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Old 06-20-2019, 07:29 PM
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Does a bachelor thesis have to contribute anything useful to the field?


I have overheard a discussion where some people were discussing how someone's bachelor thesis does not contribute anything useful to the field. They were surprised that the guy could actually graduate with that thesis. This got me thinking. Is a bachelor thesis supposed to contribute anything to the field? I read the guy's thesis and I think it does a very good job in summing up what exists and analyzed things in a thorough manner. Again, does a bachelor thesis have to contribute anything to the field?
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Old 06-20-2019, 07:41 PM
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Sounds like he has a fine Literature Review, and with about four more sections to that paper, including Research Methods and Data Analysis, he could have a decent thesis.
I'm pretty sure that the answer to this quration will vary depending on school and field. Has he asked his professor?
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Old 06-20-2019, 08:03 PM
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How would someone who only has a Bachelor's know enough to contribute something useful to the field? They've only gotten a brief overview, they haven't specialized and they certainly haven't sub-specialized.
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Old 06-20-2019, 08:12 PM
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No. A Ph. D dissertation is supposed to, but it's not required for a Bachelor's or Master's.
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Old 06-20-2019, 08:13 PM
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It would surprise me very much if many places required a student to do original research that made a significant new contribution to a field for a Bachelor's Thesis. While it's been a long time since I was in college, back then a Bachelor's Thesis was basically an honor project. You had to carry out a research project, but it didn't have to be anything particularly new. In my case my research project didn't work out because of temperamental research animals and I ended up doing a literature review instead, and go full credit.
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Old 06-20-2019, 08:18 PM
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Mine was required to.
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Old 06-20-2019, 08:20 PM
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Caveat: It did not have to be "significant" whatever that means
ETA - and an apology - I was referring to my masters thesis which I now see is completely irrelevant too this thread.

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Old 06-20-2019, 08:41 PM
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I didn't even have to do a bachelor's thesis at all.
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Old 06-20-2019, 08:50 PM
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I've never seen a bachelor's thesis cited in a paper. They aren't even archived in the college library, as far as I know. And I've never heard of a requirement to publish one's research to get a bachelor's degree. How can a research contribute to the field if it's not published in any way?

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Old 06-20-2019, 09:00 PM
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I didn't even have to do a bachelor's thesis at all.
It's heavily dependent on the program/school. Some only require a thesis for a degree with honors.

I can't imagine how an undergrad is supposed to make an original contribution to their field. A typical bachelor's program would only have a handful of classes directly related to the major and they all tend to be fairly broad. Original research isn't really something that a typical undergrad would be doing.
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Old 06-20-2019, 09:29 PM
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I didn't have to do one for my degree, per se. I had to do one for a required class that if I didn't pass, I wouldn't get my degree. It was research and conclusions, not necessarily "new" knowledge.
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Old 06-20-2019, 09:39 PM
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Mine certainly didn't.
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Old 06-20-2019, 09:41 PM
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I know someone whose first paper (of their many papers) was their bachelor's thesis rewritten as a paper for a journal.
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Old 06-20-2019, 10:14 PM
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I know someone whose first paper (of their many papers) was their bachelor's thesis rewritten as a paper for a journal.
Sure, that's not unusual. But I don't think any bachelor's program requires this, whereas Ph.D programs usually do require their research to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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Old 06-20-2019, 11:20 PM
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Way back so many, many moons ago all undergraduates in my course did an honours project.
Typically they did an element of their supervisors research projects. It would have been unusual to have considered it cutting edge but did contribute.

My honours project was testing an assumption of a doctorate project being conducted with the same supervisor. When my project showed the assumption was invalid the PhD had to be revised and I got a footnote and citation (as an unpublished BSc thesis) in the doctorate thesis and later my supervisor wrote the BSc project up (with significant extension) and got the paper published, also giving me a citation for the unpublished study.

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Old 06-20-2019, 11:20 PM
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[...] Ph.D programs usually do require their research to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
IME this isn't true even for Ph.D. programs, at least in US academia. A doctoral thesis is supposed to be publishable, and adjudged as such by the thesis committee consisting of researchers knowledgeable about the field, but I don't think it's at all usual for a thesis committee to require that the thesis be actually published (or even accepted for publication) before granting the degree.

Not saying that there might not be some Ph.D. programs that do require this, but I don't believe it can be considered "usual".
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Old 06-20-2019, 11:20 PM
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For a bachelors level work I would be quite upset if there was an expectation of a contribution. At this level a student is in training to be a practitioner of the art. A project, even with a thesis, is intended to be part of the education process. Any problem project must have a 100% chance of success and must take the a student who through every phase of executing a project. A project that is intended to make an actual contribution is, by definition, not 100% sure. It faces a student with the prospect of having their project hamstrung by unknowns that will prevent them making it through the entire process within the tight time constraints they are under. I just used to see students get poor marks despite ability and effort if they were handed such a project. At undergraduate level the entire emphasis must be on pedagogical outcomes, not some high principle of contribution. That is for graduate level study.

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Old 06-20-2019, 11:22 PM
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Old 06-20-2019, 11:28 PM
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IME this isn't true even for Ph.D. programs, at least in US academia. A doctoral thesis is supposed to be publishable, and adjudged as such by the thesis committee consisting of researchers knowledgeable about the field, but I don't think it's at all usual for a thesis committee to require that the thesis be actually published (or even accepted for publication) before granting the degree.

Not saying that there might not be some Ph.D. programs that do require this, but I don't believe it can be considered "usual".
There are some universities that provide the option to submit a thesis that is nothing but a bound set of published papers. This can be controversial, but I do know people who have done this. Requires a very solid body of work, but does avoid thesis paralysis.
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Old 06-20-2019, 11:51 PM
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I didn't even have to do a bachelor's thesis at all.
I don't think I've even heard of a bachelor's thesis before this. I guess I vaguely remember some folks doing an honors thesis, or something like that, but I don't remember anything called a bachelor's thesis. Certainly wasn't required to graduate at my school, for sure.
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Old 06-21-2019, 12:26 AM
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Anyone who expects undergrad theses to contribute to the advancement of an academic field has obviously never graded undergrad papers.

It’s not the undergrads’ fault; they don’t (yet) have enough experience for that. As others have pointed out, breaking new ground is expected for dissertations, not undergrad papers.
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Old 06-21-2019, 12:42 AM
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I don't think I've even heard of a bachelor's thesis before this. I guess I vaguely remember some folks doing an honors thesis, or something like that, but I don't remember anything called a bachelor's thesis. Certainly wasn't required to graduate at my school, for sure.
I have never heard the term before tonight.

Sure did not have to do one for my degree.
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Old 06-21-2019, 01:52 AM
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A bachelor's thesis (actually, the name given to it was "senior thesis") was required at my college (New College of Florida). That doesn't mean it was necessarily anything great. My senior thesis wasn't anything great and wasn't published. During my last year or so at college I did write a paper about some ideas I had been thinking about for years. It was accepted by a journal that year and published the next year. It wasn't anything great. The journal was very minor.
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Old 06-21-2019, 02:34 AM
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The course I'm currently on -BSc Hons- does say in the guidelines that the thesis should be original research that is a new contribution. However, due to the subject (horticulture) in practice this isn't too hard, as it largely means trying a fairly standard experiment with a species or cultivar that hasn't had much attention, and as there's approximately a gazillion of these and a lot of published research tends to use the same model species, that isn't too hard to find. There's whole genera that the only Google scholar results for are plant lists and maybe a mention of historical use.

However, if it does turn out that someone else published basically the same research previously but you missed it, that's just a loss of some marks for a lazy lit review, not a fail. You can still pass even if the project winds up as a total flop (slugs ate all the experimental plants or something), so long as the approach was good and the writeup was adequate. It's basically an aspiration, not a requirement, but even though there have currently been fewer than 50 students graduating from the course (it's tiny and new) there have been several BSc theses published. Oh, and they do keep all old ones; I think universities do normally keep 'em, if only to give later students project inspiration. They're probably not on display, but I remember a friend who was a former student at another university finding his old honours thesis in the library to show a current student that yes, he really did manage to work juggling into his maths thesis.

Horticulture is unusual in that it is possible, due to the sheer number of species and cultivars, for a novice to do a project in 6 months that genuinely has never been done before, there can't be many topics where that's the case.
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Old 06-21-2019, 03:29 AM
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In Spain yes, although the "significance" isn't expected to necessarily be peer-reviewed level. Depending on your field of study, you can do a "research project" (which needs to be novel as far as anybody can tell) or a "design project" (which doesn't necessarily have to be patentable but it should be original enough to show your chops). My own research was used and cited as part of a PhD thesis; 1.Bro designed a refrigerated truck cabin.

Since the split of the former Licenciaturas and IngenierŪas (same level, different fields) into Degrees and Masters (lower and middle level), most schools do not require a Project (thesis) at the Degree level and have moved it to the Masters. Engineering and Architecture schools are the ones most likely to require a Project before granting a Degree, but then, before the reorganization they were also the ones which always required one.
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Old 06-21-2019, 03:38 AM
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IME this isn't true even for Ph.D. programs, at least in US academia. A doctoral thesis is supposed to be publishable, and adjudged as such by the thesis committee consisting of researchers knowledgeable about the field, but I don't think it's at all usual for a thesis committee to require that the thesis be actually published (or even accepted for publication) before granting the degree.

Not saying that there might not be some Ph.D. programs that do require this, but I don't believe it can be considered "usual".
"Published" isn't the same as "independently published", and particularly wasn't so historically for PhD students. All of my universities used to publish the PhD thesis of their students -- and make the student pay for printing it. You used to have to go to a binder to have it bound, and deposit a copy with the library, and enough copies so all the examiners would have one. As I recall, the requirement was something like 10 bound copies. The cost could be steep for a poor PhD student. After that, it was a published thesis, in the library, and could be referenced by anybody strange enough to do so.

Of course a PhD thesis is 'peer reviewed' -- that's the examination committee. Since I never went through that process myself, I don't know what the relationship was between getting it approved and sending it off to the university printer and sending it off to the examiners. I don't think they would have made the students pay for the printing and binding before they were pretty sure it was going to be approved, but you never know -- academia could be pretty brutal, even then.
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Old 06-21-2019, 03:43 AM
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I had to do a final year thesis. It was independent and new, but only of interest to my supervisor. Sometimes the primary supervision was from industry. There would have been about 5% that they thought people other than the sponsor might be interested in, and that would have mostly recreational interest from people in the field.
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Old 06-21-2019, 06:56 AM
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Sure, that's not unusual. But I don't think any bachelor's program requires this, whereas Ph.D programs usually do require their research to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Not remotely. There is no way to really enforce this is a timely and practical manner. Getting a paper thru a journal review process just takes too long in most cases. E.g., I got 3 journal papers out of my thesis. But that took a while.

The quality of a PhD thesis should be similar to the quality of journal papers.

As a Computer Science prof I supervised one Bachelor's thesis and was associated with a few others. Those others were pretty poor in quality. Not anything new or useful. Oddly, one of those won an ACM thesis prize and was published in a journal.

The one I supervised became a conference paper, won an NSF student prize and was published. It was a really nice result for an undergrad.

Masters theses are a bit more likely to contain new, original research. I knew a few of them that ended up being well cited. But most disappear without a trace.
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Old 06-21-2019, 09:27 AM
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I never had to do anything like an undergrad thesis. Even for honors, all I had to do was read a book and take a couple of oral exams (in professors' offices). I do know one person who did an undergrad thesis that was highly original, eventually was reworked as his PhD thesis and was a basis for his entire research career. But that is highly unusual. As it happens, his undergrad advisor was my PhD supervisor. And, BTW, my PhD thesis was never published (save in the form of University Microfilms).
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Old 06-21-2019, 10:12 AM
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In my experience, it's not uncommon for a PhD thesis to be "written with a stapler": That is, the student takes several of the papers they've already written and published on some loosely-connected subject, puts them together, writes a small amount of connecting material, and calls that a thesis.

But it's also not uncommon for a thesis to contain material that's never been published anywhere other than in the thesis itself, because a thesis is often longer and more in-depth than what you'd see in any single journal paper.
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Old 06-21-2019, 10:24 AM
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How do you define a "useful contribution"?


A Bachelor's thesis isn't going to contribute anything of great significance to any field (if it did, you'd get more than a baccalaureate from it), but that doesn't mean that it couldn't make some small measurement or justify one facet of a theory that no one's looked for before. Heck, amateur astronomers make new and original observations all the time, and they usually don't get degrees for that contribution to human knowledge. To my mind, that and the results of many bachelor and masters theses are contributing to the overall knowledge of mankind.


I had to write a bachelor's thesis. I didn't have to do a master's thesis, but I did so anyway. and I did a doctoral thesis. none of them made really large additions to their respective fields. Arguably my bachelor's thesis -- "A Biomechanical Study of a Karate Strike" -- was the most interesting. I got two magazine articles out of it, and it (and the articles) is still cited (to my astonishment). It nudged the boundaries of human knowledge forward a micron or so. But there were other papers on the study of the biomechanics of karate both before and since, so the universe arguably didn't need my micron of knowledge.
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Old 06-21-2019, 10:24 AM
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Not remotely. There is no way to really enforce this is a timely and practical manner. Getting a paper thru a journal review process just takes too long in most cases. E.g., I got 3 journal papers out of my thesis. But that took a while.
Well OK, they usually don't require a paper to be accepted and published before the Ph.D is awarded. But my university required the research to be accepted and published within 1 year of the Ph.D being awarded, and they reserve the right to revoke the Ph.D if that isn't done. And where I currently work, they require the work to be submitted to a peer review journal before the Ph.D is awarded.
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Old 06-21-2019, 10:31 AM
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All I can say is, mine sure didn't.
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Old 06-21-2019, 10:57 AM
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Quoth CalMeacham:

Arguably my bachelor's thesis -- "A Biomechanical Study of a Karate Strike" -- was the most interesting. I got two magazine articles out of it...
Wait, was one of them in Scientific American? I think I read that one.
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Old 06-21-2019, 12:46 PM
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I was referring to my masters thesis which I now see is completely irrelevant too this thread.
to

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I didn't even have to do a bachelor's thesis at all.
Me neither, but I did have a board. Me across the table from three professors grilling me about Lord Byron--an author from a period I intentionally omitted from my studies. I was given one week to prepare.
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Old 06-21-2019, 02:00 PM
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Wait, was one of them in Scientific American? I think I read that one.
You lucky dog.

Scientific American April 1979 page 150.


There's a picture of Ron McNair apparently smashing a stack of cement blocks into powder. The picture (which I didn't take -- that was Charlie Miller of Doc Edgerton's Strobe Lab, before I came on the scene) is a bit of a scam. Charlie put talcum powder atop each of the blocks, so when Ron struck it, it generated a big cloud of what the naÔve viewer thinks is brick dust.

Ron would go on to be one of the astronauts on the ill-fated Challenger shuttle.

The three of us (Mike Feld -- our professor, Ron, and me0 co-authored the SA article and another that came out in the American Journal of Physics three years later. That one had the math in it that they left out of the SA article.
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Old 06-21-2019, 02:14 PM
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Yup, that'd be about right. The astronomy department at my undergrad had a complete set of Scientific American in the stacks, going back to the 19th century, and I often whiled away spare time reading through the old ones.
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Old 06-21-2019, 02:20 PM
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How would someone who only has a Bachelor's know enough to contribute something useful to the field? They've only gotten a brief overview, they haven't specialized and they certainly haven't sub-specialized.
Depends on the field, but it's certainly possible. Of the many undergrad honors thesis projects I've supervised or evaluated, there have been several that would certainly constitute a significant contribution to the field; e.g., this last semester, we had an international student whose thesis consisted of translating a major poet from his native country, whose work hadn't been translated into English before. His translations may not have been as good, or as impactful, as the work of a professional poet / translator, but they were certainly significant, original, and potentially useful. Likewise, we've certainly had history students who undertook oral history or archival research projects that involved sources (and sometimes topics) that no one had looked at before.
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Old 06-21-2019, 02:51 PM
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At the primarily-undergraduate institution where I work, if the science faculty want students to work in their labs, it's going to be mostly undergrads. So I've seen undergrads going to conferences to present the work they've done with the faculty and having their names on published papers. It's a plus for the students and helps the faculty advance their own research. And some of the same work goes into honors theses (we don't call them bachelor's theses).

Personally, I never wrote what I would call a thesis until my PhD dissertation. And that wasn't publishable in a journal, as it included a lot more background material than a journal article should. I was required to submit a clean copy to the library, who bound it and put it on a shelf somewhere. My first published paper, submitted after I got my degree, was my thesis with the "extraneous" material removed.

I think things have changed, though, in the 30+ years since. From what I hear, there's a lot more pressure on PhD students to publish while still a student if they want to get an academic job. As with everything, it's also going to vary with field.
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Old 06-21-2019, 03:10 PM
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In my experience, it's not uncommon for a PhD thesis to be "written with a stapler": That is, the student takes several of the papers they've already written and published on some loosely-connected subject, puts them together, writes a small amount of connecting material, and calls that a thesis.
Yeah, this happens in Computer Science but the papers are conference papers. (Cf. other threads about how CS conference papers can be considered quite respectable.)

So my thesis was based on 4 such papers.

As to the question of how on Earth does an undergrad manage to do anything respectable for a thesis? In the good case I cited above, the student spent the summer between junior and senior year doing a fellowship at a top notch research lab under a top notch researcher with lots of experience in handing out problems to people that were at a suitable level. The student came back and worked with me on the problem and I continued the shepherding process.

In terms of brain power there are undergrads that are just as smart as PhD students. It's just a difference in a bit of experience. And when it comes to a "new" problem, the experience issue is less of a problem. And Computer Science has a lot of new problems.
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Old 06-21-2019, 03:19 PM
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Yup, that'd be about right. The astronomy department at my undergrad had a complete set of Scientific American in the stacks, going back to the 19th century, and I often whiled away spare time reading through the old ones.
Great. I'm historic. Or at least antique.
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Old 06-21-2019, 03:30 PM
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Yup, that'd be about right. The astronomy department at my undergrad had a complete set of Scientific American in the stacks, going back to the 19th century, and I often whiled away spare time reading through the old ones.
I used to do much the same thing when running my experiments late into the night in grad school. I didn't like leaving them on their own for hours -- I wanted to keep watch in case something went off the rails (as it always seemed to do if I wasn't around). So while watching my crystal growth apparatus slowly "pull" out a crystal by Czochralsky, or while my intricate laser setup was s-l-o-w-l-y taking a spectrum of a tiny signal filtered through a lock-in-amplifier, I'd be sitting there shepherding it while going through a stack of Scientific Americans or American Journal of Physics or whatever else I grabbed out of the physics library.

It was useful preparation for editing for the OSA much later. I'm convinced that this is how Jearl D. Walker came up with his book The Flying Circus of Physics.

And the way Schenkman came up with Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History.
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Old 06-21-2019, 06:53 PM
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Where I went to college all EE students had to do a bachelor's thesis. Mine was the design of a board for an interferometer for a radio telescope project. I guess it maybe could have contributed to the field. Certainly wasn't publishable. We did have to "defend" our work in front of a group of professors.

My PhD thesis (and all others I knew of) went to some place in Michigan to be collected and published in the sense that they would make copies. This was way pre-Internet. I wonder if this is still a thing - seems kind of pointless now. My good publications weren't about my dissertation work, though I did publish in some conferences. I went into industry but if I worked in academics I could no doubt publish it somewhere good.

Best Master's thesis I know of was Claude Shannon's, which basically invented digital electronics.
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Old 06-22-2019, 05:38 AM
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My PhD thesis (and all others I knew of) went to some place in Michigan to be collected and published in the sense that they would make copies. This was way pre-Internet. I wonder if this is still a thing - seems kind of pointless now. My good publications weren't about my dissertation work, though I did publish in some conferences. I went into industry but if I worked in academics I could no doubt publish it somewhere good.
That would be the formerly named University Microfilms, now called ProQuest*, mentioned previously.

Supposedly, you'd get royalties on copies of your thesis they send out. I know someone who got something like 40 cents once. I never got a dime nor can I see how they'd know where to send the money in most cases.

* "ProQuest, because we thought an unhelpful name would be a good idea."
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Old 06-24-2019, 10:35 PM
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Around here, Batchelor's should include only a summation of current accepted state of the art.
Advancement/innovation is not required, indeed is actively discouraged! Attaining Batchelors level means you learn the current knowledge of a field, and have to show that you can apply this knowledge in real-world applications.
Nothing publishable!

At Masters, you need to show a working knowledge of the borders of your field, and do some work in extending those borders, or at least testing them more thoroughly than has been done before.
Work is published, but is usually in the form of "supporting data for xxxx" or "further examination of the behaviour of xxxx system under yyyy conditions"

At Doctorate level, you have to open up new borders of the field, or greatly improve knowledge of a poorly-explored border.
Work is absolutely published, and needs to be original in either content or scope. Formal rules about layout, content, references, and review apply.
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Old 06-25-2019, 06:24 AM
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That would be the formerly named University Microfilms, now called ProQuest*, mentioned previously.

Supposedly, you'd get royalties on copies of your thesis they send out. I know someone who got something like 40 cents once. I never got a dime nor can I see how they'd know where to send the money in most cases.

* "ProQuest, because we thought an unhelpful name would be a good idea."
In those antique "pre-internet" days, University Microfilms was a great way to get concentrated research. I used to buy stuff from them quite a bit, not just in physics, but when researching historical articles and suchlike as well.
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Old 06-25-2019, 01:43 PM
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But my university required the research to be accepted and published within 1 year of the Ph.D being awarded, and they reserve the right to revoke the Ph.D if that isn't done.
That's also what my university requires of me (I'm currently in the process of preparing the publication of my PhD dissertation). It's standard among German universities to require publication of doctoral dissertation, either as a prerequisite for the award of the degree, or as a cause for possible revocation if the publication does not occur within a set period after the award. I understand that German academia is a bit unusual in international comparison in making this a universal requirement, though. It has led to the creation of a - by now well-established - kind of academic vanity press in this country: Publishing dissertations online on university servers is free and now widely used, but the traditional way is still to publish a PhD thesis as a monograph in the form of a bound book. Of course the number of people buying a copy of that is rather low, and so the brand new PhDs need to subsidise the book by means of a lump payment to the publishing house. It feels quite like a rip-off, but it's still the old-school and more prestigious way of doing it.
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Old 06-25-2019, 03:38 PM
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"Publishing" the intact thesis is different from publishing the work in journal articles.

As noted, in the US generally a copy of the thesis is sent to whatever University Microfilms calls itself today and most likely another copy to the university library. Departments like to have a copy, too. That counts as publishing in my mind but not at all the same as converting the chapters into articles.
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