I'm currently doing a masters in electrical engineering (image and video processing, machine learning, etc.) at a renowned European university. For my masters thesis, I'd like to go to the US (or Canada).

Now, at my university (and at a lot of European universities) it is usually the professors that create a list of thesis topics. The students can subsequently pick one.

However, during my search for suitable thesis topics I could pursue in the US, I didn't find this kind of lists.

Is it common practice for students to propose topics themselves to relevant labs and hope to get them approved? Or could anyone shine some light on the usual procedure to find a thesis topic and advisor?


1 Answer 1


It's usually somewhere in between: the thesis topic is negotiated between the student and advisor.

Usually an advisor will have some topics already in mind, and can suggest them. The student can also suggest topics in which he or she is interested, and the advisor can decide if they would be appropriate. In the end, of course, they both have to agree.

It could also fall closer to one end of the spectrum or the other, depending on the advising style of the advisor. Some advisors might insist on one of the projects they have in mind, as they may not have the expertise or interest for any of the student's suggested topics. Or they might think the student's suggestions would be too easy, too hard, too obscure, etc. Other advisors may not have many topic ideas of their own, or consider that it is good experience for a student to find their own topic.

  • 2
    Funding can be a key factor. If the student is funded by a research grant than the advisor will typically insist that the thesis fit closely with the program of work in the grant. If the student is funded by a scholarship or teaching assistantship then there's typically much room for the student to propose a topic. Aug 30, 2015 at 4:45
  • Is this kind of negotiation also common in fields like experimental physics, where setting up an experiment might need the involvement of several people and buying equipment? Aug 30, 2015 at 6:39
  • So, taking this information into account, it's probably best if I contact some professors asking if they would be interested in advising me on a thesis in a certain domain, without being too specific about the topic?
    – MartinD
    Aug 30, 2015 at 13:46

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