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Combinatorial Optimization & Graph Algorithms group (COGA)Thesis Guidelines

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Thesis Guidelines

This document was originally written for students at ETH Zurich (the original authors are listed here), and has been slightly adapted for our purposes. It is intended for students considering to write a thesis in our group. It provides information about how to find a topic, about the support that we offer to students, the expectations that we have, the (minor) formalities, and the grading scheme that we use. It also provides a short list of helpful documents which you should read if you write a thesis with us. As a first step, please make sure you have read and understood the general TU thesis guidelines and the TU regulations on plagiarism. More useful information can be found at the Prüfungsamt.

Topics

The COGA group offers a wide range of possible topics for a Bachelor, Diploma, or Master Thesis. There is a list of topics on the web, but these are not exclusive. If you have other ideas or interests, you are welcome to contact an advisor of your choice and talk about possibilities for a tailor-made topic. This makes sense, for example, if you have attended an advanced course, and there was a topic that you really liked and want to study in more detail.

Support

Subject to availability, we can offer you an office space in the MA building (equipped with desk and computer) to work on your thesis. You don't have to accept this offer, but if you do, this has the advantage that you are close to your advisor, other members of COGA, and other students that are writing their thesis. Obviously, discussing things, asking questions, and getting answers to them quickly is much easier then.

You can expect a meeting with your advisor every 2-3 weeks, of one up to two hours, depending on the state of your work. Usually, short meetings in between are possible, and if you work in MA, they can usually be arranged spontaneously.

In general, we offer a lively and research-oriented environment. The major platform for communicating the research performed by members or guests of our workgroup is the research seminar, which usually take place once a week, all year round. You are welcome to join: to listen and to eventually give a talk about the work of your thesis.

Expectations

The role of your advisor is to guide you through your thesis: give possible directions, suggest ways out of dead ends etc. But the actual work has to be done by you. This should be self-evident, but let us make the point clear explicitly: we expect you to work independently in the sense that you tackle upcoming questions and problems yourself, before contacting your advisor about them. This is not because we're too lazy, but because the process of doing independent work is an indispensible part of any thesis. Also, you are expected to do independent literature search and reading. If all the papers you read in the course of the thesis work and all the references in your thesis were pointed out by your advisor, this is a bad sign. (Online search is a great tool, but note: There is also a library which offers many older articles and in particular books that are not available online.)

You may get stuck, of course, after exhausting your possibilities, and then you are welcome to solicit help.

You are not required to find new theoretical results during your thesis, although this is always a goal that one should strive for. It is even possible to obtain the best grade without having new results, but in that case, other aspects of the thesis must be excellent (for example, the style of presentation, or software that you produced during the thesis).

There are research-oriented topics with the clear goal of finding new results, and there are topics that are more about implementing or summarizing known methods in a novel way. By choosing the topic, you can determine the research level of your thesis yourself.

Although it may seem picky to talk about page numbers (after all, some great research in history only took very few pages to write down), we still have to do it. If you produce a great new result, we're in fact satisfied with whatever number of pages it takes you to write it down properly. But in other cases, we also want to convince ourselves that you are a good craftsperson. And this means to carefully and understandably write down the problem covered by the thesis, the history, and your contribution. In our experience, this requires a certain minimum number of pages; here the following table can serve as a guideline.

Master thesis

6 months

30 credit points

50 pages

Bachelor thesis

3 months

12 credit points

30 pages

Keep in mind that 1 credit point corresponds to roughly 30h of work. Assuming a 40 hour work week, this means a Master thesis corresponds to roughly 5 months of full time work, and a Bachelor thesis to roughly 2 months of full time work.

Let us also emphasize that writing a lot per se is not a virtue either. So unless you have good reasons, to be discussed with your advisor, do not exceed the lower page limit by more than 50%, i.e., be selective in what you include in your thesis. After all, not everything that can be written down is worth being read. To quote Blaise Pascal: "Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte" ("I have made this letter so long only because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter", also attributed to Mark Twain and others).

Please also note: it is not your advisor's job to repeatedly proofread your thesis. As a rule of thumb, you should expect that he or she will read each chapter of your thesis only twice: once to give feedback, and once after you submitted the final version. You should therefore make sure that the parts you ask your advisor to read are not rough first drafts, but in as good a shape as you can manage on your own. Also, it is usually a good idea to produce solid write-ups of your findings as you go along; don't postpone 'writing things down' to the end of your thesis. In this way you can also incorporate feedback on how to improve your write-up that you got from your advisor for one chapter already in preparing the next chapter.

Formalities

To write your thesis with us, you should have attended one of our seminars, plus the following lectures: Geometric foundations of linear programming, ADM II + III (or prove that you have equivalent knowledge).

To officially register your thesis, you need to fill out the corresponding paper form available at the Prüfungsamt and hand it to your advisor, who will sign it and send it back to the Prüfungsamt. Once you finished your writing, you have to bring a printed copy of your thesis (3 copies) to the Prüfungsamt, and you should also send an electronic version of your thesis (PDF and PS) to your advisor. As explained in the TU thesis guidelines mentioned in the beginning of this page, your thesis must contain a written declaration of originality in every copy of it (see the guidelines for the exact wording). All Master students are expected to give a final presentation of their work in our research seminar (20 min). Your advisor will arrange this.

Grading

The grade of your thesis is based on the written document you hand in at the end and the performance you demonstrate throughout the thesis work. The grading scheme for all accepted theses is as follows:

  • 1.0: work and results are truly excellent (in case of a Master thesis the rule of thumb is that the quality of the thesis should be equivalent to work publishable at international workshops/conferences)
  • 2.0: thesis quality significantly exceeds expectations
  • 3.0: thesis meets expectations
  • 4.0: thesis meets minimal quality requirements; it has considerable deficits and is significantly below expectations
  • 5.0: thesis does not meet expectations and has major deficits

x.3 and x.7 grades are possible, and for them the above rules extend in the natural way.

Helpful documents

We recommend that you write your thesis with LaTeX. There are dozens of introductory and advanced tutorials on using Latex that you can find online. Your advisor may also be able to provide you with a thesis template that you should use.

Here are a few simple but important rules for writing scientific texts in English, authored by Reto Spöhel.

There is also a helpful guide on scientific writing by Don Knuth (the author of TeX), Tracy Larrabee and Paul Roberts. It is quite extensive and not everything in it is relevant to our purposes, but you should read at least the first 13 pages (§1 - §5). The full text can be downloaded in plainTeX-Format from Knuth's homepage; here is a precompiled version for your convenience.

Also, there is a handy guide on writing mathematical papers in English by Jerzy Trzeciak, providing countless examples and sample phrases you can use in your work. It is available from the EMS for the modest amount of 8 Euro. Your advisor also might have a copy that he/she is willing to lend you.

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