Nailing that thesis
Recently I’ve got a few questions along the lines “How did you know what you wanted to work on for your thesis?” “Where can I find thesis topics?” and “How did you find your thesis position?”
Needless to say, there’s no one recipe. This is roughly what worked for me.
Narrowing in on a topic
First step is discovering what you want to work on. For me that meant exploring areas of work that I found interesting or could see myself working with in the future. Previous project work and courses serves as excellent starting ground. Which projects did you particularly enjoy?
Limit yourself to two or three areas. Too many will make you see the forest but not the trees, and it is those that you need to focus on.
This depends a lot on whether you want to pursue an academic or industrial career directly after your degree. As far as I understand PhD applications, getting a publication improves your resume significantly.
Industry, however, is an altogether different matter. There are the types of thesis offers you don’t want and those that you do want. Those you don’t want are usually spotted as “We want you to implement this feature” or “Help us choose between X and Y”. While they might increase your chances of getting a contract with that particular company, they tend in my opinion to be too narrow-focused.
Start, as usual, with your contact network. Don’t be afraid to contact those you only briefly. If you feel that your professional network is small, one way increasing it and of getting exposed to many companies is to attend conferences, breakfast seminars, hackathons, open after work sessions or similar networking events. All encounters shouldn’t (and won’t) result in thesis opportunities, but they may open doors to ideas. Hence, this process is also a part of narrowing in on a topic.
Getting a position
Once you have an idea of the topic (or topics) that you are willing to spend six months of your time working, beating, and tearing your hair apart for it is time to get concrete. There is no such thing as getting the perfect offer without some work. No one will come to your doorstep and hand you a finished thesis proposal.
Applying differs from case to case. If you have a contact at the company, I would e-mail that person first. If he or she finds it relevant your request will be forwarded to the appropriate authority. If you don’t have a clear entry-point, try to find the person or team in charge of recruitment. They will know who to ask to evaluate your request.
So what do you include in an initial request? Things like a short background, if appropriate maybe a reference to where you met, and why you are contacting them should be obvious. Ending on a note “Do you have any thesis offers?” usually doesn’t ring too well though. It is crucial that you show interest in the company and a topic which may also be interesting to them. Make a little background research: what technology does the company work with? Do they have presentations from tech-conferences that you can use to make a case? Do their product suck!? Give them one or two examples of topics that you would like to work on. The topics should clearly reflect your interests. Whether you want to include a CV or not is entirely up to you. Reading your e-mail shouldn’t take more than 45-60 seconds though. And (!) put a clear descriptive title to your e-mail and don’t make silly spelling mistakes.
Making an initial request empty-handed shows laziness from your side. Then you could equally apply for a “help us implement this feature” type of thesis instead. Getting a good thesis involves you doing some hard work. That cannot be avoided.
Since you won’t know the company as well it is highly likely that they will change your proposals. It can be radically, or less so. But be prepared to hold a dialogue and straighten out question marks before you begin working. Remember it is for both your and their sake.
Also remember that some companies have screening processes also for thesis applicants. At Tuenti that included a code test and three phone interviews, plus additional discussions on defining the topic itself.
Offer in hand
It can be hard to evaluate if an option is interesting or not. Before you begin contacting companies and making a proposition it is good to define some metrics on which you will evaluate their potentially positive reply. Some of the ones I considered were:
- What depth of work is included?
- What are the company’s expertise in the area?
- Will whatever I implement/research have a chance for production usage?
- Do I need a publication in the end?
- How important is location?
- Do they offer an office space?
- Will I be involved with other people in the company?
- Do they pay a salary/bonus?
- What are my future employment chances?
- Who will be my supervisor?
- Do I get to learn something new?
- Will this be fun?
They are listed in no particular order here, some may be more relevant than others though. Think about what matters to you.
Summary: try to limit your search to a few areas, explore your network (work on enlarging them), make contact with concrete examples, and define your criteria for accepting an offer.
There is no one formula for how to “find a thesis” but these thoughts have been part of my replies lately and helped me find my thesis.
What are your thoughts and best ideas for finding a thesis?
All it takes is 20 seconds of courage.