From the very beginning of his or her entrance into the PhD program, each student is matched with a faculty advisor possessing expertise in the specific area of interest. The student and advisor then work closely together to select a suitable thesis topic. The advisor makes sure that the student gains the necessary background and the tools to conduct original research on this topic. This process may include independent study courses, seminars and informal discussions involving a community of faculty and student researchers, participation in conferences, and research assistantship positions. Then with the advisor's support, the student completes a professional-quality research project.
Students working towards an MS degree also have the option of writing and defending a thesis in an area of interest. This takes the place of a standard oral examination in that area. Original discoveries are not required in this thesis, but faculty members and students have established that they certainly can happen, and make for a very rewarding experience for all parties involved.