Thesis time? No worries!
Not that much time ago, I was coming back to Germany after a month well spent with families and friends. I was supposed to start my final semester aka the ‘thesis’ semester, but I couldn’t. Untimely eye infection in a foreign land is not the best thing to happen to you when you are going to start your thesis. I did my internship during the winter break with the same company, so they understood. Started late, but the topic was ‘more or less’ decided. It was time to take down the mighty ‘thesis’. Truth to be told, I didn’t enjoy the experience of thesis during bachelors. Not this time around! I think I came across a handful of tricks which is why I am writing to you – some of them could be useful if your thesis is around the corner. So, sit tight and read on!
Okay, let me start with the step that you need to take long before you start your thesis. You need to find the broad topic or problem that you want to work on, something that interests you so much that you are okay with the fact that it will be the only one thing in your mind (!) for good six months or even more. You need to ask yourself honestly, is this so important that you want to give six months of your precious little life to solve a tiny part of this problem. If the answer is yes, we are good to go. If not, no worries- there is still a way out. Keep on searching for ‘what you like’, learn new topics, discuss with your colleagues and professors, read articles, get the context of different problems. You will surely get something, and when you are done, come back again to read this article. Because, in the rest of this write up, I will share with you, few tricks I’ve used, few things I’ve learned from my share of mistakes during my thesis. Let us begin the journey…
Find your questions before you get the answers
Once you have decided what you like, you will need a company/research institute/other organization who will be your partner in conducting the research work. Now, not all the topics that you can work with companies qualify for your academic thesis. Discuss with your university supervisor and your company supervisor to come to a single topic that you would like to work on. The next baby step is to finalize the main or key research question and to divide that into sub-questions which you will try to answer through your work. My supervisor gave us a little tip- ‘print out your final research questions (including the sub-research questions) and put it everywhere, in your working station, in your bedroom, so they can be close to you and you can think about them’. This perhaps preconditions your mind for the rest of the work. Another suggestion from my supervisor- ‘try to explain your question to someone who is not from your field. You will probably notice that you cannot easily explain stuff. You need to find a way out to make them understand’. Didn’t Albert Einstein teach us the same (“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”)? To get a feel of this, see a video after reading the full thing !
Shooting for the stars?
You should know the next step- read all the ‘Literature’ there is. How exciting! Not really, it is probably going to be frustrating, at least it was for me. Either you will find a lot of stuff already done or you will get ‘almost’ nothing. And, when you are doing your literature review or trying to know what is the state-of-the-art, you will definitely find a ton of interesting work which are not directly linked to your work. I am not saying you should not look into them, but to get most out of the limited time, please ‘not now’! Remember, all your actions should be in-line with the questions that you want to answer. Keep a track of your destination, don’t shoot for the stars if your stoppage is the moon. There could be different ways to do the literature review. I looked into a book by Ragib Hasan ‘Gobeshonay Haate Khori’, which was simple but effective.
Go with the flow?
What I understood, a work flow process needs to be discussed and formulated. One should have a clear timeline in hand which will tell the student when to finish which tasks. For example, you cannot do literature review for three months. Simply because, this will not leave enough time for other parts. Or, don’t run all your experiments at the very end or you will not be able to analyze the results properly. The message is, divide your tasks into small sections and try to tackle them one by one. This does not mean that it’s any sacred rule and you cannot break it. Feel free to adapt the timeline as you progress but keep the basic shape more or less the same. Keep a track of your time. It depends on where you are working and the time they want you to put in. I personally thought that 4-5 intensive work hours each day was enough for me. I would guess for much bigger projects it would be more than that. The hours given here are on average, I certainly put more time when I was writing or editing.
Take your notes
Take note and keep notes, I think it is very important. If you have notes, you can track back to your previous work and start over if needed. Also, keep writing on whatever you are doing. This will work like magic when you are preparing the full paper. If you have meetings with your supervisors, make a small presentation beforehand on your progress and create meeting agenda that you want to ask her/him. This will always show that you are organized and prepared. Ask question even if they are trivial and stupid, but don’t keep them to yourselves. You certainly are not getting anything out of them if they remain unanswered. Ohh, plus I think if you take notes of the meeting and write them somewhere, it will help to keep track of it as well. Don’t forget to email your professor with what has been discussed and what’s the decision being taken.
Is writing the hardest part?
When you are done with your work (the hardest part, don’t tell anyone!!!), you need to start writing. If you have listened to me, then I hope you already have good notes with you. It should be easy, right? Well, not really for many, since writing may not come naturally to you, which is completely fine. Get an idea, from your supervisor if she/he wants your manuscript to be so and so numbers of pages. I had a limitation that it had to be within 50 pages from Intro to Annex. If you are not familiar with LATEX, MS word is still a good enough tool if you know how to use it properly. If you are not good with any of them, take some time to learn LATEX, it’s academic norm/practice. If you still want to use MS Word, take a look at the videos given here  on how to create a template or edit it and use it with less formatting efforts needed afterwards. Once the template is created, you will just have to follow the rules. Unfortunately, I haven’t used MS Word like this way before. I went for MS word this time. Also, check out the formatting requirements from the University. They may have constraints as well.
Plots and References
Working with MATLAB? It is not recommended to use simple plot function and then paste it in your report. Please, don’t do it. Learn a little bit about how you can produce professional quality plots. Use Origin or similar professional software. Don’t use excel for plotting in your academic reports, please! I beg you. Take a look into this link , it helped me a lot!
You may have read a lot of paper and journals during your literature review. And when you are writing the paper, you need to refer to them as well. Big tip- use a reference manager software from the very beginning and keep track of all the relevant papers. You can categorize the paper and take notes while reading also. Use plug in with MS word so that when you are using the reference manager, it can automatically create the references. I have used Mendley as I find it easy to use and it’s free. Citavi, endnote can also be used!
Tell your story
At the end, try to tell a compelling story. That’s the idea I think. A well-connected story will be able to send its message to the audience. The reader must learn something new from your work. Keep that in mind. And, don’t forget to give them an outlook on what further can be developed from here. That’s pretty much it. You are ready to print them and present them! I am kidding, print out couple of times and do a fair amount of editing, proofreading which will save you from a lot of embarrassment , trust me on this. That’s all for this time. Good luck with the thesis.
P.S. Want to download this blog as PDF? Click here.
Some useful links:
- Presentation guide: https://thesisguide.org/2015/03/04/how-to-draft-your-presentation/
- Presentation mistakes to avoid: https://thesiswhisperer.com/2010/11/25/5-classic-research-presentation-mistakes/
- Online plagiarism checker: https://edubirdie.com/plagiarism-checker
- Undergrad thesis writing: https://roar.media/bangla/main/education/last-year-of-undergrad-education-how-to-write-and-publish-your-thesis-part-1/
- Literature review: https://academiccoachingandwriting.org/dissertation-doctor/resources/writing-a-literature-review
- Reference manager: https://www.mendeley.com/guides/desktop/03-organizing-documents
- Thesis to article: https://researcheracademy.elsevier.com/writing-research/writing-skills/turn-thesis-article
- Tools I’ve used: MATLAB/Simulink, sPlan, Arduino, Origin, Mendley, Grammarly, MathType
 Feynman Technique
 MS thesis word template example video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGS-YADV0PY
 Preparing Figures in Matlab and Latex for Quality Publications by Azad Ghaffari : http://flyingv.ucsd.edu/azad/Matlab_LaTeX_Figures.pdf