MAF Graduate Student Handbook

Marine affairs master’s degree programs

Established in 1969, the Graduate Program in Marine Affairs offers two Master’s degree programs and a Joint M.M.A./J.D. program for those interested in the study of the complex issues of coastal and ocean management. Improved understanding of the natural environment and changes in human values have resulted in the need for governance systems that incorporate consideration of ecosystems. This new approach has contributed to a restructuring of policy and management in fisheries, the coastal zone, ports and shipping and, generally, to national and inter-national regimes for ocean/coastal areas.

In the Marine Affairs Program, policy problems are examined at the local, state, regional, national, and international levels. Subjects studied have included management of living and non-living resources in the exclusive economic zone, environmental protection in the coastal zone, the interplay of marine science and public policy in areas such as ocean pollution and fisheries management, developments in international ocean law, and the role of governments and inter-national organizations in Marine Affairs. To date, students have been attracted to the program from all over the United States and from 35 other countries.

General info about MAF

The Department of Marine Affairs is part of the College of the environment and Life Sciences. The Dept. Chair (Prof. Rob Thompson) oversees the program and Denise Foley manages general program administration. MAF has faculty from numerous disciplines who teach courses, advise students, and conduct research in areas related to marine affairs. For a list of faculty and staff, see: MAF’s administrative and faculty offices are located in the Coastal Institute Building on the 2nd floor.


Initially, Prof. Austin Becker, the Director of the Graduate Programs, will
advise you upon your arrival at URI and serve as your academic adviser to help you
plan your academic program. As soon as possible, but no later than the start of
your second semester, you will select a major professor to guide your thesis or
major paper. The determination of who will serve as your major professor is made
on the basis of the expertise of the individual faculty member in relation to the
thesis or major paper subject. Once the decision of major professor is made, that
individual then also becomes your academic adviser.

You will have an opportunity to meet the entire MAF faculty at the department’s
orientation program at the beginning of the fall semester. There, you will also meet your fellow students, faculty, and learn how the program operates and what is expected of you.


Program of Study

Each student must complete a program of study, a copy of which is available online at The
program of study provides a listing of the courses which the student will take to
complete his or her program. That list contains both the required courses and the
elective courses. When it comes time to certify the student for receipt of degree,
the Graduate School will determine if the contracted and approved program of study
has been fulfilled. Failure to provide a program of study or failure to complete
the work indicated on that program of study will prevent the student from graduating.

The program of study is prepared by the student with his or her major professor.
It is signed by the student, by his or her major professor, by the appropriate program
coordinator in the Department of Marine Affairs, and by the Dean of the Graduate
School. Students are expected to complete this form by the beginning of the second
semester in the program. It is, indeed, possible to make changes in the program
of study but this must be done with the approval of the major professor, department
chair, and Dean of the Graduate School on the appropriate form.


Course Load

The typical course load for a graduate student during the fall and spring semesters
ranges from 9 to 15 hours and should take into consideration needs for employment,
research time, and outside commitments. It should be noted, too, that for an MMA
student to graduate within one year he or she must take 15 credits per semester.
The successful completion of the MAMA degree within two years requires the student
to complete a minimum of 45 credits in that period. If you are on an assistantship
you should consult with your adviser to determine a realistic course schedule given
your other responsibilities. Note that students receiving an assistantship must
be registered for a minimum of 6 credits for that semester.


Dissertations (PhD program), Theses (M.A. Program) and Major Papers (M.M.A. Program)

As part of their graduate studies, all students prepare either a dissertation, thesis or a major paper. The dissertation is a requirement for the PhD program. The thesis is a requirement for the MAMA degree while the major paper is required of students in the MMA program. These pieces of work require substantial efforts by the student in terms of identifying and scoping out an appropriate study and then executing it. The dissertation, thesis or major paper provides the student the opportunity to develop detailed expertise in some selected area and provides a tangible example of the student’s knowledge, understanding, writing, research, and professional capabilities.

They represent the culmination of your work toward your degree, allowing
you to incorporate and build upon the expertise and insights which you have gained
through your work in the Marine Affairs Program.

The Graduate School has developed a brochure for the dissertation and thesis, a copy of which is available at the Graduate School at It should serve as a guide in your efforts though M.MA students should take note of the differences between a major paper and a thesis which are addressed below. A list of past theses and major papers completed in this department is available in the MAF library. The actual theses and major papers are also available to you for review upon request.

Students in the MA program take MAF 502, Research Methods, in the spring of their
first year and in that course work to develop a thesis proposal. MA students receive
six credits for the thesis with credit being given in the context of MAF 599, Master’s
Thesis Research. M.MA students receive three credits for their major paper through
successful completion of MAF 589, Master’s Project Research.

Theses involve not only a major professor but also a thesis committee of typically three professors, oneof whom is drawn from outside of the Department of Marine Affairs. The composition of this committee is a matter for discussion between the student and his major professor, followed by approval of the Department Chair and the Dean of the Graduate School. When the thesis is deemed ready for defense, the student meets with his or her thesis committee and a defense chair selected from outside the department to “defend” the thesis. The defense is open to graduate students as observers and graduate students are encouraged to attend. When a defense is scheduled a notice of time, place, and subject will be posted on the graduate bulletin board outside the Marine Affairs Library.

The major paper does not involve a thesis committee but the student works with a major professor. The major paper is not subject to a defense as is the thesis.

Meaningful interaction between the student and his or her major professor is an essential part of the process leading toward completion of a thesis or major paper.

Timely and periodic consultation is very important as is the need to provide the major professor sufficient and realistic “turn around” time for comments on initial work drafts. Be aware that, frequently, faculty are not available during the summer months. It is imperative that in planning for completion of the thesis or major paper the student take into account the time constraints and multiplicity of professional responsibilities of faculty; it is not reasonable to expect faculty to drop all other responsibilities to provide an immediate reading and commentary of your work, particularly toward the end of semesters as graduation deadlines approach. Note, too, that the Graduate School requires that the defense text must be submitted to the Graduate School a minimum of 20 days in advance of the defense date.


Comprehensive Examinations (M.M.A. Program only)

For students in the MA program and those in the joint MMA/JD. program, a written comprehensive examination will be administered toward the end of the student’s last semester. The exam will focus on the material in the required courses and the particular area of emphasis in the student’s program.


Graduate Assistantships

Half-time and full-time graduate assistantships are available on a competitive basis for students working toward the master’s degree in this department. Graduate assistants work with faculty members for 10 to 20  hours a week in return for half or full tuition remission plus a stipend. Application for these positions is made to Prof. Becker, Graduate Program Director, and should include a letter expressing interest in an assistantship. The financial aid form is contained in the Graduate School catalog.

For PhD students, it is expected that after an initial funding period (generally two years), with the conclusion of course work, students will be able to generate needed funding or be involved in research projects conducted by Marine Affairs and associated faculty.

Opportunities for external funding can be found on our website at:



Internships can provide a significant complement to your academic program, allowing
you to obtain professional work experience once you have completed basic course
work in the relevant topic area. Internships may be particularly important for students
in the MA program who have not yet worked in the field.

Students should also take note of special programs for which they may be qualified.
In particular, you should be aware of the very competitive, national Dean John Knauss
Sea Grant Fellowship Program which allow graduate students to work in Washington,
D.C. with a relevant executive agency or congressional committee for a one year
period. Since the inception of this program, one or two graduate students in this
department have been the recipients of a John Knauss Fellowship each year. This
paid internship is extremely worthwhile in terms of building a strong record of
professional experience, exposing the recipient to how marine policy is made at
the national level, and making contacts which are important in career development.
Another program to consider is the Presidential Management Intern Program, the scope
of which is not limited to marine affairs areas, but particular positions may have
a marine affairs focus. More opportunities can be found through the MAF website at:


Directed Study

Directed Study, MAF 591 or 592, provides a student with the option to earn three
credits for a particular study or project that does not fit into the context of
some existing course. Registration is possible with the prior consent of a faculty
sponsor who is to receive and approve a written project proposal in advance of the
semester in which the Directed Study will be taken. You must speak with the faculty
sponsor to obtain an override form to participate in directed study.


Nomination for Graduation

At the beginning of the semester a student expects to graduate, it is the student’s
responsibility to contact Prof. Becker to be nominated officially for graduation.
Failure to do so may delay graduation for a semester and require the payment of
additional continuing registration fees.


References from Faculty

As much as possible the faculty assist students in securing professional employment by informing them of placement opportunities. Through our extensive alumni and “friend of the program” contacts we try to keep posted on appropriate position openings. Most importantly, we are pleased to provide references but the department has taken the position that references will be given only after the first draft of a major paper or thesis is in the hands of a major professor. We want you to find the position you desire but our first mission is to make sure that you successfully complete the requirements for your degree. Based on our experience this emphasis clearly best serves the long term interest of the student who will need the graduate degree for career advancement.


RIMAFNET (The Rhode Island Marine Affairs Network)

The Department maintains a listserv for the exchange of information on current developments in the field, professional position and internships, meetings and conferences, and input from faculty, students, and alumni. The list is closed and limited to our students, graduates, and alumni and has proven to be very useful. It should be noted that all items are archived for reference. Graduate students should make sure that they are signed up on this listserv, a matter which will be brought to student attention at the MAF orientation meeting in September. To join the list, students and alumni may contact Prof. Becker.


The Marine Affairs Computer Laboratory

The department has a computer laboratory available for use by its graduate students. There are numerous computers with ethernet connections and a variety of software to be used for class assignments and research. While virus protection is provided on the machines, students are asked to be careful about what they download and to ensure that the disks they use are clean. Food and drinks should not be brought into this room and the laboratory is to be a quiet working space for the many students who will use it.


The Marine Affairs Grad Student Offices

The department provides desk space for all graduate students in the Coastal Institute Building on the main campus. A  small library is also available for student use. Food and drinks are allowed here but students are asked to clean up after themselves and help us avoid a situation of “the tragedy of the commons.”

For questions, please contact:

Austin Becker, PhD
Assistant Professor of Coastal Planning, Policy, and Design
Director of Graduate Programs in Marine Affairs
Departments of Marine Affairs
College of the Environment and Life Sciences
University of Rhode Island | Coastal Institute Room 213 | 1 Greenhouse Road, Suite 205 | Kingston, RI  02881
e: | p: 401-874-4192