M.Eng. Thesis Guide: parts 10, 11, 12


10.  More Ways to Find a Thesis

Each student is entirely responsible for finding a thesis topic and supervisor. While many people will be willing to help you, the final responsibility is yours alone.

Even if you aren't VI-A and haven't been involved in a research group where you can do your thesis, it still isn't that hard to find a thesis. If you already have a very specific topic in mind, you may have to talk to many faculty and staff to find one interested in supervising you, so start early.

  • You may have done a project in a laboratory subject which you wish to extend, or you may have done well in a subject which needs a lab or lecture demo developed. If so, talk to the appropriate faculty or staff members.
  • Scan the technical journals.
  • Network! Talk to your faculty advisor and any others you know for leads, and to develop and define your technical interest. Ask Ph.D. students to recommend faculty.
  • Browse the Research Supervisors list and Recent M.Eng. Thesis Projectslook at research group websites and then talk to members of research groups.
  • Attend the many colloquia and seminars held by research labs and the Department. Every Fall each Graduate Area has an Open House -- be sure to attend those that might interest you.
  • Narrow your scope to one or two specific research areas, and see faculty and staff in those areas. Skim their recent papers, then ask them what projects they need done, and who else might have suitable research available in the same area.
  • Look at recent EECS theses in the Barker Engineering Library or at MIT DSpace. You will often find definite suggestions in such theses for additional work that needs to be done. If you get stuck, go back to your academic advisor and talk things out again, choosing a different field with new people to contact.

As soon as you have reached a meeting of minds with a supervisor, start work on a thesis proposal to get your topic defined and formalized.

11.  Working on the Thesis and Avoiding Delay

Many students fail to graduate on time because their theses are not complete. Some delays are inevitable, but there are ways to minimize them.

  • 1.  Unavailable Parts.

    Special parts which have to be ordered can cause delays of weeks or months. Try to find alternate sources, other ways of coping, and do legwork rather than passively waiting for parts to arrive. Do other aspects of the thesis, like writing, if waiting is unavoidable.

  • 2.  Waiting for Other People to do Their Part.

    Ph.D. students and faculty can operate on a different time-scale than M.Eng. students. Next term can be almost as good as next week. Try to anticipate and work around these problems, avoiding projects that are excessively interwoven with theses that can't really be started until somebody else makes something work. Think flexibly about altering your project to avoid this, but NOT by enlarging it to include other people's projects! Bear in mind that some faculty are more accustomed to extensive two-year research masters theses, not the 2-3 term M.Eng. thesis projects.

  • 3.  The Incredible Expanding Thesis.

    Your project will evolve as you progress. But that should not mean that it gets bigger and more inclusive. Negotiate diplomatically.

  • 4.  The Alienated Supervisor.

    Students often think a supervisor has lost patience with the student and the project when it is nothing personal, just the press of other commitments. Do notreact to this situation by disappearing. Keep working and keep your supervisor aware of your efforts and progress. They like to know what is going on, and they hate feeling that you've disappeared. Be visible and send updates even if there's no response.

  • 5.  Writing Delays.

    Students can be frustrated when they hand their supervisors a chapter or two of write-up, which it took them a few hours to write, and find that it takes the supervisor several days or even weeks to read, correct and return it. Other students find it impossible to start writing. Don't wait until you are finished designing, programming, testing, debugging, etc., to start writing. Go to the Barker Engineering Library and read theses similar to yours for good ideas about presentation, tone, etc. Develop a detailed outline with lots of notes, a list of figures, a reasonable format (there's no single correct format), bibliography. Draft an introduction and first chapter. Listen carefully to your supervisor's suggestions for revision. Don't wait until it is 90% written to show it to your supervisor. Take at least the first chapter to the Writing Center for analysis and assistance.

  • Lack of Discipline and Time Management Skills.

    Working on a thesis may be different from anything you've done while at MIT; for four years you may have had nothing but short, specific and discrete tasks due at short-term intervals. With the thesis there is a final deadline, a term or more away. This requires a different kind of self-discipline. MAKE A SCHEDULE. Write out a detailed, ordered list of tasks that have to be done, allowing for the inevitable delays and other commitments, and aiming not for the final deadline, but for a week or so earlier. Set specific short-term deadlines and be a hard taskmaster. If you find your hours, days and weeks melting away to no effect, take early action. The UAAP has material and programs available to help you with time management. Note that supervisors will expect a first draft of the thesis document well in advance of the deadline.

  • Use the Barker Engineering Library.

    Barker is eager to help thesis students at every stage of the thesis project. The library can help students to approach topics, to perform on-line searches, and to assist with indexes, abstracts, and citations.

  • Funding and Special Equipment.

    If you need special computer accounts or equipment for your thesis, ask your thesis supervisor. If your work is for a sponsored research project or an academic subject, there are funds which should pay for necessary equipment. The use of Department laboratory kits is discouraged. The Department has little or no funding available for general thesis support, but see 6 cents link.

  • If You Just Can't Finish.

    If you're going to miss the deadline, not by hours or days, but by weeks or months, sit down with your supervisor and agree on what exactly has to be done. Get off the degree list, arrange for housing for extra time, and keep going. It is very difficult to complete a thesis long distance or while working. Students who are sure they have only a few weeks of work left end up graduating several terms later. A few walk away with only the thesis remaining, let that thesis get "old and cold," and get their degrees years later, if at all. Don't let this happen to you!

12.  The Thesis Document and Finishing Up

The thesis write-up is considered a major part of the thesis project. The report should include a clear statement of the problem and why it is of interest or importance, a description of the history and background literature on the subject, a statement of the author's work and observations, a discussion of the author's findings in relation to those of predecessors, the author's conclusions and suggestions for further work. Extensive data, code, or mathematical derivations should be in appendices rather than in the body of the report. Specific bibliographic citations should be included whenever reference is made to documents or other communications. It must be well written, clearly organized, and contain no stylistic or grammatical errors. Supervisors are encouraged to require early drafts, to provide criticism of the writing as well as the technical content, to require re-writes, and to insist that the final document conform to accepted standards of technical writing. The final grade should be based in part on the writing quality of the thesis. The Writing Center (14N-317, x3-3090) offers free consultation and advice on writing problems.