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I'm a graduated student who is trying to continue his education with a Master or possibly a PhD. Surfing the net, I noticed that to enroll for some PhDs an example of writing is required. I successfully completed my bachelor degree (as required) with a thesis about a proposed topic. I wrote it entirely in English, which is pretty uncommon for many colleagues from my country, but my work didn't show promising results. Long story short, my algorithms aren't really good.

Is that something common or it's a sign of demerit? Doing research for an undergraduate thesis and ending with bad results, is this something that you should avoid speaking about when asked about previous research experiences?

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In undergrad research, how you did it is more important that where you got.

If you did your research properly, that is: adequate bibliographical revision, adequate problem definition, reasonable approach and a proper interpretation of the results, that is an excellent thesis, IMHO. Even if your conclusion is "these methods are terrible for this", which, if true, is a valid contribution.

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The fact that you worked through a research project is definitely great experience, whatever the eventual outcome. If you played a part in designing the project, all the better, but even if you just executed a research plan proposed to you by your research adviser, that's still valuable experience that will help your graduate school application.

  • "The fact that you worked through a research project is definitely great experience, whatever the eventual outcome." - This seems a bit unfocused. In a way, it seems to say that no matter what the specifics of the thesis, the mere fact that someone got their Bachlor degree in a country where a Bachelor degree invariably includes a thesis gives them a significant inherent advantage over other candidates (?) – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 '15 at 21:32
  • Moreover, note that the OP just mentions having written a thesis with some relation to research. This may or may not have been a true research project (also depending on what is defined as "research" in the context). – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 '15 at 21:35
  • Thesis is mandatory, but you can make a "experimental" thesis, where you try to find new solutions or improve those who have already been proposed, or a "compilation" thesis where you simply explain and speak about a certain field without trying to give new solutions. – user3574984 Oct 20 '15 at 21:39
  • @user3574984: This may be field-dependent, but I can imagine more types such as "development" theses that find new solutions that are new artifacts, but not necessarily conceptually new. In short, having written a thesis does not imply having done (much) research, as this answer somewhat implies. – O. R. Mapper Oct 20 '15 at 21:55
  • Yes, I gave the closest translation. I think your definition suits it well. – user3574984 Oct 20 '15 at 22:04
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I think that you (as many others) have a distorted perspective on expectations and goals of doing research and writing a thesis in a educational setting. The following represents my vision on the topic and definitely is not an absolute truth. However, I believe and hope that many people would agree with my point of view. In my mind, education and research in educational setting, including writing a thesis (dissertation) seeks to enable a future scholar to perform research and, perhaps, teach. That is, the goal is to immerse a person in an experience and teach them a framework for approaching problems and finding solutions to those problems (gaining specific knowledge is a valuable, but secondary goal). That experience and that framework are much more important than anything else one can learn in an academic environment. As the famous Chinese proverb says,

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Obviously, this wisdom should be understood in the academic context, but both essence and value of this idea remain as valid in academia as they do in other contexts. Moreover, from the perspective of mastering the scholarly framework, I think that it is much more important to ask the right questions (and, perhaps, ask any questions, as IMHO there no wrong or bad questions), than to obtain results or, even, good results. In my view, asking questions that lead to obtaining results is paramount to becoming a good scholar and represents an essential part of the above-mentioned scholarly framework. Speaking of importance to science of asking questions and, generally, being curious (versus focusing on results), another famous phrase of a famous scholar comes to mind:

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. – Albert Einstein

Considering all the arguments, mentioned above, and returning to your specific question, I would say that it is completely wrong to gauge quality of a thesis (or graduate's achievements, in general) by research results. Not only results are not an indicator of said quality or achievements, but also "bad results" are as valuable, if not more, as the "good" ones. For more information on the value of negative results (for studies with formulated hypotheses), please see my other answer. Good luck!

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