MSc Thesis

This page contains description of how to do a MSc thesis with me at DTU Compute. Before reading on, please read the official DTU Regulations on the MSc. Thesis. Then read Rasmus Paulsen’s guide on choosing the right project with the right supervisor.

Once you have read these pages, you may consult my list of project proposals for students to work with. All projects are somehow related to my research in personal health technology and you will hence be working together with a range of other researchers (PhD students) and programmers. Most of my research is centered within the following research areas:

Your background

Prospective students should:

  • have a solid computer science background, previous exposure to the research areas listed above (HCI, UbiComp, mHealth) or related areas. I do consider outstanding students with other degrees, but equivalent computer science background is required.
  • have taken relevant DTU master courses on HCI, embedding programming, and software engineering, such as
  • be a strong programmer and enjoy programming — most of my students’ research projects require very sophisticated programming, either because projects involve non-standard interfaces, or building underlying architectures.
  • also be interested in non-technical cross-discipline aspects of HCI and health, such as sociological or psychological aspects of computer technology, design methods and thinking, usability & UX (graphical) design, health and disease management, and human physiology;
  • be able to conduct user studies, including user-centered design, evaluations, controlled experiments, and pilot field trials, involving users such as patients, relatives, and clinicians
  • team up as a pair – I alway recommend a MSc. thesis to be done in a team of no more, and no less than 2 persons. According to the DTU regulations, however, you can be up to 4 persons.

Supervision

My supervision is applying a group-based supervision approach. You can read more about this here. This basically means that:

  • There is a joint kick-off meeting for all students that initiates supervision.
  • You make a detailed project definition report including a plan for your work (see below). And you follow this plan (unless some radical problems occur).
  • All of my students meet bi-weekly for a joint supervision meeting. Before the meeting you submit your progress report. At the meeting you get supervision from me and you help each other. Each group have a 20 min. timeslot, so make the best out of it (i.e., be prepared).
  • You should work empirically (i.e., doing practical things like coding, analysing, running test, and evaluating applications) as well as theoretically (i.e., doing things like reading related literature, writing thesis chapters, and creating nice illustrations) throughout the entire project period. I DO NOT recommend writing the thesis during the last week of the project…
    • You may want to consult my “The Art of Doing a PhD” page – the description here applies equally for doing a thesis project, just in a smaller scale. Especially the Fish model can be useful.

  • I do not review your final thesis before you submit it. Supervision is a strange thing; on the one hand I am supposed to supervise you and yet on the other hand I’m also the one to review and grade your thesis in the end. Hence, in order to see what you can do independently and to grade your work, you need to write up your thesis on your own. This is the tail of the fish above.

The Project Definition Report

Besides the final thesis, the Project Definition Report (PDR) is the most important thing to write. The PDR contains the following outline:

  1. Project description
    1. Background
    2. Prior work
    3. Research question / hypothesis
    4. Contributions / goals
    5. Empirical / practical considerations
    6. Impact / innovation / application
  2. Intended learning objectives
  3. Plan
    1. Gantt chart
    2. Activities
    3. Milestones
    4. Deliverable, incl. chapters of the Thesis
    5. Risk analysis

Here is an example of a DTU Thesis Project Description Example, as it should look like. On of the most important parts of the PDR is the Gantt chart, which is illustrated below.

According to the DTU regulations, the PDR should be made within the first month of the project. The PDR will be the major discussion item on the kick-off meeting.

Type of Thesis

In my experience, a MSc. thesis can be divided into four main types – all of which are related to the kind of ‘contribution‘ your thesis aims at:

  1. Theoretical – a theoretical thesis addresses a problem entirely theoretical, i.e. makes a contribution which is an abstraction of the problem. This can take many forms; a mathematical model (but then I’m probably not the right supervisor); a computational or simulation model; a conceptual model / framework; or a systematic literature review.
  2. Design – a design thesis focuses on a deep analysis of a particular domain and problem and through a thorough design process (typically with a deep involvement of users and stakeholder) come of with a system design. Here, focus is on your problem analysis and design skills, incl. user-centered design method, graphical user interface design, etc.
  3. System – in this type of thesis, you build a system, ie. a hardware / software system that ‘solves’ a problem. This type of thesis appeals to most computer scientists and engineers and are hence the most typical one. Here, focus is on your technical skills and you ability to create a novel and technically sound system design, and implement a proof-of-concept of it. System designs can be targeted a specific application domain (e.g. creating a novel smarthome sensor for fall detection) or it can be more general purpose (e.g. a general-purpose sensor integration platform for smarthome sensors).
  4. Study – in this type of thesis you take an existing technology (which you did not design yourself) and makes a thorough evaluation of it. Study theses falls normally into two broad categories; (i) technical study and (ii) user study – but when working in health technology, a third type exist; (iii) clinical study. In a technical study, you evaluate a system’s functional and non-functional software architecture qualities (e.g. scalability, security, etc.). In a user-study, you run a detailed usability study of the technology. In a clinical study, you run a study with patients to assess the feasibility of the system for clinical use (note that providing real-world clinical evidence will almost always be outside the scope of a MSc. thesis – this often require a PhD project).

It is of crucial importance that you up front (in your PDR) decide which type of thesis you’re aiming at. I cannot emphasise this enough; I’ve seen a number of students struggling because they didn’t decide what the wanted to do with respect to the type of thesis, i.e. what the main contribution (aka ‘story’) of their thesis was. It is also important that you tell you supervisor what kind of thesis you’re doing – the choice of external examiner (Danish: ‘censor’) highly depends on this, and you don’t want your thesis being examined by the wrong type of examiner…

Having said that; most theses contains elements of all four types; it is hard to build a system without doing a design, and its a strong addition to a system thesis to also do an evaluation / study. However, the important part is here; what is your main problem statement and contribution.

For your inspiration, here are some MSc. theses, one of each type:

  1. Theoretical – at the time of writing, I really don’t have a good example of a theoretical MSc. thesis.
  2. Design – in 2016, Benjamin Johansen under the supervision of Jakob Eg Larsen did a thesis on “UX prototyping design of HealthKit app for heart disease patients“. This is a very good example of what I would call a ‘design thesis’ because it details the design of a specific app, including the design process and methods applied. 
  3. System – in 2008, Niels Nørskov did a thesis on “Improving Patient Safety in the Operating Room Using Context-Aware Technologies and RFID” which resulted in the design of the “Context Aware Patient Safety and Information System” (CAPSIS). This was later turned into a scientific publication [1]. A more recent DTU example is that Andrea Quemada did a MSc thesis on “Personal Health Technology for Behaviour Change in Alcohol Misuse“.
  4. Study – in 2008, Sanne Jensen, Joan Nielsen Meyer, Jesper Dahl and Annabel Lee Krarup did a study of the CAPSIS system. This study was done in a simulated clinical environment at the IT Experimatarium at Herlev Hospital. The thesis – entitled “AXHIS: Metode til vurdering af it- systemer inden implementering” (in Danish) provided both a thorough evaluation of the system as well as a proposal for a systematics clinical simulation methodology. Later, Sanne Jensen continued this work in her PhD Thesis [2].

Writing the Thesis

A Thesis is structured according to the type of thesis. However, chapter 1 is almost always structured in the same way, as described by Saul Greenberg on his “Deconstruction Chapter 1” page.

As Saul Greenberg puts it:

“Almost all chapter 1’s contain the following structure. You can use this as a ‘formula’ to create your own draft of Chapter 1. Of course, you can alter and deviate from this formula, but only do so if you have a good reason for it.”

Please always follow this outline.

Stating “Distribution of Contributions”

According to National Danish regulations, grades are given on an individual basis. Therefore; if you are doing a MSc. Thesis as a group (which I, as mentioned above, recommend), it is important that it is clear which member of the group did what. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Each chapter has a separate author. In this case, the thesis is like an edited book, with each chapter being written by an individual person. And of course, the person who wrote the chapter also did the work/research described in this chapter.
  2. You include the mandatory Appendix A entitled “Distribution of Contributions” which in details outline for each group member what s/he did – both in terms of the empirical work (e.g. interviews, transcribing, coding, testing, evaluation) and in terms of writing the thesis.

It is NOT permitted to write something like “The work was done equally by all members of the group”.

Note that if the distribution of contributions are not explained, we cannot evaluate the thesis and hence grade you!

Oral Exam

Sune Lehmann have provided a nice description of how the MSc. Thesis oral exam runs. Please read this.

I have only one addition; in line with the description above, we grade you on an individual basis. This implies that each member of a group will have his/her own individual oral exam.

Practical Things

  • We use DTU Inside / CampusNet for communication and file sharing. This is where you submit your PDR, progress reports, etc.
  • The bi-weekly progress report should follow this template from Rasmus Paulsen.

LaTex

It is mandatory to write your thesis, PDR, and progress reports  in LaTex. There is plenty of support for LaTex at DTU, including the Thesis template

References

[1] [pdf] J. E. Bardram and N. Norskov, “A Context-aware Patient Safety System for the Operating Room,” in Proceedings of Ubicomp 2008: Ubiquitous Computing, 2008, pp. 272-281.
[Bibtex]
@inproceedings{ubicomp2008:bardram,
Author = {Jakob E. Bardram and Niels Norskov},
Booktitle = {Proceedings of Ubicomp 2008: Ubiquitous Computing},
Pages = {272-281},
Publisher = {ACM},
Title = {{A Context-aware Patient Safety System for the Operating Room}},
Url = {http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1409672},
Year = 2008,
}
[2] [pdf] S. Jensen, “Use of Clinical Simulation in Development of Clinical Information Systems,” PhD Thesis, 2014.
[Bibtex]
@phdthesis{jensen2014use,
title={Use of Clinical Simulation in Development of Clinical Information Systems},
school = {Aalborg University, Denmark},
author={Jensen, Sanne},
year={2014}
}