Here are some notes and advice on how to do a MSc thesis with me.

The thesis is research

The thesis is a research project, so it needs to be investigating or creating some new kind of knowledge. It’s natural to envision a “product” as an end point—a cool idea that solves a problem you might have is compelling to think about. But! Building a product isn’t research. The goal of research—and therefore your thesis—is to investigate with some depth a problem or a question to find a solution or an answer that no one has found before.

See this useful article on research contributions in HCI.

You can look at my list of potential research topics for inspiration when choosing a thesis project. Please note the caveat at the top of the page: Most of these ideas are half-formed and will require a great deal of independent thinking and work from the student…. There’s also no guarantee that they are novel, good, interesting, or otherwise appropriate for a thesis topic.

Because it’s research, you should start with related work. Read slides 5–7 of this slide deck for a nice summary of what should go in a related work section of a paper; this is the kind of information you should be looking for.

Use Google Scholar to find related work. If you are on campus or use a VPN you can access most papers you’ll need. Find related papers to the one you’re reading by looking at papers that cite it (on Scholar) and looking at papers it cites (in the paper’s bibliography). You can use this custom Scholar link to search mostly in the HCI literature.

Use Zotero to organize your papers to make things easier later.

It’s your thesis, not mine

I might provide the initial idea, and give lots of advice, but at the end of the day it’s your thesis. This means that you need to drive the work and ask me questions. The idea can, and should, evolve based on your background research.

I don’t do well with administrative tasks. This means it’s your job to pay attention to deadlines, procedures, paperwork, and so on.

What to do

Thesis idea

I have lots of half-formed ideas (see the link to the project ideas page above). I’m happy for you to take one of those, or come up with an idea on your own. You need to pick an idea, do background research to see if it’s something new, and sketch out a draft of a thesis description so we can talk about whether the idea makes sense.

Thesis description

You need a thesis description for the contract. You should read DIKU and KU guidelines for theses to help you construct your description. I found Appendix 3 of this document helpful for understanding the objectives for a thesis. There are also various guidance pages in the student portal on kunet.

I will give you some sample MSc theses from DIKU. Read these for examples of what is good.

Thesis contract

You should know what you want to do before we work on the contract. That’s going to mean that you should have already done quite a lot of background research before you officially start, so we know what is novel and interesting already.

Fill out your description according to the guidelines below (copied from here):

Normally a master thesis description is 1-3 pages and includes a background/motivation section (which also introduces key concepts and terminology), a concrete problem statement, a list of maybe 4-6 project-specific learning objectives.

Optionally it can also include a list of expected major tasks to be performed (with time estimates) and a couple of central literature references. Figures, formulas, diagrams, etc. may be used to clarify the description. It’s largely up to the supervisor to determine what makes the best sense for a particular thesis.

Also, specific advice from the MSc program coordinator:

You should remove all the “I want to”. Because it is a contract between you and your supervisor (and the institute). It is not only what you want to do, but what you are supposed to do to pass. Note that this will work somehow as a checklist for grading your thesis by the examiners. So it should also be realistic.

The learning objectives should be observable and assessable, meaning that they should NOT use words like “understand”, “know”, “learn”, etc.; rather, they should detail how that understanding and knowledge is expected to be demonstrated in the written thesis, using verbs like “analyze”, “design”, “implement”, “evaluate”, “survey”, etc. They should be specific enough that they clearly identify both the thesis subject area and theory-practice balance of the planned work.