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My thesis (Canadian Research Based, Computer Science), collects three separate research projects (with a tenuous connecting thread).

While collating these projects into a single document, I have looked into other theses coming out of my university and others in my field, and have realized that it's looking like my thesis is going to be very large. Probably twice the average length of others in my field.

Which makes me wonder: Did I do too much work for a thesis? Should I have pushed my supervisor, cancelled the final proposed project (#3) and graduated on the strength of the first two?

I'll be graduating 6 months after my target deadline, with multiple publications, and so burnt out that my initial plan to pursue a PhD has collapsed. Can't change the past, so I'm asking here mostly out of curiosity, and for other future students.

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    I don't think its too bad to have more than others, as long as its not like your magnum opus. It was too much by virtue of your exhaustion though. Why give up PhD? Just get rest (maybe specific to situation).
    – user10769
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 8:09
  • Never judge the amount of work by the pagecount. Also, even say you had been able to push your supervisor to graduate you on the strength of the first two projects, you'd have lost a valuable learning opportunity which will presumably serve you well at some point in the future.
    – smci
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 0:14

3 Answers 3

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It is not clear how to judge the "size" of a thesis (page length or word count is probably not very good), but one can clearly do too much research for a Masters or Doctorate. That said a factor of two difference is not really that big since there is always going to be a healthy overlap between the "largest" Master thesis and the "smallest" PhD thesis. If your Masters thesis is larger than the average PhD thesis and larger than the vast majority of Masters theses, then it is possibly too large.

As a student you need to be asking yourself why you are getting the qualification. Most students put in much more work than that which is required to simply graduate. You should make sure you push your supervisor to help you achieve your goals.

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  • Indeed. I don't feel like it was a bad choice to pursue project #3, but I was more curious if I over-committed.
    – HamsHroon
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 22:40
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It is hard for me to understand some of your thinking. If your MSc thesis has already resulted in "multiple" publications, that means that you are actually closer to getting a PHD than most of your co-students, who have to start from scratch. A few weeks of rest, should be sufficient for you to actually recover from your "burnout", although it is quite unusual for students to actually refer to burnout from a MSC thesis. As multiple others (before me) have stated, the stress in a REAL job could be several orders of magnitude larger than the stress related with a bachelor or MSc degree (PHD is another case altogether). Also, the fact that a MSc thesis has provided multiple publications is also a good indicator that a) your supervisor knows what he is doing (which is a huge PLUS) b) you probably have what it takes to actually be successful in a future PHD.

Still, if you found the work for your thesis boring, stressful or simply too much for you, perhaps a PHD is not for you (and vice-versa). So, think it over (after some weeks of rest) on what you actually want. I am sure you will make the right choice (whatever that is) for you.

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As with many questions in academia, the answer is "It depends."

Too much is a subjective term, but I think it probable that you did not put too much work into your thesis, in that the extra work should not cause the work to be of lesser quality, nor should you be judged negatively on the basis of having a larger than average thesis. Although there are limits as to how much extra work is beneficial and how much may be perceived as an attempt at padding; in general, having done more research will be a plus no matter what your plans for the future.

However--and this is the 'it depends' part--you have probably put too much work into the thesis if the following apply to you.

  • You have lost the continuity and focus of your work. (How tenuous is the connection between your several projects? Is it a long stretch to connect them in the same work, or are they just different views/portions of the same problem?)

  • You had to neglect other important aspects of your life to complete the third project.

  • You have done research that would better have waited for the PhD program. (This point is debatable; the amount of work that is needed for a successful PhD thesis is a hotly debated topic, and it is not clear whether it is generally an advantage to have done doctoral level research now.)

  • You are facing a long-term burnout as a result of over-work during your Master thesis. Don't jump to this conclusion too quickly--take some time off, and give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing except be lazy and have fun. Even a week of this total vacation can do wonders to relieve the stress that we over-achievers put on ourselves!

Ultimately only you can decide whether or not you have put in too much work on your Master's thesis. But before you decide that this is the case (and also before you give up on attaining a PhD), take a break, recuperate, and give yourself a chance to see the world through less-stressed eyes!

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