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I am a student of Indian origin. I am Studying Mechanical Engineering in a local university in north of Germany.

I am writing my thesis in a company. My task is to optimize the throughput of the line. I tried to apply 2-3 concepts on optimization to the output of the line, but my all efforts been in vain. Now I am looking at my computer screen the whole day everyday, hopping hopelessly from one research paper to another but finding nothing. I have only 2 months before my final presentation in front of the company's manager. And in it I have to prove to them that giving me this topic for my thesis was not a waste of around 1500€/month.

I am not able to sleep. For the last 15 days I haven't gone out for shopping or anything. Eating just a little bit of food only one time. Talking to no one, my family or friends. Just sitting all day in front of the screen trying to find some kind of breakthrough. I think i am going into depression. I am afraid that i will fail this thesis.

I don't know what to do? How to do? Who to ask for help regarding my thesis and topic. I am constantly worried about what if i fail. What will happen. Should I have to go back to India without completing my Master's.

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    I hope you prevail. I've been this worried in school and eventually everything will be better and it will all be behind you. I am sorry that you are struggling with so much stress. – OutOfCharacters Jan 14 at 14:22
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    Rather than deprive yourself of food and sleep, I would suggest having a good meal, getting some sleep, and try talking to other people. The reason theses are traditionally done at universities and not done through the mail is that talking to your advisor, professors, and fellow students is considered important for making progress. Explain your failed solutions to them. It will definitely be less depressing than going over failed solutions by yourself. – Chan-Ho Suh Jan 14 at 16:10
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    Once a problem is in my head, I find that if I take a break when I'm stuck, do something totally unrelated and think about other things, especially a light leisure activity, often my subconscious will still be processing the problem and I will spontaneously arrive at a solution. Take a long walk, read a fiction book, take a long hot shower, play a moderately difficult video game, get your mind off the problem with a soft distraction for a few hours. And most importantly do something you enjoy to get your mind out of this hopeless state! Its hard to generate ideas when you feel hopeless. – user2647513 Jan 14 at 17:28
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    Document the failed attempts you made and try to be as general and thorough as possible to close as many doors as possible. Not every problem has a solution. You will have something written down, will not be staring at a screen for no reason (you will be staring at a screen for a reason) and maybe along the way get the luck and the reward. – PatrickT Jan 14 at 20:51
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    Remember: Documenting negative results is also important because it stops people from wasting time, money, and effort on them in the future. – user76284 Jan 15 at 4:36

12 Answers 12

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Having worked with master's students in an applied research lab, I am fairly confident that you are not expected to come up with a solution that will dramatically change the production process and lead to great profits. Your stipend is not contingent on your work delivering monetary returns; research doesn't work like that.

You are engaged by them to apply your skills, use your time and energy to contribute to their problem. The magnitude of that contribution and its ultimate impact on the company could vary wildly. So steer yourself out of both extreme expectations (that you will fail completely, vs you will create a revolution through your work) and put in your honest, best efforts. Be systematic and document everything. What you see as a negative result or failure now could be a positive confirmation to a more experienced researcher at some time in the future. Don't worry too much about the ultimate outcome, but don't procrastinate either. Keep executing chunks of work, and once again, document everything.

Remember, you justify your stipend through your efforts, not through the outcomes.

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    I completely agree with this. My master's research failed to produce successful results (i.e. we were trying to create an improved algorithm and failed), and my thesis was still considered a success by my committee. – bob Jan 15 at 19:36
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Your work has not been in vain.

What you have shown to the company are those methods which don't offer improvement, now, they can continue looking at other methods.

While you have had a limited time to look at a few methods, you should write those up and then consider suggesting other avenues that they could continue after you finish. That should sort your thesis issues...

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    Exactly. I can't count how many times in meetings people will chime in with 20 different ideas about how to improve a process. If you can show them concrete data from six of them showing the changes that were made and what the result was, then that instantly gives you a headstart for the next round of experimentation. It really is extremely useful to have well documented and well tested experiments, even when they produce a null result. – J... Jan 14 at 15:56
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Expectations

First of all, it is important to be clear precisely what the expectations of this project are. If you are a master's student working alone on such a project, there should be no expectation of positive results, especially since you seem to indicate that you have only been working on it for a short amount of time. A Ph.D. might be a different matter, but then you would work on research for many years before writing a thesis.

It sounds to me that you have set a particular bar of expectation for yourself that you feel you are not reaching. Reevaluate if that expectation is reasonable, firstly for yourself, and second by the official standards which you are being held to.

Communication

In such situations, having communication and people to talk to is important. You should certainly be discussing the situation with a supervisor, but do not cut off contact with friends and family and jeopardize your mental health, which will do nothing good for you. You are less likely to make any breakthrough if you are starving yourself and not talking to anyone. Discuss what you are working with someone, anyone, whether they understand it or not, and discuss other things as well! Relaxing can help a lot. Take breaks, go for walks, meditate, whatever helps you to calm yourself and clear your head.

You may be suffering from impostor syndrome

I think you underestimate what you have accomplished and your future achievement potential. There is no reason to give up when you have already put in so much effort. If you genuinely feel that your current position is due to lack of effort, then that's something you can change going forward, but it doesn't sound like that's the case. You've put in the effort, and null results are results, don't dismiss them!

Do not worry about the money

Consider that any entry-level engineer with a Bachelor's degree at your company probably makes at least twice what you are being paid. No reasonable person would consider that they had wasted money paying someone minimum wage to do research on how to improve their production line for a few months, even if they didn't produce a positive result (and no one can expect a single master's student to produce significant result in a few months of work).

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    +1 for "entry-level engineer[...] makes at least 3-4 times what you are being paid". Also keep in mind that new engineers are often expected to take some time learning and training before they're "operational", i.e. before they are expected to know what to do next and have little supervision, delivering anything might a whole year depending on area and company processes. – Mefitico Jan 14 at 19:17
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    Am entry level engineer in Germany absolutely doesn't earn 3-4 times €1500. 2 times is more likely, before taxes. – BrtH Jan 17 at 9:19
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Start writing up now what you have. Describe (properly) the results of the 2-3 concepts. The next student doesnt have to repeat them then. If you finish the first (complete) draft and you have time, try to come up with hypothesis why these concept failed. If you even have more time, do numerical experiment to check this hypothesis. Add this to the thesis. Depending on you supervisor send him the individual drafts.

Submit your thesis. You will most likely only fail if you do not submit.

You also have a supervisor at university, s/he is usually the person to ask for advice.

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    Okay thank you. I am going to write my Professor at the University for advice. I will be needing some help from his side. Supervisor at the company is showing no Interest at all right now. Its like he had left his hope upon me. He is result oriented rather than effort oriented. But now i am not going to go by his strategy. I will do the simulation. Do experiments on it and will complete my thesis. Also i am going to write what problems i faced when implementing the method what i was supposed to implement. Thank you. I love this forum. You all have raised my spirit and hopes. – K3yur Jan 15 at 5:34
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    When you write the email it might also be best to ask for a personal meeting (you seeing your uni supervisor) to discuss these things. – lalala Jan 15 at 6:59
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    My dad works at a technical university and he often complains that supervisors from companies do not support their students properly; even excellent students struggle with company-led theses. Stop putting any hope into your supervisor and get as much help as you can from the Professor. I like this piece of advice: imagine that your thesis will be read by the next student working on the same problem. That will help you put in enough detail. Fellow students and friends might agree to read individual chapters of your thesis in exchange for reading a chapter or two of theirs and give you feedback. – Ansa211 Jan 15 at 10:41
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From personal experience working with people from many other cultures, I know that in some Asian cultures the idea of "failing to complete a task that you have been promised to do" is taken much more seriously than it is in Europe.

As a personal anecdote, a co-worker had arranged vacation time to make a religious pilgrimage. The group were scheduled to depart at 2am. At 11 pm (three hours before departure) the co-worker turned up in the office, attempting to complete some task he had been given before he left!

By pure good luck, there were some senior employees in the office at that hour of the night, having a conference call with a customer in a time zone 8 hours different. The guy was told in no uncertain terms to stop working and go and catch his plane, but he was reluctant to do that until somebody else said they would take full personal responsibility for any consequences of the work not being finished.

To most westerners such a story might seem like pure fiction, but I was there when it happened.

You will not achieve anything by "not going out for shopping, talking to no one, and barely eating" for 15 days - except that you might end up as a medical emergency case because of self neglect. You have made an honest attempt at solving the problem, and you have some results, even though they are negative. That is as much as anyone in the West would reasonably expect from a student writing a thesis.

Put your effort into making a good report of what you have actually done, and the things that you would have liked to do but found too difficult. That will almost certainly be enough for your thesis to be accepted. The risk of lying in a hospital bed and not submitting anything at all is just not worth taking!

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  1. 1500 euros/month is not a big deal for the companies, they do not expect you to offer them breakthrough solutions.
  2. Negative results are results, report them if you have. That is research
  3. Frame your suggestions as hypothesis and try to critically analyse them. Those optimization methods you mentioned try to address how they can enhance their production and bla bla.
  4. Write the literature review about those papers you are reading and that by itself can be good study and great chunk of your MSC thesis.
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    Thats a good idea. Thank you for your input. I really appreciate it. So i will write which papers i have referred. Why i felt like that this paper can be useful for this particular problem. What was the reason that i wasn't able to accomplish my problem with th method or concept mentioned. – K3yur Jan 15 at 5:40
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From your description it is difficult to understand your research question. How about a little more detail so that the community can help you brainstorm ideas?

Aside from that, you are suffering from tunnel-vision and defeatist mentality. You are so focused on failing you have become unable to gain traction. You need to take a few days rest, then come back to the table and try to think about your problem from a new angle. I have found it is useful to read research papers from a different but related topic. Sometimes that reveals new avenues for inquiry.

  • Thank you for your reply. My topic is find the optimal size of buffer in between station or nos of pallets in the line by considering failures and cycle time of the station. As an conclusion i need to find a mathematical way to optimize tha line so that the throughput or final output of production line increase and implementing the results in simulation software. – K3yur Jan 14 at 6:43
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    This could easily be a simulation study. Vary all the parameters you have to measure. Maybe you’re already optimal. Start by quantifying what you know. An equation that captures current efficiency – HEITZ Jan 14 at 6:46
  • I have already done it. But according to discription of my thesis i need to find some kind of mathematical way to do it. There are ways to do it. But they are too complicated to understand. If i will do this by simulation there wont be many things to write about. Is there anyway that i can deregister my thesis and find a new topic start from the scratch. My supervisor is not showing any more interest as before in my thesis. I told him 2months back that this is getting too complicated for me to understand and i won't be able to complete it. Please allow me to give resignation but he said no. – K3yur Jan 14 at 6:53
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    No offense but this attitude suggests you are either not interested in the problem or not interested in a higher degree. ‘It’s too complicated’ isn’t something academic minded students say. ‘It’s not interesting’ is another matter. And, your advisor may seem disinterested as a reaction to your disinterest. – HEITZ Jan 14 at 6:59
  • No offense taken. I am here to understand my situation. I love simulation and production line. My academic is also in same area and that's why i have chosen this topic. But for the amount of time i had. In my opinion was to vast or i can be wrong. I have tried multiple methods but due to lack of data or no one to clear my doubt. I wasn't able to implement the methods. He is disinterested in my topic, there was a little bit misunderstanding between us regarding the deadline of registration of my thesis in university. I register it after 2 months of starting and it should be done within 1month. – K3yur Jan 14 at 7:12
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Look, I am Master student in a very similar field, Aeronautical engineering in Spain, I was going through the very same thing like a month and half ago, and with the help of my mum I realized that sometimes, health and wellness are way more important than academic results.

Professional help will also help you getting over it, a healthy diet, taking care of the relationships and a bit of exercise are essential to maintain your mind clean.

Aside from that, those dealing with students like us expect from us realistic results, this means that they do not expect you to improve drastically the performance of whatever you are dealing with in just few months, but they are rather interested in seeing how you have fought against the problem, and how you have learn from it.

Good luck, hope you recover from this, recognising you might be entering into a depression stage or having anxiety problems is the very first step towards a full recovery.

  • I can't talk to my mum or dad openly about my current mental situation. They will be worried I am about 10K Kms away from my hometown. But I have started doing meditation and had gone for walk it fells great. Thanks. About my thesi. I currently have blurry vision how will it look like. I will tell my supervisor about it. Lets see what happens and what he comments on it. Thank you for your valuable advice. – K3yur Jan 17 at 23:12
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If i will do this by simulation there wont be many things to write about.

What we have there is the real problem, your attitude.

If you cared about the subject, rather than only about getting the degree, you'd see many interesting things.

For instance, try a sensitivity analysis. For each factor in your simulation, keep the others fixed and run simulations with that one factor slightly larger and slightly smaller. For some factors, the final result will hardly change, while for other factors the final result will change a lot. That tells you which factors are worth further investigation and which are worth ignoring.

If the only thing you give your employers is a ranking of how important each factor is, they got their money's worth.

But that's just one example. There really will be "many things to write about".

this is getting too complicated for me to understand

How the universe works is too complicated for anyone to understand. Yet, despite concentrating on only a few of the most easy aspects of the problem, Einstein is generally not thought of as a failure.

Everything that's complicated is made up of many non-complicated things. Find some aspects that by themselves are relatively simple and study them, ignoring the rest for now.

Even if you don't complete it yourself, the parts that you have analyzed will help your successors to understand how the simple parts fit together to form the complicated whole.

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    From the OP's comments, it seems that interest is not the issue attitude is not the problem – Kai Jan 14 at 16:08
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    Thank you very much. I think i will be going with the simulation. Its model is almost ready it will be completed within two days and then i will start using the method of experimenting and function of Genetic algorithm which is provided by plant simulation. Thank you so much for the clarification. I think i can know think straight and see my thesis in order. Thank you once again. – K3yur Jan 15 at 5:29
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The feedback I give below is rooted in my own experience, going through all years of school and employment - when I was always expected to provide something.


I am not able to sleep. For the last 15 days I haven't gone out for shopping or anything. Eating just a little bit of food only one time. Talking to no one, my family or friends.

Well, that is the perfect recipe for disaster. How do you expect your brain to function properly (even, better than properly, since you are trying to do a highly intensive task) without caring for it? Go ahead and eat nutritious food, have good rest, do some exercise, and then things will definitely improve.

Just sitting all day in front of the screen trying to find some kind of breakthrough.

With a under-nutritioned, not rested brain? No way.

Moreover, a thesis (regardless of the level) implies research, and research means that you can (and sometimes MUST) cooperate with other people. Go ahead an talk with anyone who might be able to give you some idea. Even terrible ideas can turn into genius ideas.

Corollary: if you have no benefit of staying in front of the computer, do something more beneficial. Even sleeping is better then torturing yourself uselessly.

I think i am going into depression. I am afraid that i will fail this thesis.

As I said, good food, rest, exercise... It will go away.

I don't know what to do? How to do? Who to ask for help regarding my thesis and topic.

The thesis is not something that you do in a toilet and you must be alone.

A thesis has at least one coordinator (provided by the university).

In your case, there are two coordinators, the other one being assigned by the company.

Each of them will provide you with support according to their area of experience / expertise. Even if they do not push or pull you about the work you do, be PROACTIVE and go talk to them. Tell them about your results until now. Tell them about the problems encountered. Ask for help. Ask to be assigned to other specialists which might have good feedback which you can use.

I am constantly worried about what if i fail. What will happen. Should I have to go back to India without completing my Master's.

Leave the worries until after the final exam passes. How can your brain think about the work you need to do, if you keep it busy with analyzing ways of failure?


Bottom line:

  • provide the best conditions to your brain to function at maximum capacity;
  • remove from mind all negative stuff (worries, fears, negative emotions...); they will appear independent of your will, but when you become aware of this, push them out again;
  • be proactive and be in regular contact with your supervisors;
  • be proactive and seek help / information / ideas from anyone who might be able to provide them;

My own case: I am able to ignore all the negative stress before a serious endeavor (exam, delivery of project, preparation for some bigger activity...) - even to the point where I feel too "free". However, once the event passes entirely and the really final results are in, my brain suddenly releases all the energy and the feelings and everything which I ignored previously. Physically I become weak for a few seconds / minutes. On rare occasions, I needed to sit for a minute, to recover.

That works excellent for me, and I would never want to change that. Even though the feeling of weakness is not something to be proud of, it allows me to really concentrate on the task and deliver maximum performance.

  • Thank you very much. I have started taking care of me. Going for a small walk and doing meditation. I have this things in my schedule. I am introvert kind of guy, not proud about it. But will ask my supervisor in company to guide me to the person that can help. But the problem is that i got only two months left. Now starting with the new methodology will be difficult. I will complete my thesis but i am not sure that i will able to satisfy my University and my supervisor. I will get less grades and unsatisfied. But the way i have done my work i deserve that. – K3yur Jan 17 at 23:04
  • You started to change for the better. That is great. At your own pace (you can choose it yourself) keep improving. I wish you luck. Talk to the professor too, he might have some good advice for you. – virolino Jan 20 at 5:32
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This is not your fault. It seems like you had a bad supervisor at the company since a supervisor should meet up with you often to discuss your problems and your progress. He should guide you towards a successful thesis.

Now, first of all, talk to your thesis supervisors and tell them about your concerns. You should have one supervisor in the company and one supervisor at your university and you can ask both for help.

I want to add that here in Germany, people rarely fail their thesis. Not because everyone writes a great thesis on great results, but because the threshold of passing is very low. Not only results, but also effort is recognized, therefore: Get the formal aspects of your thesis right: e.g. no spelling mistakes, good looking images, proper citing, good literature summary, polish your presentation...

If you do that, you will not fail. For the master thesis, negative results are totally acceptable.

Therefore, for your thesis and for the presentation:

  1. summarize the literature
  2. show the methods you have tried, show that they did not lead to an improvement
  3. make educated guesses about why it did not lead to an improvement
  4. if you have an idea, explain what else could be tried in the future

Maybe the company will not hire you, but you will definitely not fail your thesis.

Should I have to go back to India without completing my Master's.

If you really do fail, maybe because of the limited time left to write the thesis, then that is also not a problem at all. You lost some months, but you can just try again with another topic.

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    If you do not submit you will fail. (but this is basically the only way). – lalala Jan 14 at 15:33
  • Posting my concerns over here was the best thing I had thought in last 2 months. I think my line is already efficient. But there is always a possibility of optimization. I will surely write and complete my thesis on time. I will complete my first draft of the thesis till end of this month. I will be more focus on the points you have mentioned above and try to write properly and neatly. also my colleagues told me that writing is more important than the positive results. I still got two months and i will do it. No more procrastination. – K3yur Jan 17 at 22:47
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I think you're focusing on the wrong facet. Instead of worrying, "How do I optimize their process," think, "What makes an optimum process?" - and then relate that to the existing model. If it turns out that the optimum way of doing something is what the company is already doing, that's great!. It's not a failure if the company is already doing the right thing!

Instead of focusing on "But I didn't change anything!", focus on "How can I help identify why things are optimal?" Because it's entirely possible their configuration isn't due to extremely studious effort, but a bit of trial-and-error. It's entirely possible that you will give them immense benefit in laying out why their current setup is optimal - they might think it's good simply because they haven't been able to identify anything better, not because they've done rigorous analysis. And, well, I can guarantee you: no factory line remains unchanging over the long haul - they have to adapt, improve, and reorganize. Processes change. Requirements change. Etc. So being able relay why it's currently ideal might help them keep that efficiency after a change down the road.

If I were in your shoes, the next path I'd start poking down is their line history. Did the current setup emerge due to methodical analysis? Was there trial and error? You may be able to give a great deal of value in being able to say, "The current line is actually extremely efficient - there aren't a lot of gains to be had. However, one thing I noticed is that the road to get to the current setup seemed to systemically have a problem with neglect of transport and transit times. These three areas were shuffled around quite a bit, trying to decrease the time moving parts around the factory, but if that was analyzed up front, it might have helped back when the reorg was required."

(For what it's worth: I worked awhile as a IT Dev in a Tire Manufacturing Plant, and was semi-involved in efficiency evaluations. So I actually have a bit of experience on this front. The plant liked it when someone said, "You can shave 15 seconds off the total build time if you toggle the location of these two presses." They loved it when someone said, "Well, there's a systematic mistake XYZ you're making with this - you can shave 15 seconds off the time if you toggle the location of these presses, and the next time you're shuffling the line, you'll get the same savings if you keep in mind XYZ.")

  • Thank you Kevin. I will ask my supervisor for line change history in my next meeting with him. Changing postion of the machine can help. I will surely try this in my simulation. Lets see if i can get some postive result. – K3yur Jan 17 at 22:39

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