Realm Of Randomness

August 29, 2007

What IS the thesis?

Filed under: Academic,Milestone,Personal — Randomizer @ 2:50 pm


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Good news from this side. I passed my thesis defense yesterday, and barring a few corrections I’m done with all work for my MS degree. :) The ‘PhD Comics’ strip whose link I’ve posted above has been doing a great service to grad students like me throughout our degrees, so hats off to Jorge Cham, the creator.

While I’m neither a PhD student nor plan to be one anytime soon, ‘the thesis’ did give me a glimpse into research life and really what grad school ought to be about. While tons of my friends opted out of the thesis option earlier on in their master’s degree and went for a more straightforward track to graduation by choosing courses, a few of us stuck on for whatever our reasons were: Most of us, out of passion / interest in our fields, a few others to add value to their resumes, others to see if they were cut out to do a PhD, and even others just to make their Master’s something different from their Bachelor’s degree. Maybe by the power of The Google, this post will help someone decide which to choose, someday.

Some of the obvious cons of the thesis option are:

  • Graduation date is uncertain: Sure we’d all love to leave at the end of the 2 year mark, but be ready to stick it out for at least an extra summer, or an extra fall. If you have any hard deadlines for graduating, which you absolutely have to meet, the thesis option is risky.
  • Research work is no cakewalk: Whether you are working on something original, or working on something already out there, you still have to have a thorough knowledge of what has been done, and where your work stands in the overall scheme of things. An idea that you are pursuing and implementing for 1-2 months might unexpectedly fail, or you might come across a paper that proves in no uncertain terms that your idea will not work. You have to be willing to scrap months of work pursuing the solution. In other words, failures are a part of the deal
  • Your advisor chooses your destiny: If you are stuck with too demanding an advisor, or one who you find hard to approach with your doubts/problems, you are going to be in a rut. Many a times I have come across advisors who are so full of themselves that their students avoid meeting them or asking doubts out of fear that their doubt is too trivial/silly to ask. Of course you need to do your homework before meeting your prof, but you have to find an advisor who is approachable as well. If your only choice is some haughty, demanding prof with dozens of students, who is very demanding, consider opting out !

Some of the pros of doing a thesis are:

  • You’ll be a part of something big: The academic world is bursting with ideas, with some of the smartest brains in the world pursuing answers that could change the future. Being a part of that pursuit is something you can be proud of. Making solid contributions in terms of publications would be ideal, but writing a thesis is a contribution as well and serves as a piece of informative literature for whoever is interested in this area.
  • You’ll be an expert in something, and will have a ~100 page document to prove it : Spending over a year in a subset of a problem, reading through papers, books, articles and tons of other online material, you have no choice but to end up as an expert in that field, no matter how big or small that field is.
  • Job interviews: At job interviews, you will always be asked questions like ‘tell me about a project you have worked on’, or enjoyed. If you were like me, and did not have too awesome a project or a contribution in your academic/professional life prior to grad school, this could be your chance to do something about that.
  • Skills that you gain: Searching for and learning how to use a solution used in another problem to work in your problem, brainstorming to find your own solution, reviewing technical papers out there, learning how to explain your ideas in person as well as in writing… these are all skills that you gain along the way, before you even realize it.
  • Something to look back on and be proud of: Ask anyone who has done a thesis, and he/she will very proudly speak of his work. True, it’s a daunting task, but it is worth it in the end. Even if the company you join doesn’t value it more than the non-thesis bloke (and this might be the case for lots of companies), what you gained for yourself, the sense of accomplishment, and the contribution of your time/efforts to the progress of science will surely make it worth it.

If anything, doing a thesis is like running a marathon. It’s painful, and you’d rather be lazy and say ‘Nah, I’ll pass’. But there’s no denying that running the marathon will make you stronger… and crossing the finish line will be a moment you will cherish for a long, long time :)



  1. That was a wealth of info. Thanks!

    And congrats again.. saw you were featured on the department’s website as well :)

    Comment by Joy — September 1, 2007 @ 12:55 am | Reply

  2. Thanks again … do you guys have the thesis option at your uni ? I guess there is, but hardly anyone takes it or something … if i’m not mistaken. I guess you get your MS whether you do it or not…. out here at least for my department, you can’t get an MS without a thesis … you get either an ME or an MCS (masters in computer science). That was another compelling reason I forgot to add above …

    .. anyways, how goes your first week of grad life ? :)

    Comment by Randomizer — September 1, 2007 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

  3. Yeah, I think irrespective of the thesis we do get the MS degree. I haven’t seen many people actually talking about their thesis :)

    First week of grad life…absolute fun. It’s so difficult to fathom how different an education system they have in place here. After those 4 years of engineering, this seems like a breather. :)

    Comment by Joy — September 1, 2007 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  4. Congratulations, and good to see you back

    Comment by sharath — September 2, 2007 @ 5:04 am | Reply

  5. Congratulations on getting thru with the Thesis and obtaining your MS. You’re right about a lot of things – for one, well five years after my Thesis, I have to say that is still one of my biggest accomplishments in life… Not sure if I should be happy or sad about that fact!

    About employers/prospective employers valuing or not valuing your thesis, well I wasn’t fortunate enough to come across anyone that cared, but during my first ever interview after my MSc. my future manageress did ask me about my Thesis. What was amusing was my thesis was on GARCH modeling – Generalised Auto-Regressive Conditional Heteroskedasticity and all she could think of asking was how you pronounce the word Heteroskedasticity (pointing her finger at it). She didn’t even follow on to ask what it meant!

    My thesis does still feature prominently on my CV and subsequent employers have not bothered to ask about it either… but that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment.

    So kudos to you and I do hope you have better luck with prospective employers who understand the worth of a thesis…

    Comment by Luciferratic — September 4, 2007 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  6. @Sharath – Thanks man ! Good to be back :)

    @Joy – This seems like a breather ? Hmm.. I guess you’re judging too early then ! :)

    @Luciferratic – Heteroskedasticity sounds like a word you invented to sound cool :). Thanks bro !

    Comment by Randomizer — September 4, 2007 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

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