The SMACT thesis is twofold, consisting of a dissertation and a realized project presented at the ACT Studio Final Review during the student’s last semester.
This curriculum worksheet and the ArchThesis portal from the Department of Architecture may be useful to students during their writing of their theses, as well as in preparation of thesis documents for submission.
Preparing for thesis
It is a good idea for students to start looking for a thesis advisor and readers as early in their time at ACT as possible. In addition to being a good way to confirm the availability of faculty they would like to work with, it also gives them an opportunity to clarify their choice of topic, as well as to network.
Once students have confirmed their topics, they might reach out to the ACT Project Archivist to discuss research resources that may be particularly relevant to their work, including databases and special collections at MIT and elsewhere. The archivist’s assistance may be useful as soon as a student’s second semester at ACT, if not earlier.
A student’s thesis advisor does not need to be the same faculty member as their academic advisor, who is assigned in the first semester and with whom they consult regarding course selections, academic plan, and overall progress. Their thesis advisor does need to be a tenured or tenure-track (core) ACT faculty member. Students should familiarize themselves with potential advisors’ approaches to theory as well as their practice, and schedule a meeting with whichever faculty member(s) may be most interested to discuss likely thesis topics. In anticipation of selecting a thesis committee by the October of their third semester, students may begin meeting with potential advisors and readers as early as the beginning of their second semester. A good place for students to begin their analysis of which ACT faculty member has research interests that may overlap with their own is the ACT faculty profile pages. Students can only have one thesis supervisor.
Students can recruit thesis readers from within ACT or Architecture, within MIT, or from outside the Institute. They should focus on individuals whose research interests and background are applicable to their topics. Students are required to have at least one reader from within MIT. Readers may be tenured or non-tenured. Students must have one and are encouraged to have two thesis readers.
How to find thesis readers
Once students have determined one or two likely topics for their theses, they should research scholars within MIT and elsewhere who may be well suited to provide guidance. Within MIT, a good way for them to begin looking for readers is to read what they can on MIT websites about individuals and research groups who may be investigating subjects similar to their topics.
Most department websites have profiles of faculty and groups that can give students a sense of the kind of scholarship taking place there.
On the Architecture website, these pages are
At the Media Lab, these listings are available at
If students are not sure which departments would be the best fit, they can browse through all department websites from this list of departments and programs: web.mit.edu/education
Once students have found 4 or so faculty who may have interest in their thesis topic, they should contact them to arrange for meetings. Availability as well as relevance is important to consider when looking for readers.
In the first semester, students take 4.387 Theory and History Colloquium. Over the semester students produce a thesis statement, a revision of that statement, an annotated bibliography, and two 1500 word papers addressing their thesis topic from two different perspectives. These two short papers will then be combined into one 10 page final paper.
During the second semester, students take 4.388 Thesis Preparation. Deliverables for 4.388 include a further developed thesis proposal, an outline of their thesis, a further developed annotated bibliography, and either a methodologies chapter or a sample chapter – in many cases the student is strongly encouraged to produce both. These documents are sent over the summer to potential committee members, with the aim that in the beginning of the third semester the student’s committee will have been formed and their thesis advisor will have been chosen. Due dates for these assignments are specified in the course syllabus.
During their third semester, students enroll in 4.389 Thesis Tutorial. In the October of the third semester, they officially confirm their thesis supervisor and two readers and submit their thesis committee forms to the Academic Liaison. The committee selections are forwarded to Architecture HQ. Also in October or late September, students meet with the entire ACT academic community and present their thesis proposals to the group.
The student writes the remainder of the thesis during this semester – three to four chapters – and submits a full first draft of the thesis by December 14. The full first draft must conform to the Chicago Manual of Style using Notes and Bibliography, and must include a title page as well as an abstract. There is no set length for the thesis.
Third semester deadlines:
- End of September or beginning of October: Thesis proposal presentations in ACT Studio.
- End of October: Thesis Committee Form due.
- December 14: Full first draft of thesis due.
- The committee form and first draft must be submitted on time in order to obtain a passing grade in Tutorial and ACT Studio. A thesis title must be included.
During their fourth semester, students apply for their degrees by the February deadline ($50 Registrar fee for late application), enroll in 4.THG Thesis, and revise the thesis, often several times. Final drafts are due to the thesis committee on April 1st, and to the Department of Architecture in early May by the Institute deadline for Master’s theses as published in the MIT Academic Calendar, with email or other written confirmation of submission to the Academic Liaison. Students must adhere to the Specifications for Thesis Preparation published by MIT Libraries. Confirmations of spring semester thesis submission dates will be provided in early March. Theses cannot be completed over the summer, as ACT faculty will not be present.
Fourth semester deadlines:
- February: Institute deadline to apply for degree. $50 late fee. See MIT Graduation Checklist.
- April: See MIT Graduation Checklist. Order your cap and gown by the deadline this month if you have not already done so. Thesis due to committee and academic assistant April 1.
- ACT Studio Finals: Thesis project presented during ACT Studio Final Reviews.
- Institute Masters’ Thesis deadline: Final thesis submitted to Arch HQ, early May.
Before printing the thesis on archival paper, students should submit the full document for a thesis formatting pre-check. See ArchThesis for guidelines on formatting, specs, and submission.
Students can upload high-resolution color PDFs of their theses to MIT’s DSpace repository. If they do not elect to do so, low-res black and white scans of the hard copy submitted to Architecture HQ will be archived instead.