Looking for a topic for your bachelor thesis combined with an opportunity for career entry in Germany? Read here how to find the right topic and what career opportunities are available during your bachelor thesis.
Spoiled for choice or clueless? When it comes to finding a topic for their bachelor thesis, many students despair. However, those who bear a few key aspects in mind and make a start early on will be able to master this challenge.
At most German universities, students are free to choose their own dissertation topic when they have completed their bachelor's studies. While students mainly consider preset topics during their studies, suddenly the possibilities are endless. The heads of many students fill with question marks, and they break out in a cold sweat.
The aim of the bachelor thesis is for students to prove that they are able to reflect on an academic issue independently. No more and no less. As such, it is not a case of ploughing through as broad a topic as possible, or of inventing something entirely new. Quite the contrary in fact: in the bachelor thesis, the topic should be clearly defined.
Within this, the most important question is 'What actually interests me?' Prior knowledge acquired during university lectures and professional experience gained during your studies can serve as inspiration for this. If you discern a particularly fascinating aspect within a topic, you should first review the state of research. Only in this way can you determine what has already been covered within this topic and where compelling questions still lurk. The topic ultimately chosen should differ from those already covered.
"Initially, I was a little concerned, as I could not find many sources for my topic," says Thomas Düllmann, looking back on when he first began his bachelor thesis. Düllmann studied software engineering at Heilbronn University. He discussed what academic work actually meant at great length with his professor. "Not only the source research is important, but also the logical conclusion," explains the 26-year-old. "This point should be clarified early on to ensure you do not lose yourself in the sources and waste time unnecessarily." A discussion with a professor of the department early on will help order preliminary ideas and determine whether the topic can even feasibly be approached in the way intended. "Students need to ask the right questions during the consultation," warns Kai Stapelfeldt, Managing Director of Studi-Lektor.de.
The business administration graduate coaches students during the final thesis phase, and advises them to consider exactly which information they require to work effectively before the consultation session. "The most important question is that of the complexity," says Stapelfeldt. "The professor must weigh up whether the proposed topic is viable for a bachelor thesis." If the chosen topic is too easy, too difficult or not yet sufficiently developed, students should be informed of this in good time to allow them to alter their topic accordingly.
Nowadays, many companies advertise their own bachelor and Master thesis topics - they have long since recognized the potential of this cooperation with students. However, this also means that the companies set the topics for bachelor's students. This is an important difference to writing your bachelor thesis at university. In principle, speculative applications outlining your own topic are possible, though students should allow more time to prepare for this. "The decision on where to write your bachelor thesis should be based on the topic," believes Düllmann.
He advises students to write their bachelor thesis at university if they cannot find a company that will allow them to address an interesting topic. "That being said, those who receive an offer of an interesting topic from a company that is ideally located close by and willing to remunerate the bachelor thesis phase should definitely seize this opportunity." After several queries to regional companies, Heilbronn-based IT company Cirosec suggested a topic to Düllmann that piqued the student's interest. The topic was defined in brief discussions, with flat hierarchies and a good support system ultimately winning him over. The conditions were set out in writing and a contract drawn up, which also covered the legal use and applications of the bachelor thesis.
Düllmann's professor conferred with the supervisor at the company and clarified open questions. He also ensured that the thesis met the academic requirements. "The scope of duties at the company and the content of the bachelor thesis should be defined clearly as early as possible," Düllmann advises. Written agreements and close cooperation between the university and company are a great help, but not always the norm. Students should definitely insist on this, for only in this way could they avoid slipping into the role of a trainee and neglecting the academic component of the thesis during their time at the company. It is also well worth taking a look at the special information sheets on completing the final thesis externally that have been published by several universities.
Bachelor's degrees are long since widely accepted by companies. The opportunity to write your bachelor thesis at a company promises smooth transition into a professional career.
Most companies are satisfied with the level of competence of graduates with a bachelor's degree; indeed, the prospects for career entry are particularly positive among computer scientists, engineers and natural scientists. This is confirmed by the study entitled "Mit dem Bachelor in den Beruf " ("Starting a career with a bachelor's degree") conducted by the Stifterverband, the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, and the Higher Education Information System (HIS). "Experience has shown that most companies consider a bachelor's degree to be a very good qualification," confirms Professor Jochen Hasenpath from Kiel University of Applied Sciences. The holder of a doctorate in engineering is responsible for the student advisory service for bachelor's students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, of whom around 95 per cent of every year group write their bachelor thesis at a company.
Romina di Fiore, a Business Administration student at Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences, also chose to pursue this route. Although exempt from the practical semester due to a completed vocational training, she still opted to complete a practical in the field of university marketing at electronics company Rohde & Schwarz during her degree course. "The job description was so interesting, I simply had to apply," she says. With a study focus on human resources, industrial goods marketing and digital marketing, she fits in perfectly at the company - and this not only as a trainee. "I wanted to consider the conception of company career Facebook pages in my thesis," explains the 27-year-old, who wrote her bachelor thesis in 2011. "The issue had just surfaced back then, and was also discussed at great length internally at Rohde & Schwarz." Thus, she had found the practical basis for her thesis. The company subsequently set up its own career Facebook page based on the findings from her bachelor thesis, and Romina di Fiore joined the company directly as a social media expert. She describes her enthusiasm for the subject as the most important factor for success. "You should consider very carefully which topics you are really interested in, which area you wish to begin working in, and which companies fit with this," she advises. This increases the chances of being taken on by the company afterwards. Among her fellow students of whom around half wrote their bachelor thesis at a company, di Fiore observed that career entry ultimately tended to be easier for those with extensive practical experience.
Finding a suitable company can be time-consuming. Daphne Menges estimates the time from preliminary contact to signing of a contract to be five months. "Those who only begin their search after completing their exams risk having a long time of waiting," warns the process engineering student. At the start of 2012, she contacted precious metals and technology company Heraeus about the possibility of writing her bachelor thesis there. She had previously come across a technology report from the company online that exactly matched her study focus. Six months later, she began a practical at the company, subsequently staying on to write her bachelor thesis. For Simon Schweidler, the study regulations require a bachelor thesis written at a company. The chemical technology student at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences decided on materials technology company, Umicore. A fellow student recommended the company to him, and this piqued Schweidler's interest. "At university, we only touched briefly on the subject of metals in inorganic chemistry," says the 25-year-old. "Going into this in greater depth during the cooperation with a company appealed to me." He successfully applied to write his bachelor thesis at the company as well as to complete the preliminary practical required by his study regulations there. A number of universities choose this route to extend the short processing time of an average of just 8 to 12 weeks. At Kiel University of Applied Sciences, the bachelor thesis can also be combined with a practical. "Otherwise there would not be sufficient time to delve into compelling issues with the company," explains Professor Hasenpath. "What's more, it often takes a few days to get organised, particularly at large companies. This is valuable time that students lose without this practical phase beforehand."
The cooperation with companies is particularly smooth at universities of applied science with a practical emphasis. It is often beneficial for students to have one contact for the practical component and another for the theoretical one. However, conflicts of interest can arise if the university emphasises the need for an extensive theoretical component and the company primarily wishes to evaluate data. The nexus project of the German Rectors' Conference (HRK) recommends recording the expectations of all involved parties in writing beforehand. It must be clear to the company that they are supporting students in a piece of academic work within a clearly defined field. Many companies require students to sign a non-disclosure agreement confirming that the thesis will not be published (or only after the publication embargo has lapsed). "From a company perspective, entirely understandable," Hasenpath explains, though he regrets that these theses cannot be presented to other students as examples of good work. "I do not consider the publication embargo as a problem," says process engineer Menges. "After all, the outcomes of my bachelor thesis were noted in my work reference, meaning future employers are able to gain a good impression of my capabilities." The young woman finds it important for students to network during their bachelor thesis, to familiarise themselves with the company structures, and to take a practical approach to work. "Findings from my studies have already been implemented," the 27-year-old tells proudly. Despite the good prospects of direct career entry, she still opted to pursue a Master's degree. Like most other students, Menges, di Fiore and Schweidler receive financial support from the company while writing their bachelor thesis. With monthly pay totalling 700 to 900 Euros, the three are among the best paid. Each company has its own model for the remuneration of students writing their bachelor thesis at the company. It is an appealing aspect that means students do not need to worry about earning a living alongside their work.
Writing the bachelor thesis at a company can yield manifold benefits for all involved. Students are able to gain some preliminary practical experience whilst receiving support and networking, and companies can pass on tasks they do not have time for in day-to-day business.