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How to do a thesis

Luis G. Sison, Ph.D.

EE 296
Updated Feb 3, 2008

What’s a thesis? Thesis skills

An MS requirement Initiative, self-motivation
Literature review
Skill-building more important than actual knowledge Ex., online patent databases
generated Tracking references
6 units of work (=2 courses) selective, goal-oriented reading
Research rigor
Difference from project? Thoroughness
New knowledge, as determined by lit review Intellectual honesty
Good chance of publication in conference/journal A negative result is still a result
Critical thinking
Types Problem solving
New/improved technology Writing
New application Oral presentation
New study
Choosing your adviser Getting along with your adviser
Has expertise in your topic of interest Adviser is on your side
Inform adviser of your weak/strong points
Can provide resources
Devise a detailed plan with your adviser to address
Hardware/software tools, workspace your shortcomings wrt thesis work
Access to raw data Meet regularly
Tech support Don’t skip a meeting, esp. when you encounter thesis
Someone you can get along with Report good results AND bad results
Clarify deliverables for next meeting
If no choices, be flexible

Dante’s inferno (for grad students) Choosing your topic

1. Feasible with resources on hand
Hardware/software tools
Access to raw data
Adviser experience
Tech support
2. Significant
Distinguish your contribution from existing work
Contribute to lab’s research program
3. Interesting

Adapted from

Tips on choosing a topic Staying on track
Join a lab or research group Time management
More tech support Detailed planning
Easier to identify topics Risk management: Plan A, Plan B, …
You contribute to the group’s progress Explicit day-to-day sched
Document everything
Keep your files organized
Save old versions: programs, docu, data
Backup often

Staying on track … Key parts of thesis proposal

Reading is not a substitute for ‘hello world’ Intro, lit review
Start playing with your tools
Problem statement
Start research before proposal is approved
Show preliminary results during proposal presentation
Slow but sure Scope and limitations
Keep in touch with your support network Methodology
Attend thesis proposal and defense presentations Preliminary results
Common proposal mistakes Other writing tips
Not doable in 6 units Start with figures (or slides) then write the
Poor preparation
No resources text around them
Too ambitious
Confusing the methodology with an algorithm
w/c may be subject of your research
Poor (or nonexistent) validation method
See Yahoo article on the T-Rex running speed
Not clear what is contribution to existing body of

When all else fails… References

…contact the dissertation diva! ☺ For writing William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. “The
Struggling to finish your dissertation? Need an Elements of Style.” Allyn and Bacon.
action plan to balance writing, teaching, For presentations
publishing, committees, job search, and family
Malcolm Kushner. “Presentations for
responsibilities? Want to stay centered during
Dummies.” For Dummies.
the PhD process?
The Dissertation Diva can help you!