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Studierende auf der Lernfläche des Instituts für Informatik, Foto: Universität Paderborn, Fotografin: Judith Kraft
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Studierende auf der Lernfläche des Instituts für Informatik, Foto: Universität Paderborn, Fotografin: Judith Kraft

Master’s Thesis

Preliminary Note: According to the Master regulations, the final paper in the Master program in Computer Science is the Master’s Thesis.

1. Goals

In a Master’s Thesis, candidates show their ability to independently perform scientific research on an appropriately challenging theme that also gives them the opportunity to develop their own ideas. On the basis of the "state-of-the-art" processes, the students must systematically apply the methods of computer science.

2. Student Support

Students usually write their Master’s Thesis in their specialization area, but this is by no means mandatory. The thesis advisor ensures that the objectives of the thesis can be reached within the intended time period. Advisors are available for consultation throughout the entire development of the thesis. They should regularly check that the work is progressing well and should also counteract any potentially negative developments, such as the student not meeting the objectives or exceeding the given time limit. They also give timely advice when the student is writing the thesis, and before the student submits the completed thesis.

3. Time Period

All candidates must report the starting date of a Master’s Thesis to the Examination Office; the thesis topic and the starting date of the official processing period are then documented by the thesis advisor and forwarded to the Examination Office. The knowledge required for the thesis and how to acquire this knowledge should be clarified prior to when the topic is granted.
For a Master’s Thesis, graduate students are first formally obliged to design a work plan. Approximately one month of full-time work (5 ECTS) is intended for this starting phase. The work plan (called a “Proposal”) must explore the thesis topic thoroughly enough and lay out a detailed plan for the following research on the thesis topic. The Proposal must explain this proposed research through detailed contents and depth as well as a complete depiction of the considered aspects. The Proposal must contain the following elements: a description of the task to be completed, the reasons behind working on the thesis, a clear formulation of the objectives, a description of the work necessary to reach the goal, and an accompanying timetable and preliminary outline of the written thesis. The work plan must be countersigned by the thesis advisor and submitted for approval to the Examination Office together with the application for the Master's Thesis. From this point on, the planned processing time is five months, whereas the start of the processing period agreed upon with the thesis advisor takes the one-month processing period for the work plan into account.

4. Written Thesis

The written thesis is the main component of the final research. It should contain an incisive, understandable description of the completed research task, the research results, and the approach used to reach the result. In a thesis, candidates must also justify their decisions on which research methods or alternative solution approaches were used. The Master's Thesis must be written in the style of a scientific treatise. This includes in particular a summary, an outline, a description of the "state-of-the-art", and a bibliography of the literature used for the thesis. If software was designed and implemented during the thesis research, the structure, work methods and interfaces of the software must also be described precisely. Although it is not necessary to include the software documents in the written thesis, the software system, including the source code, must be available to the thesis advisor for review. Candidates must submit the written thesis in print to the examination office. Their advisor receives an additional copy in a common electronic format (PDF). 

5. Thesis Defense

The thesis defense, meaning an open-audience presentation followed by scientific discussion, is also an element of the Master’s Thesis. During the defense, the candidate must explain his/her research results concisely in a 30- to 45-minute presentation and then answer questions posed by a professional audience (usually during an advanced seminar held by the advisor). Ideally, the defense should be held soon after submission of the thesis.

6. Evaluation

To determine the grade granted for the thesis, the various achievements presented in the thesis are evaluated individually and internally. In general, the following individual achievements are divided into the categories listed below, arranged from the top down in order of the grade-relevant importance of the individual aspects.

Research Results. The results of the research work are given the highest priority and can come in various forms: theorems, software products, hardware products, empirically derived statements, or a mixture thereof. The approach employed to reach the results are also evaluated when the quality of the results are assessed.

Written Thesis. The written thesis, the main component of the research work, is given second priority. Here the evaluation includes determining how understandably graduates present the findings and research method to expert readers, and how well they concentrated on essential details and excluded non-essential details. The form, graphics, language and style of the thesis are also assessed.

Work method. The evaluation of the work method includes determining how purposefully and independently the candidate performed the research.

Presentation and discussion. Here, the committee evaluates the preparation of the presentation, the visual aids used for the presentation (such as slides), the candidates’ rhetorical skills and their ability to handle critical questions.

7. External Theses

Due to the nature of the field of computer science, a Master’s Thesis that is written in cooperation with other institutes or (industrial) university-external parties is no rarity. And sometimes candidates write their thesis on a topic at an institute that corresponds to their minor subject. In both of these cases, the thesis advisor must inspect the research topic carefully and ensure that the candidate is given competent "on-site support". If the Master’s Thesis is written in a minor subject and an advisor in this minor subject takes on the role of the candidate’s supervisor, a university instructor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Paderborn must first determine that the research topic is plausible, and this instructor must supervise the thesis together with the advisor in the minor subject. Merely including the Computer Science Department advisor’s name as the secondary advisor when submitting the completed written thesis is not sufficient.

8. Theses Written Outside the University

If the Master’s Thesis is written outside the university, such as at an external company, the thesis advisor must ensure that the candidate is not negatively affected by company-internal constraints (deadlines, financial dependence, non-disclosure agreements for concealing trade secrets). In this sense, “freedom of education” must be guaranteed. Companies are notified that the research work (the written thesis) is, by general rule, open to all readers. In special cases (such as when a patent is pending), a certain limited time period between the end of the research and the actual publication of the thesis can be determined. The in-company advisor/reviewer must make the entire research work available.

9. Archiving

When submitting the thesis, candidates pledge to archive a public copy of the thesis for up to at least 5 years. The Computer Science Department, meaning the university in general, does not archive the submitted, accepted written thesis.

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