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Supervising a thesis

Writing a thesis is a big undertaking that takes alot of time, motivation and self-organization to complete. Dedicated supervisors can help accomplish that, but ultimately it is up to the author of the thesis to get it done. In this post, I want to share experiences how to help the students from my point of view as a company supervisor for cooperative theses (university in cooperation with a company).

Besides writing my own bachelor’s and master’s theses, I have thus far supervised two master’s theses and exchanged some learnings with other supervisors. From my (still quite limited) experience in the area, I think that it benefits the student to provide them with a structured approach to their thesis which utilizes agile development principles especially in the area of early feedback and customer (supervisor) expectation management. My advice for the student consists of the following elements:

Write a proposal before you start your actual thesis

Before you officially register your thesis (from which point you usually have 6 months to complete it), you should write a 2-4 pages proposal. This proposal describes the topic, the motiviation behind it, the goal of the thesis, how it embeds into the existing literature and the boundaries of the thesis. To describe this, you should calculate for at least 2 weeks of literature research. Additionally, the proposal should contain a rough timeline and building blocks of the thesis. There should be an easy-to-reach “MVP” from which you can iterate and incorporate more content for as long as there is time.

The idea behind the proposal is to reach a common understanding of the topic and goal of the thesis, including non-goals, between you and your supervisors. Moreover, you can get some work done before your clock is ticking and make sure that you feel comfortable spending the next 6 months with this topic. Breaking the topic down into building blocks and writing some text in the form of the proposal makes for an easier start when you begin working on the actual thesis afterwards.

Have regular meetings with your supervisors

It is a great advantage if your supervisors are ready to dedicate some of their time to your thesis. Use it and meet with them regularly. This keeps them in the loop, shows them your progress and gives you the opportunity to get feedback and ideas on your current thoughts, findings and problems. In between meetings, you can send them text sections for review, just don’t send your entire thesis every week, because they will likely ignore it, if it’s too much text. 😉

Give a short presentation to your supervisors after 1/3 of the duration

Usually, you will find some roadblocks early in your thesis. Maybe your topic doesn’t make sense the way you have described it in your proposal or your supervisors have devised new, independent ideas that diverge from what you or the other supervisor wants from your thesis. To align the reality and your plans with the expectations of your supervisors, you should present your preliminary results to them (both supervisors at the same time) after a third of the duration. I suggest a 20-minute-presentation with subsequent discussion to get everybody back on track.

Summarize your findings in a (short) paper after 2/3 of the duration

After 2/3 of your time, your actual work (implementation, experiments, …) should be mostly complete so that you can concentrate on the text, figures and structure of your thesis. As you write more and more text, you might repeat yourself and spend a lot of time on a chapter that isn’t even that important. A good exercise to prepare your final thesis is to summarize your topic in a (short) paper. The short paper should consist of:

  • An abstract
  • Introduction / motivation
  • Required theory
  • Your own contribution (at least 50% of the paper)
  • Conclusion and outlook

If there is proper conference or journal for your topic, you can even try to submit your paper to get independent peer review feedback and maybe even a publication out of it.

Submit your thesis in time

Maybe not worth mentioning, but I’ll do so nonetheless: Get your thesis done in time for the submission deadline. You should have some friends read your thesis before you submit. Give them one or two weeks to do so (with a few month heads-up when this will happen :)) and yourself another week to incorporate their feedback. In the end, have a proper look at your title page to avoid prominent mistakes.

Present your results to the company

When I supervise a thesis, our company usually wants at least some return for supporting the student with our time and resources. I usually suggest a presentation or blog post. This is also a good chance to make yourself known in the company if you wish to stay there. And you can practice to summarize and present your results which is beneficial if you need to defend your thesis at your university afterwards.


I didn’t invent this approach from scratch. Instead, it consists of best practices that I have learned from other supervisors and only summarize in this post. It is designed for master’s theses, but I’m sure it can be applied to bachelor’s theses too with some adjustments, e.g. I would skip the paper in that case.

Published inBest Practices