Avoiding Typical Pitfalls (not only) at TUM

This post is from Roman Haas. It focuses on more or less typical problems that appeared to him and his friends during our theses and how to avoid them. They are described by anti-patterns, i.e. there is always a description of a problem and a possible solution for it. The problems are sorted by the moment when you should pay attention to them: the first ones may appear at the beginning of your work, the latter ones appear during your work or at the end.

Rating Criteria Surprise

Problem: You are not happy with the final grade of your thesis because you spent too much time on things that are not (so) relevant for the grade.
Solution: Ask your supervisor at the beginning of the work which criteria will be used to rate the thesis. Does the code that you wrote for the thesis influence the grade? What about the presentation at the end?

Wasting Time on Thesis Template

Problem: At the end of your writing time you realize that there are formal errors like formatting issues and content of the cover page in your thesis.
Solution: Look for a thesis template at the very beginning of your work, e.g. ask your friends which template they used. Do also check at the beginning whether all formal criteria are fulfilled by the template (look on the thesis webpage of the faculty, e.g. here for TUM and the examination regulations, which can be found for CS at TUM here).

Drafting Prose without Outlining First

Problem: Your text is poorly structured and while you write your thesis you do not really know which chapters your thesis will consist of.
Solution: Have early drafts of outlines: One that gives you an overview about the contents of your thesis. Do also work with outlines for the single chapters! Use a template for your document and fill it with subsections that fit your topic. Get feedback from your supervisor regularly! It is absolutely common that you restructure and refine your thesis. See also the posts on how to Spend your Writing Time well and Thesis Architecture.

Premature Implementation

Problem: You try to find a solution on your given problem before having an overview about existing solutions. After implementing your own solution you find out that several better solutions already exist.
Solution: Get an overview about your topic and related work at the beginning of your thesis, i.e. before you start implementing your own solution. Have a look at the literature search post in this blog.

Citation Style Unknown

Problem: You do not really know how to cite in your thesis. You have questions like “Are direct citations needed?” or “Should I use foot notes?”. Your friends from other universities use a completely different citation style and you are wondering if you should use their style.
Solution: Unfortunately, there is no definitive citation style that is used for scientific work. There are many different styles in use – even for computer science. The most important thing is that your supervisor accepts your citation style, so ask there firsts. Furthermore, stuck to one single style throughout your thesis. To find the style you would like to use take a look at the papers that you read. The TUM university library also provides a citation guideline that presents some styles that are commonly used in scientific work in computer science.

Paper Amnesia

Problem: You remember an important statement from some paper you have read two months ago and would like to reference it in your thesis. You just have no clue, which paper that was.
Solution: Write short summaries of important papers directly after you have read them. Point out the results that are most important for your own thesis.

Final Burocracy

Problem: You cannot submit your thesis in time because the Infopoint (where CS students at TUM have to hand in their thesis) has already closed.
Solution: Inform yourself in advance, when and where you have to submit your thesis. Pay attention to the opening hours! There are good news for people that would have to submit on a Saturday/ Sunday/ holiday: You do not have to hand in early. It is sufficient to hand in your thesis the next day when the Infopoint is opened.

Did you encounter further pitfalls during your thesis? Please share your experience in the comments!

Posted in FAQ, General

From Thesis to Paper: My First Publication on a Scientific Conference

This post is from Roman Haas.

I presented my paper about “Deriving Extract Method Refactoring Suggestions for Long Methods” which I extracted from my bachelor’s thesis  as part of the Software Quality Days 2016 conference. This post describes how I ended up at the Software Quality Days, how I prepared my presentation, what I didn’t know about conferences so far, and what I want to do differently in my next presentation.

Read more ›

Posted in Follow-up

How to Write a Case Study

Most good empirical software engineering papers that contain a study follow the same structure for its presentation. As far as I know, this structure was not invented by a single researcher, but developed gradually over the course of many publications.

Professional readers expect your case study to follow this structure, too. The audience that really matters for your publication—your thesis supervisor, his PhD advisor or program committee members—all are professional readers.

The goal of this article is to describe this structure: the basic building blocks of thesis chapters or paper sections that make up case study presentations. Read more ›

Posted in Execution

How to Rehearse Your Thesis Presentation

A new set of presentation slides is like a program that has never been executed. It probably contains bugs. It reduces the pain for all stakeholders, and most importantly yours, if you test it to discover (and fix) its bugs before exposing it to its audience.

My test process for presentations has three steps. Read more ›

Posted in Presentation

How You Can Predict If Your Presentation Will Suck

As part of my roles as a PhD student, thesis supervisor and post-doc, I have literally listened to more than five hundred presentations. Unfortunately, many were very bad, making them an uncomfortable experience for both the presenter and the audience.

Over the years, I have made it a habit of asking speakers (both of good and bad presentations) whether they did a presentation rehearsal. Almost all good ones did. Without exceptions, all bad ones did not. From my experience, preparation in general and rehearsal in particular, are the most important factors influencing thesis presentation quality.

Intriguingly, this observation holds independent of whether the content is from a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD thesis. Rehearsal thus matters more than previous presentation experience.

This observation has been made by many others before me [1]. Then why have many, if not most of the presentations I have attended obviously not been rehearsed?

Read more ›

Posted in Presentation

How to Draft Your Presentation

When I listen to a thesis presentation, I need to get the big picture before I care about the details. Until I have understood the problem statement, for example, I do not care how an algorithm works or how its average-case amortized runtime complexity beats existing solutions. Not even if it is presented with a nifty visualization.

In other words, if the big picture of a presentation—its structure—is messed up, no amout of clever visuals can save it. The first priority is thus to get the presentation structure right.

Read more ›

Posted in Presentation

Thesis Architecture

The outline is the architecture of your thesis. It decomposes your document into components (called chapters) with dependencies between them (called references). As for software, the architecture plays a crucial role for the success of your project.

Since text is hard to refactor (much harder than source code), it is tedious manual work to fix an outline that does not work properly later. Minimize this risk by 1) using a standard architecture and 2) early validation of a prototype (through supervisor feedback). Read more ›

Posted in Execution