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I have been doing projects nearly 1 year with my future supervisor. I think he knows me enough. We were talking about many topics for thesis. Among all the topics, he is in favor of one topic which is pure science ie. development of new material. There will be lots of repetition and testing. On the other hand, I am a mechanical engineer and wanted to do some mixture work of science and design task, we ofcourse have an idea about it.

After my masters I would like to do phd, and I have low/mediocre GPA Low GPA. So I think that my thesis should be very good to compansate it. My supervisor admitted that the topic he is in favor of would be hard, lots of pain and hardwork and has high rate of failure, on the other if I somehow find something or improve a little bit, it would has very huge impact. He added that failing with new devopled materials would be again success, since in future they will skip what is failed.

Other topics that I am in favor of are more on design and less science focused, ie. using new developed material(I will make it but there will be only one material) in newly designed systems, our aim is to make an end product with low weight and low cost, ie. increasing the fuel cell performance in the ragone plot.

My question for researchers and committee, can you define a good master thesis? What do you look for?

  • Do you want examples of good theses as per the last phrase in your question body? Or do you expect us to come up with topics? which is not on topic here... Your best option is to discuss with your advisor / supervisor... – Solar Mike Jan 24 at 10:37
  • Dear @SolarMike I am asking about examples of good theses, not the topics. – existence is futile Jan 24 at 11:07
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    Your edit does clarify the question. – Solar Mike Jan 24 at 11:44
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Any such definition is necessarily broad and somewhat vague. Here's my attempt at offering a categorisation:

  • An instance of an outstanding master's thesis is one that significantly advances state-of-the-art research, such results are rare.

  • An instance of an excellent master's thesis is one that contributes to state-of-the-art research, such results are infrequent.

  • An instance of a good master's thesis is one that satisfies the institution's criterion for the highest grade, such results are common amongst PhD students.

(This categorisation is highly subjective.)

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  1. Really, I don't think "quality of thesis" will do much to improve your application. It's good that you have something. But having a great one is not going to do much more than having an average one to compensate for low grades, scores, etc. Your next project will probably be different and nobody sees you as a functioning professional in R&D until your Ph.D. (or at least deep enough into it that you are publishing strongly and are the world expert in your microsubject).

  2. I would be very leery of projects with high likelihood of failure. Your incentives and the advisor's incentives are not aligned here. You need to pass a hump. But for him, sure he wants you to succeed, but if he burns a couple students to get there, big deal. (Note this is worst case, but in any case the dynamic remains even if not that coarsely blatant. And there definitely have been instances of professors doing exactly this and blatantly. You could even argue science advances more from it...but it doesn't serve the student's interests.)

  3. However if you can still publish the results when "it fails" than that is fine. For example, a grant proposal might be oriented towards finding Avatar's Unobtanium. But when you fail to synthesize it, if you can still publish some papers with crystal structures and electronic measurements of non-superconducting cuprates that is fine.

  4. I would also be leery of something requiring apparatus building or exploration of very different methods or materials (new to the lab group). Even as a Ph.D. these are negative factors. But at least for a Ph.D., there's some time to spend 5 years (no joke) building a laser. For a master's student, you need to be productive ASAP. Not spending 5 years building and rebuilding and fixing something and then 6 months collecting data and 6 months writing it up. You have a different time horizon.


Given (1), I would not jump into a killer topic to save yourself. Even though you are trying to combat the low grades, you still need to consider the risk/reward of a master's project and be conservative. A "Hail Mary" pass is not a good strategy, here.

  • Thank you for the answer. I think my supervisor would not burn students to get to the point since he has 38 h-index and very well known person in the Europe. Actually one reason that I want to work with him is that he is very relaxed, never pushes me, never sets some strict path. I work in peace and hard. He told me in very detailed, this project has high risk to get good results. I believe that it is publishable even though there is no success. – existence is futile Jan 25 at 13:52
  • @existence is futile If you can publish it "when it doesn't work" than that is fine. For example new nonsuperconducting cuprates are still very publishable (albiet not in Nature or Science) since you can describe the crystal structure and physical properties and even the relation of the two. Conversely some things really aren't publishable if they don't work (e.g. if apparatus just won't do what you need). As long as there is a fallback plan, than have fun and go for it. – guest Jan 26 at 1:47
  • By the way, being a big name doesn't mean won't burn students. May even be correlated with it, because he now has the freedom to go after "big game" versus someone who needs datapoint papers to make tenure. All that said, if the guy seems chill, that is a good sign. – guest Jan 26 at 1:48

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