This is my first time that I am asked to evaluate a master thesis. I would appreciate if some one can give me some tips in this manner:

  1. Should the thesis contains any new results (NEW = Something that has not been done before).

  2. How thoroughly should the literature review be?

  3. what dificulty level should I consider while asking during defense?

Thanks you in advance.

  • Which country? Which field? How long (time-wise) has the thesis been?
    – user151413
    Jul 12 '20 at 22:41
  • @user151413 Field: Mathematics and applied athematics and the thesis is about 4 to 6 months.
    – Nizar
    Jul 13 '20 at 5:32
  • And where? .....
    – user151413
    Jul 13 '20 at 11:01
  • @user151413 Lebanon
    – Nizar
    Jul 13 '20 at 16:12

This is probably best evaluated in the context of the individual institution. Standards differ and both the student and the professor should have a common understanding. Some places it is sufficient to give a good summary understanding of a deep problem or area of research. Others requires some new results, which may be minor or not. Some require publishable results.

So talk to some colleagues and get an understanding of the local culture. It is harder, of course, if you are an external evaluator. In such cases ask someone at the student's institution for a bit of guidance and ask whether you should evaluate based on their criteria or that of your home institution. Some places use external evaluators (also at the doctoral level) to assure themselves that their own standards are correct.

But at this level, the literature review might be more important than other parts, since one of the purposes of the MS thesis is to give the student some practice in carrying out deeper research where the lit review can make or break problem selection.

During the defense, you can be as hard as you like, but you need to evaluate answers for "reasonableness" as much as literal correctness. If the student can demonstrate a reasonable approach to something it may be enough. Requiring correct answers to difficult questions under duress is probably too much. But they should have ready answers to foundational questions, of course.


ad 1, should the thesis contains any new results: Depends on the field. In theoretical sciences, it is perfectly possible that the difficulty of the area is such that no more than a literature review can be expected from a master thesis. In the experimental sciences, experiments may fail so badly that no new results are obtained. Consider that in most systems master theses have fixed duration, as opposed to PhD where you expect the candidate to continue research until at least some new results have been obtained.

ad 2, how thoroughly should the literature review be: Depends on the field. In an experimental thesis, a short chapter with 5-10 references may do. Reading papers and keeping track of references is hard initially and must be learned. Therefore expectations on a master thesis are much lower than on a PhD thesis.

ad 3, what difficulty level should I consider while asking during defense: Start with extremely simple questions. Raise level cautiously, as long as the candidate is able to respond. Be gentle, the more so if the defense is public. The more experienced an examiner, the gentler he is for most of the defense's duration. A few insecure answers are sufficient to distinguish a weak from a strong candidate. Even weak candidates should be rightfully proud of having completed a master thesis; don't shame them.

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