Master thesis seminar at IFRO, KU SCIENCE

There was a master thesis seminar for IFRO students at KU SCIENCE today. Heads of studies, who organized the seminar, said it was the first time they tried this type of introductory seminar for master’s programme students.

It was a very productive seminar to understand what we should expect and know in the process of thesis writing in the following semester. I will take my maternity leave for most likely a year starting from next semester, therefore, the process will start a year after. But no matter when I start writing my thesis, it was very good to know answers for following questions: how I should approach potential supervisors; how I should formulate idea and research questions when not knowing too well what to write about; how I should deal with problems such as poor research results turning out to be crappy due to low quality data or insufficient data; whether I can have a head start during the maternity leave without signing on a formal contract with my future supervisor.

The most relieving fact was that it is okay to come up with bad research results. Bad research results can produce a good master thesis depending on how to communicate the results in the paper, e.g. why the expected outcome based on theory is not observed in our empirical model; what it would have looked like if we had different datasets; what are the limitations of models that we used. If that is the case, we would not be able to publish our thesis in a journal, but what can we do if we encounter this situation? There are always risks of ending up in this situation. But this is not a professional researcher’s article that has to be published, but an outcome of a learning process to present what we have studied and found, and what we have learned from this.

Students who just finished their theses and defenses came to share their experience throughout the whole process of writing: how they started from the scratch; how they found their supervisors and group members in case of writing in groups;  how they dealt with situations like being stuck in the middle of different types of problems; importance of time management. It was good to know that not knowing where to start was not rare and a lot of other fellow students shared the same fears that I had.

It will be a challenging journey to conduct an independent project for six months. It is a long enough period of time to feel loneliness while tackling this big vague monster that we have to deliver at the end somehow. Hence, it is good to know what to expect, how to do, and so forth.

After the seminar, a small discussion and networking session with researchers at IFRO, who can provide us some guidance and offer potential project ideas. As I only had a vague idea about what kind of scientific methodology that I wanted to master with this thesis project, I stayed with our head of study, Søren, asking him some extra questions together with my fellow students. Discussion shed more lights on what I should do later on, e.g. where to browse relevant studies to inspire my own project, how to contact researchers before writing a formal contract with them.

The discussion was continued by some chats about the university reforms, PhD positions and fundings for PhD, and job prospects as an environmental economist. Well, the university reforms and budget cuts affecting PhD funding from research foundations are not favoring us at the moment. What Søren said is that PhD funding is very cyclical and now it is in its downward cycle. Arghh… Anyway, I could ask him many questions that I was curious about but did not ask before, as I did not pursue to find the time to have a meeting with him.

The seminar and following discussions lasted about two hours and a half and, in the end, it was very satisfying. I hope more could have come and joined us today, as some could not make it.

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