My professor of Computer Science has a company (both based in Germany) that promotes an open-source software. Of course the software is free and open-source, but his company generates profits through support, training, etc. and they have a server-version of the software which is commercial and very expensive. The software is very modular, and the area of the software's specialty is growing quickly. So the company needs to implement a lot of modules for it. Each module is a separate algorithm. So what my professor is doing is basically the following:
Master students come to him asking for master thesis.
He assigns them to build algorithmic modules for the open-source software.
The student gets well trained in the software because of that.
The professor later offers the student to work in his company since he is now highly proficient in the software.
Of course the student gains substantial knowledge, so there is no problem in that aspect. However,
is it ethical that he is growing his commercial business using his professorship position?
My problem is that I believe he is assigning the thesis topics based on what his company needs, not based on what is good for research. I personally believe that professors are given those chairs to advance research. If they are concerned about money, then there is a place called "industry" to make money. I'm not saying that it's wrong to get money by working in academia, rather, what I'm saying that working in academia means doing everything for the sake of improving academia and research, not for other agendas.
In response to the argument "He didn't force it, so just pick a different advisor". Well my problem is that he is the professor that does the research in the field that I like. Other professors all work on different fields. So I might be interested in working on state of the art research or so in his area, but rather he would offer me a topic suitable for his company, then he says I only have these thesis topics. If I didn't like them because I don't like the area of topics that his company needs, then I would be left without any interesting topics. That would be unfair to me, since all other professors work on different fields. So if his focus wasn't promoting the software of his company, then he might find better topics that promote research and science. This is one of my problems with him.
Masters students fund themselves during their studies in Germany, so we get no funding at all. The problem is that when you do your master project and master thesis in our university, there is no predefined deadline for it. This is because it is assumed that you don't know what you want to do for your thesis. You go to the professor and he gives you a topic to work on. But he never tells you what your contribution is or anything else. So basically you have to do "research" to find contributions, i.e. you need to contribute to the state-of-the-art in this topic somehow. Basically you spend almost 5 months just reading papers to find out finally what you want to do. Now because of this, then you can't put a deadline for the thesis, since you don't know what to do! Once you know what to do, then you go and register your thesis and you then get a 6-month deadline, which you use 2 months to write the thesis and then submit. But you never register until you know what you want to do, otherwise it is very risky because you might fail the thesis defense! I don't want to make this much longer, but because of this procedure then professors are taking advantage of the students. So suppose that you go to this professor, then he will keep you working by saying (this is not enough yet for the thesis, we want to program algorithm X and Y as well). In this case the student is working on building this professor's company modules AND personally funding himself. Of course if the professor never says that this is enough, you will keep working... and working... and spending money on rent and so on...
I'm not doing my thesis at this professor's chair. Actually one of my friends did his thesis there and he finished much faster than me. I personally believe he was given a detailed plan to what to do so that is why he finished faster. He even did his master project there and I think it is the same topic/project. I spent nine months in another chair just for doing my master project, then switched to another chair for doing my thesis. It has been eleven months just working on my thesis and will soon finish the writing portion. So it took me almost two years just for working on my project and thesis and I didn't include the time for courses! Actually one of my friends because of this problem finished his masters in almost four years! I personally feel that I completed a PhD program not a masters! I actually can think about original research contributions because of the way I did my masters, but I doubt the students who do their thesis/projects at that professors will learn the same research mentality that I have now. But at the same time, it is good that they finished earlier than I did, because I'm from a poor country and I have been funding myself the entire time in a very expensive city. Sometimes I regret doing this master, because it really drained me. Every time I meet people and tell them that it is taking me this long to finish my master, I get very embarrassed. I also fear that because of taking this long, my chances will be lower when trying to find a job, because they will see that it took me so much time to finish the masters program. They will never understand that the system in our university for the masters is somehow different from others! So I probably think that doing a thesis at that professor's chair is a good idea to at least escape the misery that I went through!