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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin -

Bachelor and Master Dissertations - Frequently Asked Questions

Preliminaries

The following material provides relevant information related to dissertations at the Chair of Information Systems (CIS). Unless stated otherwise, the information applies to both Bachelor and Master theses. We organize the page as an FAQ. You may wish to navigate directly to the parts that interests you most.

 

Table of Contents

 

  1. Is there a fixed date at which I have to start with my dissertation?
  2. Is there anything I should consider when choosing a starting time for my thesis?
  3. Is there a maximum  or minimum length for my thesis? How long is a dissertation on average?
  4. I plan to write my thesis in the next semester. What should I do beforehand?
  5. Can I suggest my own topic?
  6. I was asked to prepare an extended abstract for a topic of my choice. What does that entail?
  7. Are there any core research areas from which thesis topics are normally selected?
  8. Is it possible to collaborate with industry?
  9. How do I find a topic?
  10. How about formatting requirements for my thesis?
  11. Do I have to write my thesis in English/German?
  12. What is the typical structure of a Bachelor thesis?
  13. I plan to apply for a Master program, when do I have to start with my Bachelor thesis?
  14. What is the typical structure of a Master thesis?
  15. I understand that many theses at the CIS involve empirical work. How do I acquire the data for such a task?
  16. Do I have to complete certain modules before being eligible to write my thesis at the CIS?
  17. In addition to mandatory modules, are there any other skills that I need/should possess?
  18. How do I register my thesis?

 

Is there a fixed data at which I have to start with my dissertation?

No. At present, we accept theses throughout the whole year. Please note that we may not be able to offer such flexible regime forever. Depending upon demand and resources, it may be necessary to implement a structured approach where all dissertations start at fixed dates (e.g., begin/end of a semester). However, by the time of writing, students can begin their dissertation anytime.

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Is there anything I should consider when choosing a starting time for my thesis?

You may want to consider that opportunities for personal meetings are somewhat limited during summer breaks due to conference attendance, research visits, etc. Therefore, if you seek very close collaboration with your supervisor, consider to schedule your thesis such that the majority of the writing time is within lecturing periods.

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Is there a maximum or minimum length? How long is a dissertation on average?

On average, Bachelor and Master theses are 30 and 60 pages, respectively. Deviations are possible, but should be discussed with your supervisor.

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I plan to write my thesis in the next semester. What should I do beforehand?

It is good to plan well ahead. However, as far as we are concerned, there is not much that needs to be done long in advance. In particular, please understand that we allocate our thesis topics on a first come first serve basis. That means that we don’t reserve topics for students who plan to start their dissertation in a few months’ time. However, you may want to consider suggesting your own thesis topic. In such a case, we could fix a thesis topic before the start of the actual thesis.

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Can I suggest my own topic?

Yes, you can. If you wish to work on a topic of your choice, please prepare an extended abstract and send it to your supervisor for discussion. We assess the potential of your proposition for a Bachelor/Master thesis and might suggest extensions/revisions. In general, we prefer topics that relate to our research areas. However, exceptions are possible, so feel free to elaborate any topic related to information systems research.

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I was asked to prepare an extended abstract for a topic of my choice. What does that entail?

An extended abstract is about two to four pages long and should clarify:

  • What research question(s) you plan to analyze
  • What is the academic and practical importance of your topic
  • How your thesis will contribute to the existing literature 

In addition, an extended abstract includes a selection of relevant literature.

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Are there any core research areas from which thesis topics are normally selected?

There certainly are. In general, our research focuses on big data analytics (BDA). Approaches associated with the support of managerial decision-making and quantitative, data-driven methods are of particular interest. This scope offers a variety of research questions to be examined in a dissertation. Potential business applications to study include, but are not limited to:

  • Marketing and e-commerce
  • Consumer finance and risk management
  • Logistics and supply chain management
  • Speculative financial and betting markets

In terms of methodology, we employ a broad variety of techniques to solve planning problems, explain decision maker behavior, and assess the effectiveness of formal decision aids. Examples of such planning methods include:

  • Ensemble selection (e.g. for marketing or credit-scoring problems)
  • Kalman filters (e.g. for time series data or real-time targeting of advertising in e-commerce)
  • Multi-armed bandit models (e.g. for or real-time targeting of advertising in e-commerce)
  • Deep learning (basically applicable everywhere)
  • Survival models (e.g. for price optimization in the automotive industry)
  • Choice models/hierarchical Bayesian models (e.g. for or real-time targeting of advertising in e-commerce or betting markets)
  • (Recurrent) neural networks (e.g. for turnover or financial markets predictions or in interaction with metaheuristics for model training or model selection)
  • Metaheuristics (e.g., to build predictive decision support models or develop normative decision aids)

Furthermore, there is a large body of literature on novel learning paradigms, which differ substantially from conventional explanatory (e.g. regression or classification) or descriptive (e.g. clustering) methods. Surveying the state-of-the-art in such fields and/or evaluating such modelling strategies in business settings is an interesting task for a dissertation. Some examples include:

  • Active learning
  • Learning with privileged information (e.g. financial forecasting)
  • Semi-supervised/transductive learning (e.g. for churn prediction)
  • Imbalanced learning (e.g. for marketing or credit scoring)
  • Multi-task learning (e.g. financial forecasting)
  • Reject inference (credit scoring)
  • Online learning

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Is it possible to collaborate with industry?

Yes, we support collaborative theses written with an industry partner. In general, industry partnerships are more common for master dissertations. However, writing a bachelor thesis with an industry partner is also feasible.
In some cases, our list of open topics includes such collaborative theses. Alternatively, you can propose a topic that you’d like to study together with an industry partner. However, please note that we normally do not sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). If you are in contact with an organization where you’d like to write your thesis, you may want to check whether your industry partner accepts this policy.

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How do I find a topic?

That is the key question. In general, you can browse through our list of open topics and see whether some of our propositions fit your interests. Alternatively, you can propose a thesis topic to us, preferably but not necessarily in one of our research areas.

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How about formatting requirements for my thesis?

We do not enforce specific formatting requirements. Instead, we recommend that students follow the author guidelines of scholarly outlets such as, e.g., the European Journal of Operational Research.  Note that these guidelines might also mention a minimum/maximum length. Such recommendations do not apply to your thesis and can be ignored. Instead, please adhere to our own recommendations related to thesis length.

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Do I have to write my thesis in English/German?

You are free to decide whether to write your thesis in English or German.

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What is the typical structure of a Bachelor thesis?

There are some general guidelines that any academic thesis follows. If you have already participated in one of our seminars (for Bachelor or Master students), you will be familiar with these guidelines. Otherwise, make sure that you have a careful read through our recommendations related to academic writing.

In addition to general guidelines, a typical Bachelor thesis written at the CIS adopts one of three paradigms.

First, the majority of dissertations is organized as a literature survey or, in other words, a state-of-the-art. Consider for example the question of IT business value. To which extent increases the use of information and communication technologies the performance of a firm? Several research projects have been undertaken to shed light on this question. A Bachelor thesis can review this field, identify sub-streams in the literature, and distill some overall conclusions. In addition, it might be possible to identify research gaps in the literature. In a nutshell, such a thesis provides a holistic overview of a clear-defined field.

Second, a bachelor thesis can be organized as a meta-analysis. A good example for such an endeavor is the paper of Jamain and Hand (2008), who conduct a meta-analysis for the field of consumer credit scoring. In brief, this field is concerned with the question how a money lender can predict whether a credit applicant would pay back her loan, if the loan were granted. You can imagine that many papers have been written about this topic, and you can also imagine that several of these papers present some sort of forecasting method. Often, the proposition of a novel forecasting method is accompanied by an empirical evaluation to showcase that the new method predicts well. Given a large number of empirical studies that adopt this approach (i.e., present and compare forecasting methods), a meta-analysis first gathers empirical data about these comparisons (i.e., papers). This could be, for example, i) how many different forecasting methods have been compared in a paper, ii) how many times did some method A beat some other method B, iii) which measures have been used to assess the accuracy of a forecasting methods, etc. Next, a meta-analysis performs some statistical analysis on this data and, in doing so, distills some overall conclusions; for example, method A is better than B. You see that the outcome is the same as in the previous setup of a Bachelor thesis. Only the way in which one arrives at this outcome differs. Clearly, not every topic facilitates a meta-analysis. If you are generally interested in this format, feel free to contact our team members to find out which possibilities are available.

Third, it is also possible to organize a Bachelor thesis as a ‘little Master thesis’. This means that you conduct your own research study, which, at the CIS, would typically entail some empirical or analytic work. Such a study can span the whole research process – from gathering relevant data over data analysis to interpreting the observed results and drawing conclusions, or focus on specific steps in this process. Consider once again the above example of credit scoring. Given some credit scoring data set, your task could be to compare some novel forecasting method to some established benchmark. Given the similarity to Master theses in terms of format and organization, we do not publish dedicated topics for Bachelor theses that fall into this category. Students who are interested in the “small-scale Master thesis format” can review our topics for Master dissertations and ask the corresponding supervisor whether the topic could be changed such that it fits the smaller scope of a Bachelor thesis.

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I plan to apply for a Master program, when do I have to start with my Bachelor thesis?

Every Master program has its own rules. We cannot make any recommendations related to programs offered at other universities. More specifically, the following guidelines apply only to our Master program Information Systems.

If you are considering to apply for the above program, you need to proof that you have collected at least 150 ECTS by the time of application. Say you want to start your Master in IS at the Humboldt-University in the winter semester 2016/2017. Assume for example that the application deadline is 30th of April 2015. So, by end of April, when submitting your application, your transcript must show at least 150 ECTS. It is not necessary that you have completed your Bachelor studies. In particular, you can still be involved with your Bachelor thesis, or does not even have started with your Bachelor thesis. However, you need at least 150 (see ZSP-HU 1.1.2).

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What is the typical structure of a Master thesis?

There are some general guidelines that any academic thesis must follow. If you have already participated in one of our seminars (for Bachelor or Master students), you will be familiar with these guidelines. Otherwise, make sure that you have a careful read through the recommendations related to academic writing.

 

In addition to these general guidelines, a typical Master thesis written at the CIS addresses a research question(s) in the business fields mentioned above and contributes to the literature through providing some novel insight (e.g., original empirical results, evidence in favor of or against previously derived hypotheses, a new piece of methodology, etc.). Most dissertations contain an empirical part related to some real-world planning problem. For example, evaluating the effectiveness of a novel method from the realms of big data analytics in a real-world setting through empirical experimentation is a common task for a Master thesis. Such endeavor may also include the development of an entirely new methodology or the extension of some known technique to better fulfill the requirements of the application setting in question.

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I understand that many theses at the CIS involve empirical work. How do I acquire the data for such a task?

There are several possibilities to acquire the data for dissertation. Examples include:

  • The master’s thesis is written in cooperation with an industry  partner who provides data
  • The data is collected during (as part of) the thesis (e.g., through accessing a data provider’s API, say Twitter, or web scraping)
  • The data comes from an academic data mining/forecasting competition (KDD Cup, Data Mining Cup, NN3 or NN5 Competition, etc.) or a Kaggle competition (www.kaggle.com)
  • The data is associated with a current research project of the CIS. At the moment projects/data sets from the following areas are available:
  • Direct marketing/churn modeling
  • Automotive industry/sales of pre-owned vehicles
  • Real-time targeting in e-commerce
  • Credit scoring or PD modeling
  • Markets for sports betting

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Do I have to complete certain modules before being eligible to write my thesis at the CIS?

The typical setting is such that students first complete some of our modules prior to starting their dissertation at the CIS. More specifically, to write your Bachelor theses with us, you need to complete the following module(s)

For Master theses, you need to complete the following module(s)

Please note that there may be further requirements for specific topics. For example, several dissertation topics relate to security and privacy. Completing the module IT Security and Privacy might be a mandatory requirement to work on such topics.

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In addition to mandatory modules, are there any other skills that I need/should possess?

In general, completing our Bachelor/Master modules equips you with a firm understanding of research in information systems and big data analytics in particular. Moreover, our courses give you an opportunity to develop the skills typically needed to write a dissertation at the CIS.

Having said that, given your research interests and focus on analytic/empirical work, some useful skills include, e.g., scientific computing, databases, programming (preferably in Matlab, R, Python or Julia), econometrics and statistics, machine learning.

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How do I register my thesis?

First of all, to be eligible to register for the final thesis you have to fulfill certain requirements (e.g. you must have completed certain modules or have earned a certain amount of ECTS – depending on your degree program). To verify that, you can consult the examination office. Afterwards, you have to receive a thesis application form in the student office that you need to fill in and hand in to your supervisor for signing (on the form you will have to indicate the exact datum when you have received the final topic). Afterwards, submit the signed registration form to the examination office: either give it personally during the office hours or send per post. You will also receive a copy of the filled form once the examination office processes the documents. 

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