Master/Diploma students in Environmental Physics, Paleoclimate Dynamics
Some practical advice
- Master student writes a short outline (1 page at most) including title, aim and work plan in the first weeks
- Questions of keys, computer account etc, please ask
- Progress and problems shall be discussed in our weekly group meetings, the group meeting is obligatory.
- Students present their topics after 3 months in our group seminar and afterwards discuss with the group members
- Students report their thesis at the end in a seminar talk of the Friday Seminar of the climate division.
- Self organised reading clubs are highly recommended. The club may contain basic knowledge in dynamics (e.g. books of Holton, Gill), data analysis and modelling, theoretical knowledge in paleoclimate dynamics (e.g. Saltzman), as well as fundamental papers (like that of Hasselmann about the stochastic climate model, Imbrie et al. about Milankovitch cycles, North et al. about energy balance models, and others). The books are in the library of building F. Previous theses will be put there or online.
- There exists also the possibility to take courses at the University of Bremen or at AWI. There are also other talks, like the AWI colloquium.
- Our experience is that is difficult to write the thesis from home, so we recommend to come regularly to the institute. Work at home for reading/writing is typically not the problem, please provide an email if you are longer away or other things like illness.
- A course in scientific writing is recommended.
- Written review of the thesis paper and thesis: 2 written reports by professors or lecturers from the University of Bremen.
- Oral evaluation: The oral evaluation is at the end of the thesis. The committee consists of the above-mentioned 2 evaluators of the thesis. The candidate shall suggest the persons (speak with them in advance), find a proper day, and make a reservation for the room.
In the following you find some hints for writing a thesis and thesis paper. Some of the material on this page was adapted from:
I) Thesis paper
A thesis paper is a research project and has the following elements in common:
- An environmental physics issue is identified.
- Other people's work on the topic is collected and evaluated.
- Data necessary to solving the problem are either collected by the student, or obtained independently.
- Model simulations are performed or others output shall be used
- Model results and data are analyzed using techniques appropriate to the problem.
- Results of the analysis are reported and are interpreted
The purpose of writing a thesis paper is to demonstrate that
- the thesis topic addresses a significant environmental physics problem;
- an organized plan is in place for obtaining data and model simulations to help solve the problem;
- methods have been identified and are appropriate to the problem.
What we are interested in seeing is if you have a clear handle on the process and structure of research as it's practiced by our discipline. If you can present a clear and reasonable thesis idea, if you can clearly relate it to other relevant literature, if you can justify its significance, if you can describe a method for investigating it, and if you can decompose it into a sequence of steps that lead toward a reasonable conclusion.
II) Structure of a thesis paperYour thesis proposal should have the following elements in this order.
- Title page
- Table of contents
- Thesis statement
- Preliminary results and discussion
- Work plan including time table
- Implications of research
- List of references
- contains short, descriptive title of the proposed thesis project (should be fairly self-explanatory)
- and author, institution, department, reseach mentor, mentor's institution, and date of delivery
- traditionally in Germany you write also your home town (e.g. Gerrit Lohmann from Göttingen, Germany)
- the abstract is a brief summary of your thesis proposal
- its length should not exceed ~200 words
- present a brief introduction to the issue
- make the key statement of your thesis
- give a summary of how you want to address the issue
- include a possible implication of your work, if successfully completed
- list all headings and subheadings with page numbers
- indent subheadings
- this section sets the context for your proposed project and must capture the reader's interest
- explain the background of your study starting from a broad picture narrowing in on your research question
- review what is known about your research topic as far as it is relevant to your thesis
- cite relevant references
- the introduction should be at a level that makes it easy to understand for readers with a general science background, for example your classmates
- in a couple of sentences, state your thesis
- this statement can take the form of a hypothesis, research question, project statement, or goal statement
- the thesis statement should capture the essence of your intended project and also help to put boundaries around it
- this section contains an overall description of your approach, materials, and procedures
- what methods will be used?
- how will data be collected and analyzed?
- Which models are used?
- what materials will be used?
- include calculations, technique, procedure, etc.
- detail limitations, assumptions, and range of validity
- do not include results and discussion of results here
- present any results you already have obtained
- discuss how they fit in the framework of your thesis
- describe in detail what you plan to do until completion of your thesis
- list the stages of your project in a table format
- indicate deadlines you have set for completing each stage of the project, including any work you have already completed
- discuss any particular challenges that need to be overcome
- what new knowledge will the proposed project produce that we do not already know?
- why is it worth knowing, what are the major implications?
- cite all ideas, concepts, text, data that are not your own
- if you make a statement, back it up with your own data or a reference
- all references cited in the text must be listed
- cite single-author references by the surname of the author (followed by date of the publication in parenthesis)
- ... according to Hays (1994)
- ... population growth is one of the greatest environmental concerns facing future generations (Hays, 1994).
- cite double-author references by the surnames of both authors (followed by date of the publication in parenthesis)
- e.g. Simpson and Hays (1994)
- cite more than double-author references by the surname of the first author followed by et al. and then the date of the publication
- e.g. Pfirman, Simpson and Hays would be:
- Pfirman et al. (1994)
- do not use footnotes
- list all references cited in the text in alphabetical order using the following format for different types of material:
- Hunt, S. (1966) Carbohydrate and amino acid composition of the egg capsules of the whelk. Nature, 210, 436-437.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1997) Commonly asked questions about ozone. http://www.noaa.gov/public-affairs/grounders/ozo1.html, 9/27/97.
- Pfirman, S.L., M. Stute, H.J. Simpson, and J. Hays (1996) Undergraduate research at Barnard and Columbia, Journal of Research, 11, 213-214.
- Pechenik, J.A. (1987) A short guide to writing about biology. Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 194pp.
- Pitelka, D.R., and F.M. Child (1964) Review of ciliary structure and function. In: Biochemistry and Physiology of Protozoa, Vol. 3 (S.H. Hutner, editor), Academic Press, New York, 131-198.
- Sambrotto, R. (1997) lecture notes, Environmental Data Analysis, Barnard College, Oct 2, 1997.
- Make an outline of your thesis proposal before you start writing
- Prepare figures and tables
- Figure captions
- Discussion of your simulation or data
- Inferences from your results
IV. Tips Figures
- "Pictures say more than a thousand words!" Figures serve to illustrate important aspects of the background material, sample data, and analysis techniques.
- A well chosen and well labeled figure can reduce text length, and improve proposal clarity. Proposals often contain figures from other articles. These can be appropriate, but you should consider modifying them if the modifications will improve your point.
- The whole process of making a drawing is important for two reasons. First, it clarifies your thinking. If you don’t understand the process, you can’t draw it. Second, good drawings are very valuable. Other scientists will understand your paper better if you can make a drawing of your ideas. A co-author of mine has advised me: make figures that other people will want to steal. They will cite your paper because they want to use your figure in their paper.
- Make cartoons using a scientific drawing program. Depending upon the subject of your paper, a cartoon might incorporate the following:
- a picture of the scientific equipment that you are using and an explanation of how it works;
- a drawing of a cycle showing steps, feedback loops, and bifurcations: this can include chemical or mathematical equations;
- a flow chart showing the steps in a process and the possible causes and consequences.
- Incorporate graphs in the text or on separated sheets inserted in the thesis proposal
- Modern computer technology such as scanners are available in the department to help you create or modify pictures.
- Poor grammar and spelling distract from the content of the proposal. The reader focuses on the grammar and spelling problems and misses keys points made in the text. Modern word processing programs have grammar and spell checkers. Use them.
- Read your proposal aloud - then have a friend read it aloud. If your sentences seem too long, make two or three sentences instead of one. Try to write the same way that you speak when you are explaining a concept. Most people speak more clearly than they write.
- You should have read your proposal over at least 5 times before handing it in
- Simple wording is generally better
- If you get comments from others that seem completely irrelevant to you, your paper is not written clearly enough never use a complex word if a simpler word will do
How to write a master thesis?
I. Thesis structure
Title PageTitle (including subtitle), author, institution, department, date of delivery, research mentor, mentor's institution
- A good abstract explains in one line why the paper is important. It then goes on to give a summary of your major results, preferably couched in numbers with error limits. The final sentences explain the major implications of your work. A good abstract is concise, readable, and quantitative.
- Length should be ~ 1-2 paragraphs, approx. 400 words.
- Information in title should not be repeated.
- Be explicit.
- Use numbers where appropriate.
- Answers to these questions should be found in the abstract:
- What did you do?
- Why did you do it? What question were you trying to answer?
- How did you do it? State methods.
- What did you learn? State major results.
- Why does it matter? Point out at least one significant implication.
Table of Contents
- list all headings and subheadings with page numbers
- indent subheadings
- it will look something like this:
List of Figures
List of Tables
List of Figures
List page numbers of all figures.
List of Tables
List page numbers of all tables.
You can't write a good introduction until you know what the body of the paper says. Consider writing the introductory section(s) after you have completed the rest of the paper, rather than before.
Be sure to include a hook at the beginning of the introduction. This is a statement of something sufficiently interesting to motivate your reader to read the rest of the paper, it is an important/interesting scientific problem that your paper either solves or addresses. You should draw the reader in and make them want to read the rest of the paper.
The next paragraphs in the introduction should cite previous research in this area. It should cite those who had the idea or ideas first, and should also cite those who have done the most recent and relevant work. You should then go on to explain why more work was necessary (your work, of course.)
What else belongs in the introductory section(s) of your paper?
- A statement of the goal of the paper: why the study was undertaken, or why the paper was written. Do not repeat the abstract.
- Sufficient background information to allow the reader to understand the context and significance of the question you are trying to address.
- Proper acknowledgement of the previous work on which you are building. Sufficient references such that a reader could, by going to the library, achieve a sophisticated understanding of the context and significance of the question.
- Explain the scope of your work, what will and will not be included.
- A verbal "road map" or verbal "table of contents" guiding the reader to what lies ahead.
- Is it obvious where introductory material ("old stuff") ends and your contribution ("new stuff") begins?
What belongs in the "methods" section of a master thesis?
- Information to allow the reader to assess the believability of your results.
- Information needed by another researcher to replicate your experiment.
- Description of your materials, procedure, theory, models.
- Calculations, technique, procedure, equipment, and calibration plots.
- Limitations, assumptions, and range of validity.
- The results are actual statements of observations, including statistics, tables and graphs.
- Indicate information on range of variation.
- Mention negative results as well as positive. Do not interpret results - save that for the discussion.
- Lay out the case as for a jury. Present sufficient details so that others can draw their own inferences and construct their own explanations.
- Use S.I. units (m, s, kg, W, etc.) throughout the thesis.
- Break up your results into logical segments by using subheads
Quarantine your observations from your interpretations. The writer must make it crystal clear to the reader which statements are observation and which are interpretation. In most circumstances, this is best accomplished by physically separating statements about new observations from statements about the meaning or significance of those observations. Alternatively, this goal can be accomplished by careful use of phrases such as "I infer ..." vast bodies of geological literature became obsolete with the advent of plate tectonics; the papers that survived are those in which observations were presented in stand-alone fashion, unmuddied by whatever ideas the author might have had about the processes that caused the observed phenomena.
How do you do this?
- Physical separation into different sections or paragraphs.
- Careful use of phrases such as "We infer that ".
- Don't worry if "results" seem short.
- Easier for your reader to absorb, frequent shifts of mental mode not required.
- Ensures that your work will endure in spite of shifting paradigms.
Start with a few sentences that summarize the most important results. The discussion section should be a brief essay in itself, answering the following questions and caveats:
- What are the major patterns in the observations? (Refer to spatial and temporal variations.)
- What are the relationships, trends and generalizations among the results?
- What are the exceptions to these patterns or generalizations?
- What are the likely causes (mechanisms) underlying these patterns resulting predictions?
- Is there agreement or disagreement with previous work?
- Interpret results in terms of background laid out in the introduction - what is the relationship of the present results to the original question?
- What is the implication of the present results for other unanswered questions in earth sciences?
- Multiple hypotheses: There are usually several possible explanations for results. Be careful to consider all of these rather than simply pushing your favorite one. If you can eliminate all but one, that is great, but often that is not possible with the data in hand. In that case you should give even treatment to the remaining possibilities, and try to indicate ways in which future work may lead to their discrimination.
- Avoid bandwagons: A special case of the above. Avoid jumping a currently fashionable point of view unless your results really do strongly support them.
- What are the things we now know or understand that we didn't know or understand before the present work?
- Include the evidence or line of reasoning supporting each interpretation.
- What is the significance of the present results: why should we care?
- What is the strongest and most important statement that you can make from your observations?
- If you met the reader at a meeting six months from now, what do you want them to remember about your paper?
- Refer back to problem posed, and describe the conclusions that you reached from carrying out this investigation, summarize new observations, new interpretations, and new insights that have resulted from the present work.
- Include the broader implications of your results.
- Do not repeat word for word the abstract, introduction or discussion.
- Remedial action to solve the problem.
- Further research to fill in gaps in our understanding.
- Directions for future investigations on this or related topics.
Acknowledgments Advisor(s) and anyone who helped you:
- technically (including materials, supplies)
- intellectually (assistance, advice)
- financially (for example, departmental support, travel grants)
- Reference data/materials not easily available (theses are used as a resource by the department and other students).
- Tables (where more than 1-2 pages).
- Calculations (where more than 1-2 pages).
- It may be useful to include sourses of data in the appendix.
- If you consulted a large number of references but did not cite all of them, you might want to include a list of additional resource material, etc.
- Note: Figures and tables, including captions, should be embedded in the text and not in an appendix, unless they are more than 1-2 pages and are not critical to your argument.
What Are We Looking For?We are looking for a critical analysis. We want you to answer a scientific question or hypothesis. We would like you to gather evidence -- from various sources -- to allow you to make interpretations and judgments. Your approach/methods should be carefully designed to come to closure. Your results should be clearly defined and discussed in the context of your topic. Relevant literature should be cited. You should place your analysis in a broader context, and highlight the implications (regional, global, etc.) of your work. We are looking for a well-reasoned line of argument, from your initial question, compilation of relevant evidence, setting data in a general/universal context, and finally making a judgment based on your analysis. Your thesis should be clearly written and in the format described below.
Planning Ahead for Your ThesisIf at all possible, start your thesis research after the second semester in PEP. You might use the summer between your first and second year with an internship, etc. ... then work on background material and lab work.
Skimming vs. Reading
Because of the literature explosion, papers more skimmed than read. Skimming involves reading the abstract, and looking at the figures and figure captions. Therefore, you should construct your paper so that it can be understood by skimming, i.e., the conclusions, as written in your abstract, can be understood by study of the figures and captions. The text fills out the details for the more interested reader.
Order of Writing
Your thesis is not written in the same order as it is presented in. The following gives you one idea how to proceed.
- first organize your paper as a logical argument before you begin writing
- make your figures to illustrate your argument (think skimming)
- the main sections are: background to the argument (intro); describing the information to be used in the argument, and making points about them (model results or observations), connecting the points regarding the info (analysis), summing up (conclusions).
- outline the main elements: sections, and subsections
- begin writing, choosing options in the following hierarchy - paragraphs, sentences, and words.
Here is another approach.
- Write up a preliminary version of the background section first. This will serve as the basis for the introduction in your final paper.
- As you work with the model and data, write up the methods section. It is much easier to do this right after you have worked with the methods. Be sure to include a description of the research equipment and relevant calibration plots.
- When you have some output, start making plots and descriptions of the data.
- Once you have a complete set of plots and statistical tests, arrange the plots and tables in a logical order. Write figure captions for the plots and tables. As much as possible, the captions should stand alone in explaining the plots and tables. Many scientists read only the abstract, figures, figure captions, tables, table captions, and conclusions of a paper. Be sure that your figures, tables and captions are well labeled and well documented.
- Once your plots and tables are complete, write the results section. Writing this section requires extreme discipline. You must describe your results, but you must NOT interpret them. (If good ideas occur to you at this time, save them at the bottom of the page for the discussion section.) Be factual and orderly in this section, but try not to be too dry.
- Once you have written the results section, you can move on to the discussion section. This is usually fun to write, because now you can talk about your ideas about the data. If you can come up with a good cartoon/schematic showing your ideas, do so. Many papers are cited in the literature because they have a good cartoon that subsequent authors would like to use or modify.
- In writing the discussion session, be sure to adequately discuss the work of other authors who collected data on the same or related scientific questions. Be sure to discuss how their work is relevant to your work. If there were flaws in their methodology, this is the place to discuss it.
- After you have discussed the data, you can write the conclusions section. In this section, you take the ideas that were mentioned in the discussion section and try to come to some closure. If some hypothesis can be ruled out as a result of your work, say so. If more work is needed for a definitive answer, say that.
- The final section in the paper is a recommendation section. This is really the end of the conclusion section in a scientific paper (it can be included in the conclusion section). Make recommendations for further research in this section. If you can make predictions about what will be found if X is true, then do so. You will get credit from later researchers for this.
- After you have finished the recommendation section, look back at your original introduction. Your introduction should set the stage for the conclusions of the paper by laying out the ideas that you will test in the paper. Now that you know where the paper is leading, you will probably need to rewrite the introduction.
- You must write your abstract last.
Figures and Tables
- The actual figures and tables should be embedded/inserted in the text, generally on the page following the page where the figure/table is first cited in the text.
- All figures and tables should be numbered and cited consecutively in the text as figure 1, figure 2, table 1, table 2, etc.
- Include a caption for each figure and table, citing how it was constructed (reference citations, data sources, etc.) and highlighting the key findings (think skimming). Include an index figure (map) showing and naming all locations discussed in paper.
- You are encouraged to make your own figures, including cartoons, schematics or sketches that illustrate the processes that you discuss. Examine your figures with these questions in mind:
- Is the figure self-explanatory?
- Are your axes labeled and are the units indicated?
- Show the uncertainty in data with error bars (if possible).
- Does the figure caption guide the reader's eye to the "take-home lesson" of the figure?
- Figures should be oriented vertically, in portrait mode, wherever possible. If you must orient them horizontally, in landscape mode, orient them so that you can read them from the right, not from the left, where the binding will be.
How does one fairly and accurately indicate who has made what contributions towards the results and interpretations presented in your thesis?: by referencing, authorship, and acknowledgements.
Different types of errors:
- direct quotes or illustrations without quotation marks, without attribution
- direct quotes without quotation marks, with attribution
- concepts/ideas without attribution
- concepts/ideas with sloppy attribution
- omitting or fabricating data or results
- Make 3 final copies to the pep office, two will go to the referees.
- Send an electronic version to the referees.
- Final thesis should be bound.
- Printed cleanly on white or white-recycled paper.
- Double-spaced using 12-point font.
- 1-inch margins.
- Double-sided saves paper.
- Include page numbers.
III. Editing Your Thesis
Even a rough draft should be edited.
- Proof read your thesis a few times.
- Check your spelling. spellcheckers are useful for initial checking, but don't catch homonyms (e.g. hear, here), so you need to do the final check by eye.
- Make sure that you use complete sentences
- Check your grammar: punctuation, sentence structure, subject-verb agreement (plural or singular), tense consistency, etc.
- Give it to others to read and comment.
- repetition, relevance
- Do not allow run-on sentences to sneak into your writing; try semicolons.
- Avoid nested clauses/phrases.
- Avoid clauses or phrases with more than two ideas in them.
- Do not use double negatives.
- Do not use dangling participles (i.e. phrases with an "-ing" verb, in sentences where the agent performing the action of the "-ing" verb is not specified: " After standing in boiling water for two hours, examine the flask.").
- Make sure that the antecedent for every pronoun (it, these, those, that, this, one) is crystal clear. If in doubt, use the noun rather than the pronoun, even if the resulting sentence seems a little bit redundant.
- Ensure that subject and verb agree in number (singular versus plural).
- Be especially careful with compound subjects. Be especially careful with subject/verb agreement within clauses.
- Avoid qualitative adjectives when describing concepts that are quantifiable ("The water is deep." "Plate convergence is fast." "Our algorithm is better.") Instead, quantify. ("Water depths exceed 5km.")
- Avoid noun strings ("acoustic noise source location technique").
- Do not use unexplained acronyms. Spell out all acronyms the first time that you use them.
Write for brevity rather than length. The goal is the shortest possible paper that contains all information necessary to describe the work and support the interpretation.
Avoid unnecessary repetition and irrelevant tangents.
Necessary repetition: the main theme should be developed in the introduction as a motivation or working hypothesis. It is then developed in the main body of the paper, and mentioned again in the discussion section (and, of course, in the abstract and conclusions).
Some suggestions on how to shorten your paper:
- Use tables for repetitive information.
- Include only sufficient background material to permit the reader to understand your story, not every paper ever written on the subject.
- Use figure captions effectively.
- Don't describe the contents of the figures and/or tables in the text item-by-item. Instead, use the text to point out the most significant patterns, items or trends in the figures and tables.
- Delete "observations" or "results" that are mentioned in the text for which you have not shown data.
- Delete "conclusions" that are not directly supported by your observations or results.
- Delete "interpretation" or "discussion" sections that are inconclusive.
- Delete "interpretation" or "discussion" sections that are only peripherally related to your new results or observations.
- Scrutinize adjectives! adverbs and prepositional phrases.
Writing for an International Audience
- Put as much information as possible into figures and tables. In particular, try to find a way to put your conclusions into a figure, perhaps a flowchart or a cartoon.
- Don't assume that readers are familiar with the geography or the stratigraphy of your field area.
- Every single place-name mentioned in the text should be shown on a map.
- Consider including a location map, either as a separate figure or as an inset to another figure. If your paper involves stratigraphy, consider including a summary stratigraphic column--in effect, a location map in time.
- Use shorter sentences. Avoid nested clauses or phrases.
- Avoid idioms. Favor usages that can be looked up in an ordinary dictionary. "Take the beaker out of the oven immediately..." rather than "Take the beaker out of the oven right away..."