Thesis Writing Process Workshop For students in Sciences and Engineering – AUC 

The notes that I took at the “Thesis Writing Process Workshop” conducted by Drs. Sherif Aly and Ali Darwish at AUC.


A) General tips:

Why go for grad school, and which program to choose and which type of program (thesis vs. non-thesis)?

The more you give, the more you receive

Don’t work on your own.. try 3 topics, work in 2-researcher groups so whoever finishes first you two publish

Zoom out – Understand the field at the fundamental level

Intelligent creatures communicate with one way or another (Don’t live in isolation)

B) Selecting a topic:

Thesis: a dissertation in which you

  • independently address an important problem,
  • provide original contribution to knowledge
  • Re-Search: again (see what is obvious) and again (see the less obvious) and again (understand the phenomenon)…

C) “If your mother tells you that she loves you, look for evidence!”

Ibn-Al-Haitham, the father of scientific research, Make a hypothesis: Postulate -> test it and test the opposite->accept the results without assumptions

Never accept facts or assumptions without verifying them.

–          READ READ A LOT. Take notes.

–          Start early about the topic

–          Talk to others. Don’t insulate yourself, verbalize thoughts, logical arguments, questions.

D) Where to look?

  • Look in dissertations rather than papers
  • Suggestions for future prospects
  • Conference presentations
  • Big scholars (key players in your field)
  • Landmark papers (close gap in your understanding, don’t reinvent the wheel)

E) Factors affecting topic choice:

  • Your next phase (academia vs. industry)
  • Gut instinct (100% motivation vs. 100% intelligence) (completely dedicate yourself to science)
  • Don’t try for Nobel Prize!
  • Elegant and simple (simple things last)
  • Practice enlightened trial and error (Logical moves vs. fooling around “curiosity”)
  • Lose focus sometime
  • Advisor’s specialization
  • What’s hot is not in books
  • Discover what’s missing
  • Make analogy, borrow ideas from other domains (Cars and people)

** Robert Boice: “Write before you’re ready”

G) How to pick a point:

1- Understand existing system

2- Decompose the problem

3- Pick choices (mix and match, because you understand a problem at the fundamental level)

H) Crash ideas:

1-       Don’t shut idea because it’s insane (filter later)

2-       Draw ideas -> physical form

3-       Wish and wonder that you overcame a problem

4-       Go to the beach.. relax

5-       TIPS: Theory of inventive problem solving

6-       Nature: “What kind of person would spend hours and hours thinking about electric field?” Maxwell

7-      Have good command of tools

8-      Read Bios (Wikipedia, what inspired El-Khawarizmi, what was unknown to him that made him go for the polynomial equations?)

9-      Observe: what are people using and why?

10-   Discover a gap in people’s knowledge

11-    Intentionally screw equation up

** “Continue looking for needles in a haystack, don’t be satisfied with the first one”

Choosing a topic is like choosing a partner (Love, commitment and dedication)!

Proposing for your topic

1) Formulate a proposal: Means that I am working on a justifiable topic.

–          A research is as good as a proposal (committee, grant, conference …)

–          What do you want to accomplish.. what are you after?

–          Why I would like to change the way of things? Fire up the audience -> killer scenario

–          How are you going to solve the problem? Don’t be worried that you don’t ready solution, this means that it is a “research topic”

–          Audience: How scientifically you sound to tackle a problem? Read others work, homework, what’s been achieved? Focused? Very obvious things don’t need a scientific research (bang screen hard will break it #Fact)

–          Look for gaps, break that assumptions

2) Proposal:

1-       Title: attractive, descriptive, suitable length

2-       Introduction: put reader in context, funneling approach (1 paragraph for each level), give example to raise the question (data transfer), list key contributions, general methodology

3-       Problem definition: 2 paragraphs, concise and clear

4-       Thesis contribution statement (1-2 paragraphs, very accurate)

5-       Literature review: recent, done homework [2012 published article = 2009 finished work], conference proceedings, look right, evaluate others work and classification.

6-       Proposed approach: solid methodology, anyone else done this before, how are you going to evaluate myself (comparative, (automated design relatively to human designers), modifiable

7-       Conclusion

Research cycle

** One common thing among all great scientists: persistence, training, not intelligent: every time they fail, they re-try

Being a disciple of good scientists -> tree of supervisors -> Master something

Close the loops and complete the cycle:

Crazy ideas/concepts (generated faster, but you need prioritization ) -> Plan/design -> Fund [non-profit]/pay students’ tuition -> implement ideas -> analyze idea (evaluate research, assess yourself, compare to other approaches) -> dissemination [publish, conference] [rejected from a certain journal != bad] -> when polluted with the ecosystem (take year-off, study abroad)  -> evaluate and recommend

** “Egypt’s past regime implemented the policy of “Man in the iron mask” locking creative people

Last stage [Last month.. don’t leave the school/lab]: Play with parameter, graphs, and trial and error..

If you’re running for PhD or postdoc, labs prefer to take a plug-and-play researcher (already had the experience, mastered the techniques, and published) ..

True mentor says: “I will never put my name before your name unless I did the bulk of the work”

Create a mind map: put what is in your head on a paper

Thesis = proposal – a component (the not-sure-methodology)++

The process of writing a thesis should be iterative, have a holistic view.. (Do your research and build on top of it a dissertation -> PhD)

–          Arguments clear [enough information to reproduce and build on it]

–          Tone appropriate

–          Considerate to reads, explain to readers in details every step, Don’t shock the reader

–          Follow a nice logical flow, roadmap Section1 (paragraph) 1.1…etc. Topic sentence..etc.

Publishing your work [Publish or perish]

1)      Make sure that your work is assess-able by others, and repeat-able

3)       If you don’t publish, your thesis is a waste of time.. Great instructors were let when they don’t publish, you’re so weak, research was useless.

4)       When: NOW.. write reviews about state-of-the-art.. mentors can say “write me something within the month and I send it out”

5)       Where: Choosing a journal

6)       Follow the instructions: Format…etc.

** Never say that authors work is incomplete, and here we …etc. -> Authors addressed those aspects, and we are addressing the following..

“Neat work .. don’t get lost” “what is the significant if it’s done before”

Plan (outline) -> very rough draft -> second draft -> send to advisor -> 3-4 iterations -> polished ->send to journal

Tips to increase the publishability of your manuscript:

–          Abstract: most important, written last (2 weeks vs. 2 months)

–          Introduction: why, how and what

–          Referencing milestones, clarity, advisor’s name/lab, sound conclusion and discussion

–          State very clearly what’s novel

–          Art of storytelling (consistency)

–          Determination


End of talk!

What really make me feel extremely stupid is that most tips I get them all the time from mentors, friends.. Stupid! Why not implementing them!? Plus, speakers linked this to their own research experience, which added intimacy –sometimes despair (!)– to their talk.