Master thesis in Germany
Writing your master thesis at a company: joining the team as a specialist
Companies have long since recognised the potential of Master's graduates. A growing number of companies are offering students the opportunity to put their specialist knowledge to practical use already before completing their studies - by writing their Master thesis at a company.
For many, the greatest motivation for pursuing a Master's degree is personal development and enhancement of the future career opportunities. The opportunity to develop one's own specialist interests and become an expert also plays a major role. The specialist knowledge students acquire during the Master's degree course is attractive to many companies. According to the "JobTrends 2013" survey conducted by the Staufenbiel Institute, a Master's degree is the most popular qualification for 90 per cent of German companies. This is the reason why many companies advertise topics for Master's theses.
Take an application-oriented approach to work
This option for the final thesis is also advantageous to students: "If you want to do something with a practical application, writing your Master thesis at a company is ideal," says Arno Zimmermann, who is studying industrial engineering at the Technische Universität Berlin. While completing a practical at Bayer in China during his Master's course, he learned of an interesting company project that would make an excellent topic for the Master thesis. "It involves the further development of company technology to convert CO2 into plastic," the 26-year-old explains. "An extremely fascinating and innovative topic." Having written a very theory-based Bachelor thesis at university, the challenge of a Master thesis with a strong practical orientation appealed. "Something always emerges at the end that has an impact on the company, and this is extremely satisfying." The high practical orientation and results-oriented cooperation within a team are a major incentive for many students to spend the six-month Master thesis phase at a company.
"I spent a solid three months in the library when I wrote my Bachelor thesis, and I definitely didn't want to repeat this experience," Ralf Knudsen explains. The 27-year-old resolved to go abroad after completing his Bachelor's degree in business administration at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. He signed up for a Master's degree course at the Copenhagen Business School specialising in accounting, and gained practical experience as a working student and during practical work at a company. He decided also to write his Master thesis at a company. For Knudsen, an important advantage of completing the Master thesis phase at a company was that "later on, there is rarely the opportunity to consider a problem affecting everyday work from a theoretical perspective". He decided on the precious metals and technology company Heraeus that he came upon in a list of so-called "Hidden Champions". These particularly successful companies are often still unknown despite their success.
The supervision and topic for the master thesis must be right
Despite being offered the opportunity to cover easier topics at two other companies, Knudsen decided for what he believed to be the most challenging option. "I felt that I would receive the most support at Heraeus." Besides the good expert supervision, Knudsen also receives commensurate remuneration from the company during the Master thesis phase. Zimmermann, who is also able to cover his living costs with his company pay, knows to appreciate the financing. The going is tough for those without any financial support wishing to work on their thesis full-time. However, the most important factors should be an enthusiasm for the topic and a desire to enhance one's appeal to the work market as an expert. Zimmermann also firmly believes that students should not make any major compromises when it comes to the topic for their Master thesis. "If the topic does not knock your socks off, then it won't be any fun to write about - regardless of whether you do so at a company or at university." The industrial engineer also highlights the importance of a structured, concentrated approach for not dissipating one's energies. Even those who make very high demands of themselves should remember that they do not need to re-invent the wheel.
Feedback loops and deadline extensions
A whole semester is scheduled for the Master thesis. To ensure students do not lose sight of their goal during these six months, they should ensure they always keep the rules of play in mind. "There are three parties involved: the professor, the student and the supervisor at the company. The overlap between their mutual interests must be reviewed," Zimmermann describes the special challenge of writing a Master thesis at a company. "Feedback loops are therefore unbelievably important. While regular contact can be demanding, it is essential to make good progress." This is particularly the case if problems should arise with the topic chosen. "The topic should be defined narrowly as quickly as possible," Knudsen advises students who still have their Master thesis before them. The breadth of his chosen topic, the cooperation within the company and the need to complete a final few university courses meant he took a total of seven and a half months to complete his Master thesis. Luckily, this was not a problem for his professors in Copenhagen; in Germany, the deadlines are a lot stricter though. Structuring the topic well and starting to write early on is essential to meeting deadlines.
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Kick-start your career with a master thesis
Knudsen joined the two-year trainee programme "Finance & Controlling" at Heraeus in February 2013. "We have a great deal of freedom and are able to decide on the individual stations," praises the 27-year-old, who was able to spend several months with the company in the USA. What's more, when the two years are completed, the prospects of a permanent position are good. Zimmermann, who has just submitted his Master thesis, is already planning his next big step: he wants to write a doctoral thesis within the same project. The framework for his collaboration within the EU-funded project has already been defined. Although the Master thesis phase left Zimmermann's and Knudsen's heads spinning, the writing process stalled and the despair was great, both would definitely choose to write their Master thesis at a company again. For the exciting opportunities this opened up to them were so very great.
academics - November 2013
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