Master Thesis Seminar

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Fact Box
Module Master Thesis and Colloquium
Christiane Gruenloh
Term Term 5
Current course page Winter 2018
Active Yes

The Big Idea

The main purpose of this seminar is to provide an organisational, supportive frame for Web Science students who are in the process of identifying potential topics for their Master Thesis before contacting possible supervisors. The seminar aims to provide a constructive environment in which the seminar lecturer and students engage in discussions with their peers in order to receive feedback and support, as well as to preserve the sense of community among the students.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The participants

  • know how to find and outline a topic for their master thesis
  • are able to describe their topic in an exposé as basis for a discussion with potential supervisors
  • understand the importance of project planning and are able to structure their thesis work and plan their resources accordingly
  • know different working and writing techniques
  • are able to present and reflect upon their work processes

Structure of the Course

Finding and Outlining a Topic

Different approaches will be introduced in order to find and outline the potential topic for the master thesis (see also Master Thesis and Colloquium#Criteria for Master Thesis topic. Students will be encouraged to find a topic on their own as this not only contributes to the development of personal competences but is also likely to be correlated with personal motivation. The last semester is rather loosely structured and working on and writing the master thesis requires endurance from students especially while working full-time. Thus it is assumed that the work motivation persist when students find and develop a topic themselves in association and consultation with their supervisors. Possible strategies will be presented for the ideation phase to learn about current topics (e.g. specialised journals, conference proceedings, company announcements, lecturer websites).

It has been proven helpful for the first discussion with potential supervisors to outline an Expose. The basic elements will be discussed, such as:

  • motivation
  • problem description, research question
  • objectives and derived tasks
  • risks and opportunities
  • references
  • plan

Project Planning

Planning a project like a master thesis can be challenging. Initially the topic is still ill-defined and students have to deal with many uncertainties they may feel unequipped to plan for accordingly. The purpose of the project plan as a "living artefact " will be discussed and how to deal with uncertainties and learn from them. The project plan is often used also for the discussion with the supervisor in terms of an orientation artefact. Underestimated efforts for specific tasks can be identified at an early stage and continuously, so that the plan can be adapted accordingly. The continuous refinement of plan contributes to students competences in terms of self-development as it makes potential miscalculation visible for the student, so that planing skills can improve.

Working and Writing Techniques

During the master thesis, students will work on a specific topic in depth, which requires a detailed understanding of the field in which the thesis is situated. Thorough reading and in-depths understanding of related scientific works is crucial. To enhance reading and comprehension skills related to scientific literature the SQ3R Method [1] will be introduced, which is a method for reading comprehension.

Working on a specific topic without internal and external interruptions requires discipline to a high degree; especially while studying extra-occupational. The Pomodoro technique [2] will be introduced which aims to improve productivity by cutting down interruptions and improving the ability to estimate the effort of activities.

When it comes to thesis writing, mental burdens can occur which are regarded as the main source of the so-called writer's block [3]. Freewriting will be introduced as writing technique to overcome this block and to encourage students to start writing early and to write frequently.

Didactic Concept, Schedule and Audit Presentations

The seminar comprises of 5 online sessions. The first online session will take place shortly after the on-site session of each semester. In this session the lecturer will introduce how to find a topic, how to plan and the thesis and present also the working and writing techniques. After the session, the lecturer will discuss with the students their aimed time frame for starting the thesis. By this the lecturer is able to take into account the times in which the students are not available (e.g. due to vacation).

During the remaining online sessions students will present their approach and current status during their process of finding and defining their thesis proposal. These sessions provide a constructive environment in which lecturer and students engage in discussions. Presenting students will receive early feedback and support in this phase of their studies. Although the starting time of each master thesis will vary, the seminar aims to provide a schedule that enable students to meet and discuss in order to preserve the sense of community during the last semester.

Example Schedule

The Figure below shows exemplary the schedule for the winter term 2016/17.

Masterseminar example.png

The previous term concludes with the on-site weekend July 8-10th. The first online session will take place shortly after (July 19th) to introduce the students to useful methods and tools. Due to possible vacation, the second online session will take place one month later in late August. Here the students will present their initial ideas and their course of action. The presenting student will be provided with feedback by peers and the lecturer in order to support her/him to refine the idea for discussion with potential supervisors.

During the third online session in the beginning of September the students will present their exposé and report on their current status (e.g. confirmed supervisors) and next steps.

The regular time frame of writing is 5 months, so most students will possibly register their thesis during September. In the fourth and fifth online session, master students will present their current status, including possible challenges they encountered and/or overcame. By this students and lecturers share their experience and solution strategies.


Research and Thesis Writing

These handouts are from the University of Wollongong, which might be helpful for you

  • General Website about Online Study Sources

via TH Köln Library

The following resources are available via TH Köln library; make sure you use the university network / VPN.

  • English Books on Research methods

Google Previews

A preview of many books is available via

Web resources


  1. Francis Pleasant Robinson (1970). Effective Study (4 ed.). New York: Harper & Row. 
  2. Francesco Cirillo (2009). The Pomodoro Technique. 
  3. Li, L. Y. (2007). "Exploring the Use of Focused Freewriting in Developing Academic Writing". Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice 4 (1). 

Past Course Pages