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Why should you write your thesis in collaboration with a company?

Rasmus, who graduated from the MSc in Information Technology in the summer of 2018, and Jane, a career consultant at Aarhus BSS Career and Alumni, offer their take on why it’s a good idea to engage in a thesis collaboration. They offer advice on how to establish the initial contact, let you in on the pros and cons and on how the thesis collaboration can help get your career off to a good start.

 


Rasmus Hansen, Cand.it -It, organisation and communication

 

Why did you decide to write your Master's thesis in collaboration with a company?
Collaborating with a company on my Master’s thesis gave me the perfect opportunity to get to know the business community and explore some real-life issues and challenges. Writing my Master’s thesis with a company also seemed quite natural as the whole purpose of getting a degree, and particularly a university degree, is to “prepare” students for joining the business community. The thesis collaboration gave me a chance to “rehearse” for a real-life job, so to speak.

How did you establish the initial contact?
I started quite early, and in October, I found the company I wanted to collaborate with in my Master's thesis. I made a post on LinkedIn where I introduced my degree programme and the areas I wanted to focus on in my Master’s thesis. To my great surprise, the post received a lot of exposure as it was shared by many people in my network. After just a few days, I had been approached by a number of interesting companies.

How would you describe the process itself?
It’s an interesting and educational experience spending time in an organisation on your own and talking to different people from various professional backgrounds. Collaborating with a company on your Master’s thesis can also help you expand your network as you establish many new contacts that might come in handy in the future.

One of the challenges of the process was meeting the company’s wishes while maintaining the academic dimension. Naturally, you want to do the best you can and present yourself in the best possible light to the company by prioritising their needs rather than the academic aspects that you are ultimately assessed on. For me, it was all about finding the right balance, and I did this by discussing the mutual expectations with my supervisor and my contact person in the company continuously throughout the process.      

How have you benefitted from the thesis collaboration after completing your Master’s degree?
The thesis collaboration matured me as a person and prepared me for a real-life job. It’s a bit intimidating to enter a company on your own and collect data. You feel inexperienced and at the same time, you really want to do the best you can. Fortunately, I had a really positive experience because the staff were so welcoming and willing to share their experiences and views with me. 

What’s your best piece of advice for students about to write their Master's thesis?
My best piece of advice is to find a topic, a supervisor and a company as early as you can. Brainstorm which topics you’d like to write about. Make sure you discuss your mutual expectations with your supervisor and the company. Talk to your supervisor about your level of ambitions and about what you expect from the supervision process. Also, be sure to talk to the company about your needs and wishes in terms of the empirical data collection. Get a sense of whether the company is willing to invest time in you.

Jane M. Madsen - Career consultant at Aarhus BSS Career and Alumni

Why write the Master’s thesis in collaboration with a company?
A thesis collaboration can be a good way to get in contact with the business community before you finish your studies. If you’re thinking about writing your Master's thesis with a company, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of this kind of collaboration. 

Pros:

  • A thesis collaboration can be a springboard to your first job. For example, if you used the collaboration to establish good relations or to specialise yourself in a field that is important to the company.
  • You get a good insight into the company and the sector that the company represents.
  • You can strengthen your network in the labour market and establish contacts that may be useful when you apply for jobs in the future.

Cons:

  • The company and your supervisor will often have conflicting goals in terms of your Master's thesis. The company is interested in your practical conclusions, while the supervisor wants to see if you can apply the theories. This means that you need to consider academic as well as practical issues, so it’s important to discuss your mutual expectations with the company prior to the collaboration.
  • It can take longer to write a Master’s thesis in collaboration with a company. It requires a large empirical data set and this can take a long time to collect.


How do you find a partner and establish contact?
You can find a thesis partner in many ways. For example, you can use linkedin.com/alumni to find inspiration for topics and possible partners. Here, you can search for your degree programme and find out where others with your background are working. This can also inspire you in terms of topics for your Master's thesis - and provide you with a network of former students who you can reach out to when you have to find a partner company.

At the Career Centre, we have a number of services that may help you find a thesis partner.

  • AU Job and Project Bank: Here you can get an overview of partner companies that offer topics for Master’s theses. Click on projects at the top of the page - choose ‘Master's thesis’ under project type. You can also create a search agent to receive notifications of new topics.
  • Personal counselling: Contact a career consultant in Aarhus BSS Career & Alumni if you need to speak to someone about how to get in touch with companies.
  • Take part in CompanyDATING: CompanyDATING is a very good way of establishing a dialogue with companies. You can also find out more about what project opportunities they are offering. It can be a good idea to ask companies how they are working with the specific topic you would like to focus on in your Master’s thesis - e.g. employer branding, exports or big data. In this way, you can establish a professional dialogue. If the company is not yet working with your field of interest, but is interested in doing so, you should see this as an opportunity and suggest to them that your Master’s thesis be the first step. 

How do you find a topic for your Master's thesis?
Lots of companies are interested in working with students from Aarhus BSS, but might not have formulated a specific question that they need help with. In the Career Centre, we have gathered three pieces of advice that you can use when you have to find a topic for your Master’s thesis collaboration.

  • Suggest a topic: Don’t expect the company to come up with a problem/topic. You need to be the active part and tell the company which topics you are interested in.
  • Tell them what you can offer: Give them your three best arguments for why the company should spend time on you or your project. Make it clear what you can offer the company.
  • Be honest about what you need: Make it clear to the company what you need from them in the collaboration process, e.g. in terms of time or other resources that are necessary for you to complete your project.

When choosing a topic for your Master's thesis, it’s important to remember that a Master's thesis may represent much more than simply the final project on your Master’s degree programme. The topic of your Master's thesis is also a conscious career choice as it allows you to apply your knowledge within a specific field and differentiate you from your fellow students when you have to find your first job.

What procedures or obligations should you be aware of?
When writing project together with a company, you will often receive a lot of confidential information about internal company affairs. For that reason, you need to clarify with the company whether to draw up a confidentiality agreement.
At Aarhus BSS, we have established a clear set of rules for the procedures and obligations that an institution assumes in connection with the requirement of confidentiality. In this connection, the school has developed a suggestion for an agreement that you and the company can use to draw up a mutual confidentiality agreement. You can find the confidentiality agreement on your study portal under “Bachelor's and Master's Thesis." 

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