A User's Guide to National Security Affairs

This document is intended to assist you in managing your course of study in the NSA Department. It answers the questions the faculty and staff are most frequently asked and disentangles some of the puzzles that arise because of the way NPS operates.

The NPS Catalogue

The NPS catalogue is the basic source of information about NSA degree requirements. The program description that is in place during your first quarter establishes the requirements you must meet to graduate. Subsequent changes to those requirements will usually apply to the next group of students who enter the program, not to you. 

Academic Associates

Every NSA curriculum is supervised by a member of the faculty known as the Academic Associate (AA). The AA is the only person who can grant exceptions to formal academic requirements and is, in general, your principal source of advice about program planning once you arrive at NPS. 

Course Selection

The NSA department course schedule—an Excel spreadsheet—is the single most authoritative source of information both about what will be taught, and about what counts for what in terms of curricular requirements. This spreadsheet is maintained more frequently than the NPS catalogue, and will reflect changes that have not yet been incorporated there. The NPS catalogue lists more courses than can be taught each year, so be careful not to sign up for course that aren’t going to be taught. You will work closely with your Education Technician (Ed Tech) to fill out your course matrix.  

The first draft of each year’s academic schedule becomes available for planning purposes during Spring quarter of the preceding year. It will inevitably change, sometimes at short notice, in response to competing demands on faculty time. The on-line schedule is regularly maintained to reflect these changes, and you should always consult the posted list before adding or dropping courses. 

The Perfect Matrix

There is no perfect course matrix. There are, however, some general concepts that can help you develop a coherent program. Ideally, your classes will progress from less specialized/introductory to more specialized/advanced work. .

  • Departmental (also known as Disciplinary) Core Courses are those required of every student in the department, and they are best taken toward the beginning of your program. NS3011 in particular only makes sense if you take it in the first (or, at the latest, the second) quarter. As for the others, it is best to take them early, but in this matter as in all others reality will impose itself on any set of rules. You may end up pushing core courses downstream in order to take courses in your curriculum that aren’t going to come around again during your stay with us. Keep in mind that departmental core course are sometimes prerequisites for 4000-level seminars—another reason to get them done early if you can.  


  • Curricular Core and Elective Courses are about the particular subject you are studying, which may be a region (e.g. Middle East) or a generic topic in security studies (e.g. Counterterrorism). Curricular core courses are required of everyone in a particular curriculum, and are taught at least annually. Curricular electives vary from year to year, and are seldom taught more than once in twelve months. The fact that many courses are only taught once per year is especially important if you will only be here for four quarters. Never assume that a course you need or wish to take will come around again unless it is actually on the published NSA department schedule. Particularly if you will be writing a thesis, you should take curricular core and elective courses right from start, because you will want as much background as possible in your subject when the time comes to develop your thesis topic. Part of your AA’s job is to provide advice in choosing among our course offerings, and you should not hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it.

The on-line course schedule provides up-to-date information about what courses satisfy requirements in each curriculum, including new courses that may not be in the catalogue. If you see a course being offered that you believe is appropriate as a curricular elective (perhaps because it matches up to your specific interests), and it is not identified as such, ask your AA if it can count.


  • General electives can be chosen from among the courses offered at NSA or other departments within NPS, provided you are fulfilling course requirements for your curriculum. You are limited to two courses from outside the NSA department (including classes taken through the MIIS exchange program) with the approval of your AA prior to enrollment. General electives should make some kind of sense in relation to your research or other professional interests. Taking these towards the end of your program tends to make more sense than at the beginning.


  • Distance Learning (DL) classes cannot be taken by in-residence students. 



Python is the system NPS uses to create the schedule and manage academic records. In general you should think of PYTHON as a record-keeping system, not a communications system. There is a little box in Python that allows you to comment on or explain your course choices. There is no need to explain choices that fall within the rules. Conversely, if you wish to do anything substantially out of the ordinary, and you need more than a few words to explain what you are up to, always send an email or make an appointment with your AA to discuss what you have in mind first. Python is not the place to seek exceptions to standard curricular requirements.

When you enter a course in Python it requires you to characterize it in one of three categories: required, curricular elective, or general elective. These categories resemble those we use in the department, but they are not identical, and have a different purpose. Python's categories are intended to prioritize inputs to the scheduling process, not to describe the role of a course in your academic program. For that reason it is not always obvious how to characterize NSA courses when you input them Python. The following match-ups are best:

NSA Category

Python Category

 Disciplinary core courses


 Curricular core courses


 Thesis courses (NS4080 / NS0810)


 Comprehensive exam (NS0811)


 English language courses for int’l students


 NS4159 for Navy Intel officers


 Follow-on language at DLI


 Courses taken for a certificate


 Curricular electives

Curricular Elective

 General electives

General Elective

 JPME courses

General Elective

 Courses in other NPS Departments [unless required]

General Elective


Enrollment Caps

Many courses in NSA have limits on enrollment. This is a management tool for us, and is not intended to present unreasonable hurdles for you—though it is true that some courses get maxed out occasionally. If, after following the procedures described below, you end up being denied admission to a course that is required for your program, be sure to let your AA know. Otherwise, if you cannot persuade the professor to admit you, you just have to pick something else.

If you can persuade the professor to admit you, then you can be added to the course despite the presence of the cap. The only person in the department who can do this is the Associate Chair for Instruction. The best procedure is to have the professor concerned send an email to the Associate Chair giving their permission for you to be added to the course.


The Naval War College teaches a four-course sequence at NPS that conveys JPME Phase I certification. If you are required by your sponsor to complete the sequence while you are here, time will have been built into your program for it. If your sponsor does not require you to take JPME, however, you cannot do so as a matter of convenience. JPME courses may not be taken as overloads, nor in lieu of general electives. They do not convey credit toward an NPS degree.

Language Study at the Defense Language Institute

NPS's close proximity to the Defense Language Institute provides opportunities for synergy between the two institutions. All of NSA's Regional Security curricula (681-684) allow students to substitute successful completion of language training, combined with successful passage of a comprehensive examination, for the Master's thesis that is a normal graduation requirement at NPS. For purposes of obtaining an NPS degree, successful completion of language training means that you have achieved either a 3.0 GPA in course work at DLI, or that you have passed the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) with a minimum score of 2 / 2 / 1+ upon completion of a language program at DLI.

Exchange Classes at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies (MIIS)

Students in good academic standing with space in their schedules may take up to one course at MIIS. The exchanges occurs every MIIS semester. You will receive emails the preceding quarter with further details on eligibility and how to apply for the program. You may not take a MIIS class that replicates an existing NSA course or a MIIS class designed soles for language study. Courses taught in a foreign language on a substantive topic are encouraged. 

Directed Studies

NS3079: Directed Reading, and NS4079: Directed Research, are intended to allow you to pursue specialized interests under the supervision of one of our faculty. These directed study courses are arranged via Python. Requests to take a directed study will not be granted more than once. Directed studies can only be taught by the department’s full-time faculty. Note that a NS4079 directed research course has no connection to the zero-credit NS4079 thesis question course; you may take both.

Special Topics

NSA offers a number of “Special Topics” courses, whose contents vary from one quarter to the next. These exist to allow faculty to teach courses on subjects of immediate topical interest, or that derive from current research, or are simply too new to have made it into the catalogue. Special Topics courses count as curricular electives if their contents are relevant to your area of concentration. This information is noted on the schedule posted on the NSA web site, which is also the only place where you can find out what the “special topic” actually is; Python has no means of communicating that information. You are allowed to take Special Topics courses multiple times even if the number is the same, provided the topic is different.


An “Incomplete” is a place-holder grade indicating that a professor has allowed you extra time to satisfy course requirements. Professors are not required to give Incompletes, and may impose a grade penalty for doing so. An “Incomplete” must be cleared by graduation day of the next quarter. After that it automatically turns into a failing grade (“X”), which cannot be altered unless it is awarded as the result of a mistake by the professor. You are allowed to retake a course you have failed, and if you pass it the second time around it is the second grade that counts in calculating your QPR (your grade point average); but the recorded failure is permanent, just the same.

Validating Courses

Validating a course means you are excused from taking it because you have already taken a substantially similar graduate-level course at another university. Validation is only worthwhile, and is only allowed, if there is some other course you can take that makes more sense than the one you are validating. A validated course does not convey academic credit, and does not alter the requirement to maintain a full-time load. Only graduate courses taken in the last five years, and in which you received an above-average grade (A or A-), can be used to validate NSA courses. Courses taken at other DoD schools, or in other NPS departments, do not count.

Course validation is accomplished administratively via Python. As a practical matter, however, the first step is to provide your AA with a syllabus of your earlier course and a transcript showing your grade. He or she will also want to know what you intend to take in lieu of the course you wish to validate. If the overall plan sounds reasonable, the AA will send your materials to the professor who is teaching the course to be validated. If the professor agrees that your prior work is comparable to the NSA course in question, then you can enter the request in Python.  

Comprehensive Exams

If you are taking comps you must enroll in NS0811 in your final quarter. NS0811 is not taken as an overload, but is intended to provide time for you to prepare for the exam.

Thesis Extensions

If you must write a thesis and fail to finish on time you are entitled to apply for a one-year extension. The first extension is normally granted, but it requires paperwork and justification. If one year is insufficient, you can apply to the department for two more one-year extensions; they are not automatic, and require evidence of significant progress as well as justification for why you have not been able to finish so far. If, after three years, you are still not done, you can apply for a fourth (final) extension, which is only granted by exception and requires Academic Council approval. 

Academic Certificates

Some master’s students may be able to study for a certificate in addition to their primary degree area, in the NSA Department or other departments, but only with advance approval of their primary AA, the AA for the certificate, and their program officer.  This option is normally only available to select students in 15-month and 18-month tracks whose course schedule allows them three general electives with which to develop a certificate course of study. Students interested in this option should discuss it with both AAs involved no later than their second quarter. Students cannot double-count classes towards their primary degree area and a certificate. In addition, students in one track of a curriculum (e.g. 681-Sub Saharan Africa) cannot sign up for a certificate in another track of that curriculum (e.g. 246-Middle East). 

Dual Degrees

The department does not permit a single thesis to satisfy two degrees except by permission of the Associate Chair for Instruction.

Academic Certificates

Some master’s students may be able to study for an NSA certificate outside of their primary degree area. This may only be attempted with advance approval of the student’s primary Academic Associate, the Academic Associate for the certificate, and the NSA Program Officer. This option is normally only available to select students in 15-month and 18-month tracks whose course schedule has room for at least three general electives with which to develop a certificate course of study. Courses may not be double-counted for both degree and certificate and no overloads are permitted. Students interested in this option should discuss it with both AAs involved no later than their second quarter. A minimum GPA/GQPR of 3.5 is required for a certificate program to be approved.


Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty in any form is a violation of the NPS honor code and is taken very seriously by the university. This Department of National Security Affairs (NSA) policy governing academic integrity is intended to supplement the basic NPS policy on the issue that is described in NAVPGSCOLINST 5370.4D. NSA faculty report all cases of cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty to NSA department authorities. Based on the severity of the violation, disciplinary action can include informal counseling, a failing grade on a test or paper, failing a course, the denial of a graduate degree, documentation in your officer performance report, and other non-judicial punishment. Ignorance of relevant rules and policies is no defense in the event of an infraction; students are wholly responsible for knowing and following the rules, academic conventions, and standards relating to academic integrity.

Cheating and Other Dishonest Conduct

The Department of National Security Affairs requires that all the work that you present to faculty members for comment and evaluation (including rough drafts), in all substantial respects, must be your own. It also requires that nothing be done to compromise the integrity of other students’ work or the academic functioning of the department. Cheating and other dishonest conduct, such as offering another person’s work as if it were your own, is categorically unacceptable.


Any work that appears with your name as the author on it is expected to reflect your own independent effort and judgment. This expectation of independence does not mean, however, that your work will be unrelated to the work of others. On the contrary, all scholars try to learn from each other to improve their own understanding and to locate their work within the larger work of their discipline and the academy generally. Scholarship is ultimately a collective enterprise, which nevertheless places a high premium on individual accomplishment. It imposes two fundamental requirements on those who participate in it. First, you must be able to show the evidence that has led you to believe what you believe, in a way that allows others to locate and evaluate that evidence themselves. Second, you must give proper credit for ideas, information, and any other substantive feature of your work that you have derived from the work of others.

Plagiarism refers to a range of practices that contradict these norms. The word itself refers to the presentation of another person’s work as if it were your own. Plagiarism in its most basic form means the use of someone else’s words without giving proper credit, such as using quotation marks for a direct quote and using citations; however, the concept applies with equal force to other media, including pictures, graphics, mathematical calculations, and all other forms of intellectual or artistic expression.

It is obvious that it is not possible to identify the source of all the facts or ideas that may be incorporated into your work. None of us was born knowing what we know now, nor do we necessarily recall how we came to know it—though, in the conduct of research, keeping track of such things is an essential obligation. Poor note taking, which fails to identify sources correctly or to take specific note of passages that are copied verbatim, is one of the most common reasons for inadvertent plagiarism.

Whenever you make use of another person’s distinctive ideas, information, or words, you must give credit. If a passage is quoted verbatim, it must be set off with quotation marks (or, if it is a longer passage, presented as indented text in what is often called block quote format) and followed by a properly formulated citation. The length of the phrase does not matter. If someone else’s words are sufficiently significant to be worth quoting, then accurate quotation followed by a correct citation is essential, even if only a few words are involved.

A citation is also required if you paraphrase or summarize someone else’s work. Paraphrasing means putting a passage or section of writing you get elsewhere into your own words, and a paraphrase is usually shorter than the original. Summarizing means putting just the main points or the author’s main ideas in your own words, and a summary is normally quite a bit shorter than the original. In either case, you are using your own words to present someone else’s ideas, and you must provide credit for the source of those ideas. In addition, if you are also presenting your own ideas, such as when you are critiquing an author’s arguments in a literature review, you need to make clear which points are your own and which belong to other authors.

Note also that if you paraphrase or summarize a text you must convert its substance into your own words, not merely change a few words here and there while leaving the rest intact, and you must still cite the source you have used—where the ideas came from—even though you are not quoting the original language. A good rule of thumb is that if you are using more than four or five consecutive words from someone else’s work, you should either use quotation marks or restate it in your own words.  

Information, concepts, and interpretations that are part of the common property of a scholarly field, such as one might find in textbooks, encyclopedia articles, or other works designed to provide basic information for non-experts, normally do not require citation. Information that is well known to students of a subject does not normally need be cited, even it is not “common knowledge” among the general public. Nor is it necessary to cite information that is widely available from a number of sources, even if the information may not be readily recallable by specialists (e.g., the date of the first moon landing). Famous phrases from works of art (“To be or not to be”) or other canonical texts (“Four score and seven years ago”), which have for all intents and purposes become part of language, require no citation. Recent or distinctive findings or interpretations always require citation, however, regardless of where you find them. So does factual information that is not widely available from multiple sources.

For more information, see the Dudley Knox Library research guide to “Battling Plagiarism” here and the NPS Thesis Processing Office’s citations page here. The following websites are also helpful:

  • The Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Texas provides an excellent brief discussion here.
  • Indiana University’s Writing Tutorial Services site (here) has an excellent discussion that includes illustrations of acceptable and unacceptable paraphrase.

Finally, when in doubt, ask your instructors and advisors for assistance.


Consultation in the Preparation of Master’s Theses and Research Papers

In writing a master’s thesis you are allowed, as a matter of department policy, to consult with other people and (within limits) seek their assistance. The same is true in the preparation of research papers for courses, unless forbidden by the professor. In order to execute independent projects of this kind you may find it necessary to ask librarians and others for advice and assistance in obtaining necessary materials. It may also be useful to discuss your ideas with other students, with the Graduate Writing Center, or with faculty members other than your course instructor or thesis advisors. You may want to seek the help of a typist or copyeditor in preparing the final manuscript—a particularly common practice among students whose native language is not English. Except when specifically ruled out by a course instructor, all such conduct is legitimate, provided it does not compromise the authorial integrity of the work being submitted. However, you are solely responsible for the entire contents of anything that bears your name as the author. It must be your own work with credit given where it is due to others.

Take-Home Examinations

Take-home examinations are used to allow appropriately complex problems to be incorporated into tests intended for advanced students. The principles governing academic integrity in the completion of such examinations are more stringent than those that apply to research papers or master’s theses. Absent explicit guidance to the contrary from the course instructor, the following basic rules apply to all take-home exams, including master’s comprehensive exams:

  • You must complete take-home examinations without help from anyone. You are not allowed to discuss your ideas, methods, arguments, or conclusions with other people, including people unconnected with NPS, until after the examination is submitted for grading.
  • Even if the ground rules for an examination permit you to consult published materials in preparing your answer, you are not allowed to ask a librarian, a friend, an editor, a staff member, or another faculty member to recommend material for you to consult.
  • You are not allowed to use unpublished material in preparing answers to a take-home examination, including course papers written by other students, even if the paper was written for a different course.
  • Your examination cannot be typed, proofread, or edited by another person.

Breaches of these standards, regardless of how they may occur, are your responsibility. If you have any doubt about the ground rules for a take-home examination, you should ask the instructor for clarification before beginning your work.



Are you an NSA Department student with a question?  Are you looking for advice and not sure who to ask?  Nearly all information pertinent to your course of study is available on these department web pages and in the online course catalogue, but if you can’t find the answers there, the department has a number of people ready to help. 

For issues beyond those covered in these pages, student advising in NSA is organized in terms of functional areas. Where to go for advice depends on the nature of the question you need to ask.

Every curriculum in NSA is supervised by a faculty member called the Academic Associate (AA). The Academic Associate is the primary source of advice about academic planning and is the only person who can approve exceptions to published curricular requirements. The AA is also the person to see about transferring credit, validating courses, preparing for a comprehensive exam (if your program requires one), and in general any problem or issue of an academic nature.

The NSA Program Officer is available to provide advice on all service-related issues. You should keep the Program Officer informed of any circumstances that might cause you to miss class, or fall seriously behind in your work.

NSA’s Education Technician (EdTech) can assist you with the procedural and technical side of course selection and administration (paperwork, official forms, adding/dropping/moving classes in PYTHON, etc). She is also the person from whom you can obtain any required paper forms (e.g. for leave, thesis extensions, directed reading courses, etc.). The EdTech will review NSA and NPS requirements with you, and assist you in entering your initial plan of study into PYTHON.

If your program requires you to write a Master’s thesis you should look to your thesis advisor or co-advisors for guidance in its preparation. If you need assistance identifying appropriate advisors, you should consult your AA.


Comprehensive Exams

Thesis Alternatives in Curricula 681-84

Students enrolled in 12-month programs in Regional Security Studies (curricula 681-84) and who are not required by their sponsor to write a Master’s Thesis, may nevertheless elect to write one if they wish. Such election is accomplished via the submission of a satisfactory thesis proposal approved by the department. 

Students who wish to write an elective thesis should discuss their plans with their Academic Associate at an early stage in the development of their programs of study. The choice to write an elective thesis is final once the proposal is approved, and cannot be withdrawn thereafter. Students who have submitted an approved thesis proposal, but fail to complete the thesis, will receive a thesis extension, as is normal whenever a thesis is not finished on time.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students enrolled in 12-month programs in Regional Security Studies (curricula 681-84) who do not elect to write a Master’s Thesis must satisfy their degree requirements by other means, as follows:

  • Students in curricula 681-84 must complete an approved program of regionally relevant language education at the Defense Language Institute (or a similar institution) either before or after their attendance at NPS. In the event that language study follows attendance at the NPS, the award of an NPS degree will be postponed until the required work is complete.

In addition, any student who does not write a thesis as part of the degree requirement must pass a written Comprehensive Examination in his or her area of specialization, as described below.

Purpose of the Examination

The purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to provide a basis on which to evaluate a student's ability to synthesize a wide range of information, and to develop analytic arguments based upon a firm knowledge of the relevant facts and the pertinent scholarly literature.

Structure of the Examination

Each examination will consist of two sets of questions, designated Section A and Section B. Students will answer one question from each section.

  • Section A—Section A questions are broad in scope. They typically draw on NSA departmental core courses and the student’s curricular core courses. They aim to get students to synthesize material from across different courses. Questions might focus on issues within the international system as a whole, on U.S. policy or strategy toward a particular region or problem, or on other similarly general themes.
  • Section B—Section B questions are more narrowly focused. They are often tailored to address material from specific courses the student has taken within their curriculum, either curriculum core classes or electives. Typical questions will focus on politics or security issues within a single country or region, or on a specific problem of strategy, civil-military relations, or the like.
  • Section A and Section B questions count equally in determining a student's overall grade on the examination.



  • Comprehensive Examinations are "take-home" exams.
  • Questions will be distributed on Thursday of the seventh week of each quarter.
  • Completed answers must be returned no later than close of business on the following Tuesday.
  • Answers should be submitted electronically to the Academic Associate as a single “.doc” file attached to an e-mail.
  • Each answer should be approximately 3,000 words in length, double-spaced, using 12-point type with one inch margins.
  • Students should refer to relevant course readings and other sources as appropriate, and provide full citations to all sources referenced.



Each exam will be graded independently by two faculty members chosen by the Academic Associate. Three grades are possible: Pass with Distinction, Pass, and Fail. In the event the two graders disagree, the tie will be broken by the Academic Associate.


Recourse in the Event of Failure

A student who fails the Comprehensive Examination will be offered the opportunity to take a second written examination on the same terms described above. The second exam will consist of a subset of questions from the first exam, plus any additional questions the Academic Associate may wish to add. The questions answered on the first exam will not appear on the second one.

The second exam must be completed no later than the end of the eleventh week of the same quarter in which the first exam was taken. Like the first exam, it will be graded independently by two members of the faculty, who may or may not be the same graders who evaluated the first set of answers. Again, the Academic Associate serves as the tie-breaker in the event the graders disagree. Only two grades—Pass and Fail—are possible on the second examination.

If the exam is failed a second time, the student will be given the option of writing a thesis in abstentia, after departing NPS.


Students who take the Comprehensive Examination must enroll in NS0811: Preparation for Comprehensive Examination during their final quarter. NS0811 may not be taken as an overload except by prior arrangement with the Academic Associate. It is intended to provide time for students to review what they have learned in their classes, to strengthen their knowledge of the literature in their fields, to rectify deficiencies that may have become apparent during prior course work, or to pursue topics of particular interest in greater depth. Appropriate preparation methods will vary greatly among individuals. All those taking Comprehensive Examinations are urged to consult with the faculty working in their areas of specialization to ensure that their efforts are properly focused. The examination's take-home format is intended to afford students an opportunity to prepare sophisticated, well-argued, polished responses to difficult questions. Students should prepare for the examination with these basic expectations in mind.



"A" (Excellent) Paper

An "A" paper is a superior effort, presenting a demanding argument with depth and clarity. It displays a firm, independent command of complex material, and most or all of the following characteristics:

  • The introduction avoids flat, lifeless, or obvious statements, and presents the central idea or thesis in a way that engages the interest of the reader.
  • The conclusion is revelatory or suggestive rather than simply repetitive. It goes beyond a summary of what has already been said to clarify or heighten its significance.
  • Supporting evidence is specific, relevant, and sufficient to justify the conclusion.
  • The argument is free of logical fallacies, and demonstrates a thorough grasp of the issues at stake. Judgments and conclusions are clearly stated, and include appropriate recognition of the degree of tentativeness they may involve. Counter-arguments and alternative interpretations are fully acknowledged and weighed fairly.
  • The style is precise, idiomatic, and rhetorically effective, meaning that it is well-suited to persuade an intelligent reader.
  • Paragraphs are tightly organized, and transitions between them are smooth and logical.
  • Errors of grammar, spelling, and punctuation are few. Footnotes and other apparatus are formatted correctly and used appropriately.

"A-" (Very Good) Paper

A very good paper must possess some elements of a truly excellent paper, even if it falls short in others. Most such papers tend to be strong on content, but somewhat weak in presentation. This weakness typically manifests itself in one or more of the following ways:

  • The introduction and conclusion may simply mirror each other. That is, while they may present the main argument of the paper clearly, they also leave the reader with the impression that little has been learned in between.
  • The supporting evidence may not always be relevant to the main argument. In a very good paper, however, such digressions must be of modest proportions.
  • An A- paper may not demonstrate complete command of all the issues it raises, but it must be free of gross logical fallacies, and reasonably attentive to counter-arguments and alternative interpretations. In contrast to an excellent paper, however, the reader may still feel that something more needs to be said.
  • The language and style of a very good paper may occasionally be flat or repetitive.
  • Transitions between paragraphs, although generally natural and logical, may sometimes be awkward or misleading.
  • The mechanics of a very good paper may reflect a higher degree of carelessness than an excellent paper, or a faulty command of the details of paper preparation. The overall impression, however, must still be strictly professional.

"B+/B" (Good to Average) Paper

A grade of B+ or B is indicative of normal and acceptable graduate-level work, the difference between them being one of degree. Such a paper need not be especially striking or original, but it must still display workmanship, competence, and clarity. Its subject, although less complex or engaging than a very good paper, must be non-trivial, and it must be treated in a way that demonstrates an understanding of the basic facts. In addition:

  • The central idea or argument must be reasonably specific, appropriate to the scale of the paper, and clearly stated in the introduction. This idea or argument must provide the main focus throughout.
  • Assertions, judgments, and conclusions must be plainly stated. Supporting evidence may sometimes lack concreteness or relevance, but not to the point where the main argument is undermined.
  • A good-to-average paper may contain some faulty reasoning, but it must not rely on faulty reasoning for its conclusions. Even if the argument is not entirely convincing, in other words, it must still be plausible and consistent with the evidence presented. If alternative points of view are not fully explored, neither are they totally ignored.
  • Paragraphs must be coherent, and transitions between them, while not invariably smooth, must not be disorienting.
  • The language of a good-to-average paper must be free of slang and jargon, and generally idiomatic. Words must be used properly and consistently.
  • The mechanics of a good-to-average paper may be faulty in various ways, but they must not present a barrier to understanding, or call the credibility of the author into question. Errors of spelling, punctuation, and grammar, even if numerous, must be incidental. A paper on the Cold War that repeatedly misspells Eisenhower's name cannot be considered average work.

"B-" through "F" (Below Average) Papers

In graduate courses, a grade below a B indicates that a paper lacks, in some degree, the basic attributes of average work. The subjects or contents of such papers may simply be too general or inconsequential to meet the demands of the assignment. In addition, "C" papers display at least one, and "D" or "F" papers more than one, of the following serious defects:

  • The introduction may fail to establish the main point of the paper. Or, if a central idea is presented at the start, the rest of the text may wander off from it in confusing and unpredictable ways.
  • The conclusion may introduce irrelevant issues or confounding information; or it may bear only marginally on the main argument of the paper.
  • The supporting evidence may include a large proportion of clichés, generalities, or irrelevancies. Unsubstantiated assertions and faulty reasoning may call the credibility of the whole paper into question. In contrast to an average paper, which may not be entirely convincing, a below-average paper will be quite unconvincing. Logical errors will not be incidental, but central.
  • Paragraphs may lack internal unity, and transitions between them may be misleading or non-existent.
  • The mechanics of below-average papers may be notably sloppy, including significant deviations from standard English usage.

Thesis Information

A master’s thesis is a significant piece of independent scholarship conducted under the supervision of a thesis committee. It's main purpose is deepening and strengthening your grasp of your area of concentration, and it must be substantially related to your curriculum's subject matter.

Thesis Committee

A thesis committee consists of either one primary and one secondary advisor (or “second reader”) or two co-advisors.  It is your responsibility to approach and secure potential advisors; advisors are not assigned to you.

Primary and co-advisors work closely with you to review your work as it progresses and provide feedback.  The responsibilities of a second reader may vary and are sometimes limited to general quality control.  Both advisors hold approval authority over both the thesis proposal and the thesis itself (your Academic Associate provides final approval of the proposal; the Associate Chair for Research provides final approval of the thesis).

Until a thesis proposal is signed, a student may change advisors. After the proposal has been approved, the NS Department has a formal process for when a student or either advisor wants to remove and replace a committee member. The issue goes to a three-person board for review: the Academic Associate for the student’s curriculum, the Associate Chair for Instruction, and the Associate Chair for Research. All read the material in question, as well as advisor–student email exchanges, etc., and make a reasoned judgment on how to proceed.

The primary advisor, or at least one co-advisor, must be a full-time, non-emeritus, Ph.D.-holding member of the NSA faculty.  With AA approval, your second advisor may be an NPS faculty member who falls outside this category (please e-mail your AA to request approval and provide brief justification, cc’ing your primary advisor and the NS4080 instructor).

Thesis-Related Courses

NS4079, “Pre-Thesis Proposal,” requires you to attend a small number of course meetings, identify a primary advisor (or one co-advisor), and submit a thesis research question approved by that advisor, using the template found here.  NS4079 is taken in one’s second quarter (or, for 12-month students, in one’s first quarter) as a pass/fail “overload” course alongside one’s four regular courses.  Students who fail NS4079 must re-take and pass it the next quarter before taking NS4080; incompletes and extensions are normally not allowed.

NS4080, “Thesis Proposal,” provides time for you to write your thesis proposal, a detailed thesis research plan, in consultation with your advisors.  It requires you to attend occasional course meetings, identify a second advisor, and submit a completed proposal approved by both advisors and by your AA, using the template found here.  NS4080 is taken in one’s third quarter (or, for 12-month students, in one’s second quarter) as a pass/fail course. Students who fail NS4080 must re-take it the next quarter as an overload (but this does not require you to postpone NS0810 segments); incompletes and extensions are normally not allowed.  Students who fail to complete NS4080 by their final quarter become ineligible to receive a thesis extension or eventually graduate. 

NS0810, “Thesis Research,” provides time to write the thesis in consultation with your advisors. It involves no meetings or interim deliverables other than any informally required by your advisors. Up to three NS0810 segments may be taken after one’s third quarter (or, for 12-month students, after one’s second quarter); upon consultation with your advisors, their exact placement in your matrix may be adjusted through the standard PYTHON process.  You are not allowed to take directed study courses (NS3079 or NS4079) to provide extra thesis research time.

 Deadlines and Thesis Extensions

A complete draft of your thesis is due to both advisors four weeks before your intended graduation. Advisors may informally require interim deliverables before this.  The final thesis, approved by both advisors, is due to the Chair two weeks prior to graduation.

If you have passed NS4080 but cannot complete your thesis on time, you may apply for a thesis extension, using the form available here, before departing from NPS.  An extension lasts for one year from the date of your official separation from NPS and maintains your degree candidacy.  It requires the approval of your primary advisor (or one co-advisor), AA, Program Officer, and the Chair. Additional extensions, out to three years from your date of detachment, require evidence of both progress toward completion and obstacles to even further progress, and must be obtained before the prior extension lapses. The NPS Academic Council has the power to issue a fourth and final extension, but will do so only under exceptional circumstances.

Thesis Processing and Other Requirements

NSA theses must conform to the formatting guidelines provided by the NPS Thesis Preparation Manual, which is available from the Thesis Processor’s Office here.

A thesis will normally be between 15,000 and 20,000 words, including footnotes (about 50-65 pages); deviations above and below these limits are possible, but must be approved by the student’s thesis advisors. NSA theses may have only one author; co-authored theses are not allowed.

For additional thesis guidance, see this document

Human Subjects Research

NPS requires, in line with national academic norms, that special care be taken in the conduct of research involving human subjects.  Research employing surveys, interviews, observation, and recording of human subjects, or otherwise revealing private information about identifiable living individuals, is among the research that falls into this category.  Such research requires approval by the NPS Institutional Review Board (IRB) before your research process can begin. Additional information can be found at the IRB website and is provided as part of NS4079. The IRB Student Research Checklist can be found here.

More detailed information on all the items above is provided as part of NS4079 and NS4080 and available upon request from those courses’ instructor, who also serves as a cross-curriculum thesis process POC after you complete NS4080.