frequently asked questions for supervised students
I have been in academia for some time now. Long enough that I start noticing patterns in the questions potential and current supervised students ask. Sometimes it gets tiring answering them multiple times per semester. Students are not at fault for this, because it is their first time, contrary to me.
I decided to start a FAQ. Please read it if you would like me to supervise a thesis or an intermediate project of yours. The list contains all the little tips and tricks for maximizing your chances that I will accept your request. And also, some basis for ensuring a good quality work.
- First contact
- Communication and meetings
- Feedback mechanism
- Project paper / thesis writing
- Learning material
- Grading concerns
- Questions you might be afraid to ask
- I have a question that is not listed here
Do I have to be a former student of yours to have you supervise my intermediate work / thesis?
- No. I care that you are motivated and potentially show ideas, initiative, and independence.
Do I have to have stellar grades to have you supervise my intermediate work / thesis?
- No. I care that you are motivated and potentially show ideas, initiative, and independence.
How do I approach you for an intermediate work / a thesis?
- A short, successful formula: via e-mail, with an idea, related to my interests, and report that you read the FAQ. On how, see the Topics section.
When is the best time to approach you for an intermediate work / a thesis?
- Two to three months before you intend to start. Even better if earlier. I like to know my students before supervising them, and I do this through e-mails (or meetings) where I exchange ideas with them. It also takes time to write a good project description that will become part of your contract. I write project descriptions with my students, in a collaborative way.
What is this contract you refer to?
- It is a contract that you sign with the university (and our group in particular) in which you declare your intent to conduct a project / a thesis, follow all rules and guidelines, respect deadlines, etc. Our kind secretary prepares it for you.
Can I develop a software tool / system for my thesis?
- Most of the times, no. Or better, cool if you develop software for your thesis. It’s just that the software can’t be your thesis. See the next question for more details.
A company wants me to develop a tool. Can this be a thesis?
- No. A thesis is related to research, even if the research is strongly tied to the company you are conducting your thesis at. At the minimum there must be empirical validation that the tool is fulfilling its requirements (or anything else, say, that the tool is improving a development process overall). The thesis will not focus much on the tool, but on its validation.
My company wants you to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA, Geheimhaltungsvertrag) to supervise me. Is this possible?
- Yes, we are used to cooperation with companies who want NDAs. What the company needs to accept is that publishing a thesis (in the university library) is part of graduating your BSc or MSc. We can work with that. For example, we can anonymize the thesis and have the company check and approve it. Same holds for a possible research paper that might come out of your thesis or project.
- How can I be inspired for possible topics related to your research interest?
How do I propose you ideas of mine?
- I receive way more requests than I can supervise AND I value motivated students who take initiative and independence. See what I am doing here? You do not need to write a formal research proposal. The best projects / theses I supervise were born out of an idea that initially appeared stupid. It can be a topic, it can be keywords, it can be a couple sentences. We take it from there, hopefully.
Communication and meetings
Do we have to communicate in English?
- I have a strong preference to have communication with students in English and I have a preference for projects / theses in English. The reason: I am nicer in English (:-))and I can support you way better if you write in English.
- That said: Ich spreche Deutsch, schlecht. Aber ich kann das tun, wenn Sie das wirklich brauchen.
Will we have regular meetings? Scrum format?
- I truly dislike regular meetings. We will have as many meetings as you might reasonably need, but no regular, fixed meetings.
- Each student is different. Some require many meetings, some require only a few, none require zero meetings (I have evidence for this).
- That said, apply this principle: is this short enough to fit in an e-mail? Send an e-mail instead.
You don’t want to have meetings, then?
- No. Please meet with me.
I am lonelyYou need my support and I am happy to provide it to you. I believe in feedback loops. Show me stuff, I provide feedback to stuff, stuff improves.
- No. Please meet with me.
How do you manage meetings?
- You do. I expect you, when you contact me, to propose an agenda for the meeting. When we meet, you drive the meeting. Be ready to summarize parts of your work so far, to help my neural activation and cognitive processes, and to better support you.
Do I have to deliver two presentations (only one for intermediate projects) at the ESE-Colloquium?
- Yes. Please read the entire page as it contains presentation instructions.
Do the ESE-Colloquium presentations have to be in English?
- Yes, unless you have a strong reason not to. At the bare minimum, the slides should be in English.
Am I graded for the ESE-Colloquium presentations?
- No, but you might obtain a lower grade or even fail your thesis if you do not present your project / thesis.
When is the best time to contact you for arranging a meeting?
- To talk freely: at least ten days prior to your envisioned day for the meeting.
- To have my feedback on your work: at least two weeks prior to your envisioned day for the meeting. Provided that you send me your work immediately.
I need to work on my project / thesis up to the night before the meeting to show you my work!
- And I need to allocate time to provide you the best feedback I can. You can continue to work on your project / thesis after you send me the parts you want me to evaluate. What comes after will be part of next feedback rounds.
I do not want to show you my work right now, it is too shitty!
- No! Bad student, bad! I get the feeling, though. Here is an insiders’ secret. Take the best paper you have ever read. That paper was a shitty rough skeleton once and got to that point because of iterations of feedback and refinement. My papers start like this, too. All researchers are used to this cycle of shit. This is normal. Send me your shitty initial skeleton draft and do not be afraid. Do it sooner, do it often. Think agile. I promise you, the end result will be way better like this.
But if my work looks bad, you will get a bad impression of me and this will reflect on my grade?!
- I promise you that I will forget all about the previous content of your work the moment you show me a new version of your work. Perhaps even sooner.
I need my grade the day after I submit.
- Not possible. Grading an intermediate work requires that we evaluate it. Grading a thesis might even require more than one examiner to decide on a grade. It takes time.
Project paper / thesis writing
Which template should I use?
- Intermediate project: IEEE template for conferences.
- The title page: https://www.f05.uni-stuttgart.de/informatik/dokumente/Formulare/AbschlussarbeitTitelseite.pdf. There is a related LaTeX template, but I cannot guarantee that it is updated.
- The thesis itself: scientific-thesis-template LaTeX template
- See also https://www.f05.uni-stuttgart.de/informatik/studierende/abschlussarbeiten/.
Can I write my thesis with Microsoft Word / LibreOffice / Any other system?
- No. Use LaTeX.
Do I really have to write my intermediate project / thesis in LaTeX?
- Yes, and I recommend BibTeX to handle citations and references.
But LaTeX is hard!
- It is not. Especially for documents like papers or a relatively short thesis like a BSc or a MSc thesis.
- Overleaf is “the Google Docs for LaTeX” and has a generous free tier. You don’t have to use it, but consider using it.
- I also recommend finding a good reference manager which will handle finding, gathering, collecting, and organizing papers as well as exporting them as BibTeX.
How do you I properly format citations and reference lists?
- By following the template.
How do I cite a website/video/talk/presentation?
- Link to it or find out a specific BibTeX entry; otherwise, a generic one. Important is that you report when you accessed the medium.
Will I get punished if I write
<insert here trivial deviation from the template>wrong?
- No. Important is the content, not really its format.
Will you tell me how to write my thesis?
- No. This is part of your tasks. I can only support you in this. And I will.
- An insiders’ secret: if you structure your thesis the same as good published papers, you can’t go wrong.
- I recommend reading the guide by Greg Anderson, “How to write a paper in scientific journal style and format”, Department of Biology, Bates College, 2015.
Will my grade be influenced if I write my project / thesis in English?
- Absolutely not. Grammar errors and typos happen to non-native (as well as to native) writers. I maek a lot off tehm.
Can I see previous intermediate projects?
- We can not share them for privacy reasons. You can, however, try to ask your peers if they would share one with you.
Can I see previous theses?
- You can see some of them. Theses with high grades are published by the university library, with permission from students. AFAIK, there is no direct way to see them. However, this query will identify most works that came out from our group. This will include some of other types of works (e.g., papers, dissertations), but most theses will be there, too.
How many copies do I have to print?
- Intermediate project: none. Send the resulting PDF via e-mail, by the deadline, to me, our secretary, and the examiner.
- Thesis: as many as indicated in your contract, plus one copy, plus a digital copy burned on a CD-ROM (YES YOU READ IT RIGHT and we can’t even accept USB-flash drives anymore. Sorry, not our fault.).
- I usually suggest to have the minimum amount of printed copies in the contract, that is one for the examiner and zero for the supervisor. For this case, you would need to print two copies, not one.
- Do not forget to burn a further copy on a CD-ROM (YES YOU READ IT RIGHT).
- Please send me the resulting PDF via e-mail, by the deadline.
- Special requirement for COVID-19: send the PDF via e-mail also to our secretary and the examiner.
How many pages do I have to write?
- As many as needed. There is no mandated minimum (or maximum). A thesis can be as short as 35-40 pages and as long as 85-90 pages. What matters is that it makes sense. A project report is typically slightly longer than a published paper (15-20 pages).
What is plagiarism and how do I avoid it?
- Please read https://plagiarism.org.
During the first phases of supervision time, I will assume that you are at least aware of the following titles, and that you will look at them before approaching me with questions.
What are good resources to learn about research?
- I will have specific papers according to your proposed topics, but the following are all good to read (sometimes even just in part).
- Research in general
- Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2017). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage publications.
- Software Engineering research (each chapter is self-contained)
- Shull, Forrest., Singer, Janice., & Sjøberg, D. I. K. (2008). Guide to advanced empirical software engineering /. London : Springer,.
- Wohlin, C., Runeson, P., Höst, M., Ohlsson, M. C., Regnell, B., & Wesslén, A. (2012). Experimentation in Software Engineering. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
- Felderer, M., & Travassos, G. H. (Eds.). (2020). Contemporary Empirical Methods in Software Engineering. Springer International Publishing.
What are good resources to write a good paper / thesis?
- There are plenty of books and tutorials around. Any will do good. Here are my favorite ones:
- Hofmann, A. H. (2019). Scientific Writing and Communication. Oxford University Press, USA.
- Glasman-Deal, H. (2010). Science Research Writing for Non-native Speakers of English. World Scientific.
- Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., Fitzgerald, W., & Bizup, J. (2016). The Craft of Research. University of Chicago Press.
What do I have to do to get a very good grade?
- Perform everything that is described in the project description and write a good paper / thesis.
What happens if I discover that approach/method X does not work?
- This is part of the scientific method. You do your job the best you can. If it does not work, you document it. It is as valuable as knowing that an approach/method does work.
What happens if I don’t do X as described in the project description?
- This is strongly context-dependent. Not doing X because of laziness is rather different than not doing X because a company prevents you to. If you think you are not going to do X, talk to me.
What happens if I run out of time?
- You fail the project / the thesis. Refer to the current regulations for what you are supposed to do (e.g., you can repeat the thesis only once).
Can I have an extension, and how?
- Extensions are usually not granted unless there are proven health related issues. There might be extensions for other cases, e.g., the company is not allowing you to continue with the project and you can prove this. In all cases, I as a supervisor do not need to know the reason. You would need to contact the examiner for this. I only need to know that you received an extension and your new deadline.
Questions you might be afraid to ask
Yet, some of them were actually asked.
Will you micromanage me and tell me every single step I have to perform?
- Absolutely not. I value independent students who show initiative.
What if I do not know what to do next?
- I am here to support you. The best way to approach me is with any proposal on what you think you should do next. Will I see your idea as a shitty idea? Very unlikely! Even if, shitty idea > no idea.
But I need someone to tell me exactly what I have to do!
- I would not be a good supervisor for you.
Is your job to fail as many students as you can so that only the best ones will prevail?
- No. Any student of mine I see failing is a personal failure for me. Unless they were complete slackers and/or avoided my supervision the entire time.
You are not replying to my e-mails!
- It is rare that I do not reply to a legit e-mail. If this ever happens, you might have landed into spam. I do look into the spam folder once in a while, but sometimes I do not.
- What is more likely: I have not yet replied to your e-mail. Please have patience. I try to reply to everyone within 7-10 days.
- If you send me a one-liner e-mail which contains mostly “Yo, Mr. Graziotin, I need a topic.”, I might not even answer. But you are reading the FAQ, aren’t you? So I will reply.
Can I call you on your office phone?
- Please, don’t. I will answer to phone calls if I happen to be near the phone, but you will disrupt my activities. Allow me to reply to your e-mail when I am sure that I will be able to pay attention to it.
Can I come to your office unattended?
- This is similar to calling me on the phone. You can, I will not get angry, but I might have to tell you to come another time.
Can I add you on my Whatsapp/Discord/Slack/Whatever cool people use nowadays?
Why are you so slow to do X for me?
- The System requires me to perform a non-trivial amount of teaching activities including supervisions. I would love to give you my undivided attention, but I can’t.
- Something you might be aware of: while we do have teaching and supervision activities, we are hired as researchers and we are supposed to deliver on research first, teaching then. It is not because we hate students or something, it’s just that it’s our job. PhD students and PostDocs typically have to perform teaching and supervision activities for maximum 4 hours per week, some of them 0 (zero) if they are hired through a funded project. Then come professors and those in unusual positions like myself. We have to deliver 9 hours per week of teaching and supervision activities. This means that my teaching / supervision activities should be around ~22% of my working week, by law. The remaining ~78%, my “real job”, is very demanding. If we are in lecture times (Vorlesungszeit), my teaching activities arrive to occupy most of my working week. The 78% of time as researcher is still there, demanding from me. To balance things, I reduce my teaching and supervision activities to the bare minimum during non-lecture times (vorlesungsfreie Zeit). And this is why I can be slow to do X for you.
I have a question that is not listed here
- Head to Academia Stackexchange and look up your question. If you can’t find an answer to it, feel free to contact me. I might add your question to this list (anonymized, of course).