the M.A. in Public Policy, including training in the conventional social science components of that degree: economics, quantitative methods, policy analysis. This training makes our graduates competitive in the mainstream world of public policy.  Most important, it also provides students with a feminist analysis and the tools to criticize conventional ways of thinking about and studying public policy that have traditionally excluded women.  It offers opportunities to gain expertise in specific policy issues important to women, and to participate in Washington women's policy networks and organizations.

The M.A. in  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies with a concentration in a liberal arts discipline or a topical focus offers students the opportunity to craft an individualized program of study in close consultation with faculty advisors.  Students are expected to develop intellectual depth and a degree of expertise through a four-course concentration in either (a) a specific discipline such as Anthropology, Sociology, English, History, Philosophy (other disciplines are also possible, with permission), or (b) a topical area such as women and health, women and international development, race and gender (other areas are possible).  There are ample opportunities for students with policy interests to include policy courses (such as Women and Public Policy, among others) in their program of study, either as part of their chosen discipline/field or as electives.

The disciplinary concentration works well for students interested in going on for a Ph.D. in a discipline and for those whose interests fit easily within disciplinary lines.  Students are encouraged to find a faculty mentor in their disciplinary concentration.  Alternatively, students may choose an M.A. in  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies because their intellectual passions and career objectives are truly interdisciplinary.  The topical focus option provides academic space for students with diverse interests.

Choosing Between the Practicum & the Thesis Option

Each MA student faces the choice of whether to write a thesis or do one of the practicum options. Although it is possible to do both a thesis and a practicum, most students do one or the other.

The Practicum & Independent Research

Consult the practicum instructor Janine Moussa, [email protected] to approve placements or  Professor Cynthia Deitch,  she can be contacted at 202-994-7438 or [email protected]

The practicum provides students with professional level experience in a policy-related organization combined with weekly seminar meetings, readings and written work that integrates theory and practice. The practicum is offered only in the spring semester of each year. Most students take the practicum in their second year, but some do it earlier. Timing depends on what works best for the student's interests, needs, and schedule. The WSGG Program gathers information on internship opportunities in a wide range of organizations.

Placement arrangements, including an application, interviews, and a contract, are completed in November-December of the preceding fall term. Thus, students who wish to take the practicum in the spring of their first year must decide before the end of their first semester. Professor Deitch and a graduate assistant will provide individualized assistance in finding a placement if the student begins the process by November or earlier. Students considering the Practicum are strongly urged to consult with Professor Deitch or the graduate assistant early in the Fall semester.

The Practicum includes two options, both of which require attendance at the weekly seminar:

  • WGSS 6283 (3 credits): 60-hour placement and 3 credits of independent research (WGSS 6295) though not necessarily in the same semester.
  • WGSS 6283 (6 credits): 120-hour placement plus a case study, a major research paper that analyzes some aspect of the placement experience.

WGSS 6295 and WGSS 6280

All students taking WGSS 6295 Independent Research or WGSS 6280 Independent Study, whether for an elective or a requirement, must submit a brief description of their proposed project and obtain written permission from a faculty sponsor who agrees to supervise the research prior to registering. Forms are available in the  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program office.

WGSS 6295 Independent Research

For students taking WGSS 6295 to fulfill the MA requirements under the non-thesis option, general expectations are that the student will: 

  • spend one full semester (or more) doing independent original research, that is, collecting original data or otherwise using primary sources and making an original scholarly contribution, rather than simply reviewing what others have already written;
  • produce an article-length (25-35 pp.) professional paper--that is, a polished paper suitable for presentation at a professional conference and approaching publishable quality. 

Students should anticipate one or more rounds of directed revision. Specific requirements will be worked out with the faculty sponsor.

WGSS 6280 Independent Study (elective)

Although it may take a variety of forms, WGSS 6280 is typically a directed readings course, designed so that the student may gain command of the literature in a specific field of inquiry not readily available through offered courses. Students and faculty sponsors may agree on a variety of written outcomes or final projects.

The Thesis

A student invites a faculty member to serve as thesis advisor. After a suitable topic has been agreed upon by advisor and student, the student invites a second faculty member to serve as reader (the thesis advisor can help find a reader). A thesis topic approval form should be filled out and submitted to the  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. It is recommended you submit this form no later than the end of the first semester of registration. Most students need about two semesters to complete the thesis.

The  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies website provides a list of Faculty and Associated Faculty to assist students in finding a faculty member with whom they would like to work, but generally the thesis advisor is someone with whom the student has already worked and established a rapport. This list is not exhaustive, and students are welcome to create links with other faculty. Students should also consult with the Director of  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Further details concerning the MA thesis:

  • The length of a thesis varies. Usual length is from 50 to 100 pages.
  • In addition to full-time faculty, part-time GW faculty may serve as either thesis advisor or reader.
  • If the proposed director or reader is from outside GW, her/his curriculum vitae must be submitted to the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) by the  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program for approval.
  • The final thesis, after being approved by reader and advisor should be submitted electronically at More detailed information about the submission process can be found on this website.
  • It is important to consult this website early on as it also contains important information about the submission requirements, as well as the final submission process and deadlines. It is helpful to set up a timeline in consultation with your advisor.
  • In planning your schedule, keep in mind that most faculty are not on contract in summer and may be unavailable to work with you in June, July and August. Individual faculty may choose to make themselves available, but you should consult with your advisor early on to agree on deadlines.
  • Once you have submitted the thesis electronically, the site will provide a paper approval form that needs to be signed by your advisor. This form goes to CCAS. A copy should also be submitted to Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
  • Accepted theses become the property of the University and are kept on file with Gelman Library.

Some general guidelines for Writing a Thesis:

  • Define a research question. 
  • Contextualize the topic within existing literature, discussing how it relates to previous research and theory, and what it will contribute. 
  • Explain your methods and sources of information. 
  • Present your findings. 
  • Discuss the theoretical, policy, or other implications of the findings. 
  • Draw some conclusions.

Human Subjects Permission: See the Office of Human Research website If your thesis involves research on living people (such as interviewing, observing, questionnaire, focus group, etc.) you must get IRB approval. The website provides additional details, required CITI training, and access to required forms. For student projects, they usually try to process the forms quickly, in about two weeks. Your advisor and/or other WGSS faculty can help you figure out what to do. If you fail to obtain Human Research approval, the University may require you to start your thesis all over again, not use any of the data (interviews, etc.) you collected without permission, register and pay again for thesis credits, and other penalties.

What happens if you need more time?

If you have finished your coursework and taken your 6 thesis credits but need more time to finish the thesis, beyond the Spring semester, current CCAS policy permits the following:

  • If a student registers for “continuous enrollment (CE) for the summer and finishes by August 15, the student pays a nominal fee and graduates in August.
  • If a student registers for CE for the summer but does not finish by August 15, she/he may register and pay again for CE for Fall, finish within the first 3 weeks of the Fall semester, and graduate in January.
  • If the student needs more time (beyond the first 3 weeks of the Fall semester), she/he registers for “continuing registration” (CR) for the Fall and pays for one credit. The student must file by January 15, to graduate in January.

Be sure to consult your academic advisor and CCAS throughout the process.

The Comprehensive Examination

Each student needs to pass the comprehensive exam in order to complete the MA degree. The MA Comprehensive Exam is offered twice a year: in the fall and spring, near the end of each semester. Students who plan to take the exam should notify the Program secretary at least one month (30 days) before the date that the exam is given out.

 Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program faculty and the Executive Committee determine format of the comprehensive exam. It may change, depending on periodic review. In the event of changes, a student may opt to follow either the format in effect when they entered the program or the revised format.


  • It is an open-book, take-home exam.
  • Students will be required to answer a total of three questions: one on feminist theory, one on feminist research methods, and one on the student's area of concentration (Public Policy, English, History, etc.).
  • There will be a choice of one out of three questions in theory, and one out of three questions in methods. There may not be a choice for the specialty question, but it will be broad enough for each student to answer it on the basis of her/his own program of study.
  • There is a maximum length of 1,500 words for each essay. (Faculty readers will be instructed not to read more than that for any one essay.)
  • Essays should be clearly typed, double-spaced, and carefully proofread.
  • Because this is an open-book exam it is expected that references will include author, title, and date. Direct quotations should include page numbers.
  • Direct quotation from sources is permitted, but excessive or lengthy use of direct quotation in a short essay is not advisable.
  • Students pick up the exam on a Friday, anytime from 9 am to 5 pm. The answers are due by 9:15 am the following Monday.

Purpose and Scope:

The goal of the exam is to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the material. Therefore essays should include discussion of several relevant sources, not just one or two authors. References to "classic" literature may be appropriate, but we also want to see inclusion of recent 1980's and 1990's literature to demonstrate a grasp of the latest thinking. Specific authors and titles should be cited and discussed in all three essays.

When to Take Comps:

To qualify to take comps, a student must have completed all non-elective courses or be in the process of completing remaining non-elective courses the semester the exam is taken. It is permissible to take comps before finishing a thesis or independent research if all other non-elective courses have been taken, but it is advisable to have completed as many courses as possible, including electives. Students should consult an advisor if they have any questions about when to take the exam.

Academic Integrity:

Students will be required to sign and attach to their exam a copy of the University academic integrity code (which will be provided with the questions.) Answers must be written in your own words and must represent original responses to the questions. "Re-cycling" your own writing from other sources (previous papers, exams, assignments, etc.) is not allowed.

For Review:

Copies of past exams are available for your review in a folder marked "MA Comprehensive Exams" in the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Library.


Students must receive a satisfactory grade on all three questions in order to pass the  Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies MA comprehensive exam requirement. At the discretion of the faculty, a student may be permitted to re-write one question without officially failing the entire exam. As stipulated in the Bulletin, a student who fails the MA comprehensive exam may apply to the Dean for permission to repeat the exam at the next regularly offered time. Superior achievement is noted when a student earns a "pass with honors" on one or more question.