In the next months I will defend my thesis and I wonder if it is really worth it to write a traditional thesis. Although I have time to write it, I would consider a “waste” of time that I could use continuing my research (or improving some of my results).

On the other side, all my colleagues have written a traditional thesis, that is why I am not sure if a sandwich thesis would harm, somewhat, my future career.

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    I don't even know what a sandwich thesis is... Thus, I assume that the answer to your question strongly depends on where you are studying and where you are planning your future career, so you might want to add these informations.
    – Dirk
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 11:47
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    Here it is really well explained: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/149/… Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 11:49
  • What do you call a "traditional thesis"? There are intermediates between sandwich and what I would maybe call "traditional". Here they are called cumulative.
    – skymningen
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 12:04
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    What kind of harm are you concerned about? Nobody really cares what your thesis looks like - they might look up your papers at best.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:10
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    A thesis can be an opportunity to publish any minor results, false leads, personal opinions about the field that would otherwise go in a "vision" paper, and whatever else didn't fit in your conference papers. (My master's thesis is basically a conference paper with a "lessons learned" chapter tacked on. I don't consider it a waste of time, even though just reformatting the paper would have been good enough.) Maybe not important to your career, but maybe important to you... Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 1:08

4 Answers 4


Regarding your career, don't worry at all. In computer science, it is mainly your publications, conferences, and your code in public repositories what's gonna be valued in real life. No one is ever gonna read your thesis, apart from (if you are lucky) the members of the committee evaluating it.

That being said...

In the next months I will defend my thesis and I wonder if it is really worth it to write a traditional thesis.

The question here is: do you have a thesis in the research sense of the word (a statement about the world that you believe to be true and you have tried to prove during your PhD years)? From your description, it doesn't look like that's the case.

This would be my personal advice:

  • Case A: You already have a few good publications that answer some questions of a common broader topic. In my experience, it is worth to compile them, cleaning them out, and adding an introduction and some conclusions to help the reader prove you know what you are talking about, and that you are able to manage the big picture. It helps you clarify your thoughts and your research. That proves that you have a thesis, you are responsible for it, and you are able to defend your own research. You might actually learn a lot doing this.

  • Case B: You have been publishing here and there, about different topics, some of which don't actually have much to do with each other, and you don't really have a "thesis" per se. Then, honestly, don't bother. Just present your collection of publications and get your PhD. You cannot build and improvise a decent thesis in a few months if you don't have one already.

  • Case C: You don't have good publications and you don't have a thesis. Get your PhD and run away as fast as you can. Try not to recommend that University to anyone in the future.

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    Is case B actually inferior to case A, assuming that the candidate has a lot of quality publications but they are simply about unrelated topics?
    – aellab
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:23
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    My first thought about case B would be that this person has been sharing authorship with others from his research group and/or this person does not have a thesis, so it would be inferior to case A, yes. So I would definitely prefer case A with 2 publications over case B with 6. However, given the (corrupt) state of academia, in general terms, case B would most probably rated higher.
    – Pablo
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:30
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    Obligatory PhD comic for Case B !!
    – 299792458
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 14:51
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    @Pablo Yes, if you artificially make case B worse, then it's worse. Your original statement makes no judgement on the quality of the research: it is equally compatible with multiple lead-author publications of high quality and in high-impact venues, but about different topics that do not fully coalesce around a single thread. Are you claiming this is inferior to a small number of acceptable-quality publications around a small topic? (Or, to put it another way: are you sure that your representation of case B is not unfairly dismissive of what could be high-quality research?)
    – E.P.
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 23:09
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    If you don't have publications and you don't have a thesis, how can you get a PhD? What would you write in your dissertation?
    – JeffE
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 10:25

I'm a CS PhD who went into industry after my degree. When discussing my thesis back then (which, by the way, was what you call a "traditional" thesis) it was always in general terms: the ideas in it, not the pages. Similarly, any time I have fielded an application from a PhD, they would put the title of their thesis on their CV, but I very rarely would actually go and try and find the thesis. Instead I would look at their published articles in journals and conferences.

So while I can't give a definitive answer -- and I can't say that universities wouldn't scrutinize the thesis more closely and perhaps discount a "sandwich" thesis -- I'm strongly of the opinion that if your university permits it and your advisor supports it, that's what matters. The likelihood of it "harming your career" seems quite low, because in all honesty, who will notice?

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    PS. When you compare inserting articles verbatim to "writing from scratch," I assume you know that most "traditional" theses consist of heavily edited articles constituting individual chapters. It's not like you stick the articles in a bunker and start over. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:07
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    I would wonder about the content or type of thesis at all unless you plan to go into academia yourself. As mentioned above "if your university permits it and your advisor supports it, that's what matters". If you plan to go into academia, I don't think there would be any harm done, unless it is a very "weak" thesis at which point you will have to publish more and better papers. Sandwich thesis can be the glue between that keeps the industry together, I would not perse discount them.
    – fgwaller
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 19:16

It all depends on the quality of the papers and the venues where they were published. A thesis that sandwiches multiple papers from top venues is potentially beneficial, since the included material stood a particular rigorous evaluation process.


tl;dr: Writing a sandwich thesis can further narrow your focus and prevent you from developing a broader understanding of your field.

I have mixed views on sandwich theses that essentially staple 3-5 papers together between a short introduction and conclusion chapters. The benefit of the sandwich thesis is that articles are generally what is important to hiring committees and funding committees. As the sandwich does not include any sides it is also better focused and can be quicker to write letting you finish sooner (which has advantages and disadvantages).

The benefit of a traditional thesis where you have a literature review chapter, general methods, a couple of result chapters and a conclusion chapter is that it lets you explore side topics in addition to your main focus. They can be quicker to write since you only need a single literature review, method, and conclusion sections, especially if you put the writing off until the end. A traditional thesis typically has more comprehensive literature review and conclusion sections. Following side projects and writing a really thorough introduction and summary can provide you with valuable insight into the wider field and help you find your next topic. This is not to say that a sandwich thesis cannot include side projects and in depth literature and conclusion chapters.

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