Supervision Guidelines

These guidelines These guidelines aim at making transparent what you can expect from me and what I expect from you when I am supervising your thesis.


General Information

As part of a course on Supervising Theses in which I participated in order to acquire the Baden-Württemberg-Zertifikat für Hochschuldidaktik (= Higher Education Didactics Certificate Baden-Württemberg) I am currently developing guidelines for supervising theses.

These are my personal guidelines, i.e. if you are supervised by someone else, your supervisor might have different expectations and habits! But, even if your thesis is not actually supervised by me, I believe that these guidelines can give you ideas how to structure the cooperation with your supervisor. Especially, they include some information about how and when to approach us if you would like to write your thesis with us.

These guidelines aim at making transparent

  • what you can expect from me
  • what I expect from you

when I am supervising your thesis.

At first, this might sound deterrent and like a lot of work to you, but I am deeply convinced that on the contrary these guidelines actually simplify the process of writing a thesis and reduce the overall effort!

The guidelines are mainly structured as a time line reaching from the initial contact to the defense of your thesis. Each field is split into a part for the supervisor and one for the student, i.e. you. The section regarding the supervisor can be understood in the way that this is what you can expect from me (if I am your supervisor). The section regarding you has to be understood in the sense that this is what I expect from you. If you are supervised by somebody else, you can see these guidelines as suggestions for how you and your supervisor could shape your cooperation.

Initial Contact

Ideally around 6 months before you want to register your thesis.
Contact the possible supervisor and ask whether the supervisor has the capacity to supervise a thesis in the time where you wish to write your thesis. Please contact Prof. Dr. Ekaterina A. Kostina if you wish to write your thesis in our group.Decide whether you have the capacity to supervise a thesis in the time where the student wishes to write the thesis.
If you like, put me in CC, so that I can possibly contribute ideas or even supervise you. 
If you already have a wish or a suggestions for the main topic of your thesis, inform the supervisor about it. 
What’s next?
Until the first organisational meeting:
Formulate wishes or even suggestions regarding the main topic of your thesis - if your supervisor wants you to do so and not done so already.Formulate suggestions regarding the main topic of the thesis or tell the student to formulate wishes or suggestions, see above.
If you have a wish or an idea already before the organisational meeting, please inform the supervisor already before the next meeting.If the student has told you an idea for a topic, try to develop this idea further if necessary.
If not done so yet, read these guidelines. 

Organisational Meeting

The latest 3 months before you want to register your thesis.
You and your supervisor meet for the first time to discuss the general conditions regarding your thesis. In particular, you discuss with your supervisor
honest goals for the thesisgoals regarding the students thesis and/or possibly relevance of the work within your research or larger projects
how much time you can and want to invest into your thesishow much time you can invest into the supervision
possibly other relevant obligations of yourspossibly state which other colleagues the student might turn to for adivce

Here it is important that you are honest in this discussion. It’s perfectly fine if your goal is not to write the best thesis ever and invest every second of your life into it. However, it is problematic if you state the opposite and the expectations of you and your supervisor hence mismatch.

In addition to that, you should discuss with your supervisor the plan for the regular meetings that you will have later on. This includes

  • How often do you and your supervisor want to meet?
  • What should you prepare for the meetings?
  • What kind of feedback do you want/can you get from your supervisor? E.g., can you send text excerpts to your supervisor to get feedback on your writing style?

Moreover, you briefly discuss the topic. I.e., depending on what you agreed on before and have communicated before:

State your wishes regarding the topic.Comment on the wishes or topic suggestions of the student regarding the topic.
Briefly present your topic suggestions.Briefly present your suggestions to improve a topic suggested by the student.
 Briefly present your topic suggestions
What’s next?
Until the second meeting - again depending on the particular situation:
Familiarize yourself with the topic suggestions by your supervisor.Based on the wishes of the student develop topic suggestion or adjust the topic drafts.
Learn about Scientific Writing and Researching techniques. 

Second Meeting

Around 2 months before you want to register your thesis.
The main goals of this second meeting are:
  1. Deciding on a topic
  2. Discussing current open questions

Depending on your and your supervisors preferences this meeting can also be replaced by an email exchange or a call.

Depending on whether you or your supervisor suggested topics initially the main task is

Share for which topic suggestion you decided.Share your feedback to the students topic suggestion.
Ask currently open questions. 
What’s next?
Now it is time to get started with the topic. Within around 1 month the tasks are
Write an exposé that includes a preliminary outline of your work and schedule.Make your subject- and form related expectations for the thesis transparent.
Create a first literature collection. 

A good schedule will significantly help you structuring the work you have to do during the thesis. It is important that your schedule is realistic, so be honest with yourself regarding how much time you need for the upcoming tasks.

Of course it is hard to predict the schedule and outline of your thesis perfectly at the beginning, so both will usually be updated during the work on the thesis, see also the regular meetings. Nevertheless, come up with an outline and schedule that is well thought out.

There are many good ressources on how to write an exposé, outline and schedule. Some that I personally like are listed below.

Submitting and Improving the Exposé

Submitting the first draft of the exposéImproving the exposé
After the second meeting and around 1 month before you want to register your thesis.Until around 1 week before you want to register your thesis.
Rarely an exposé is close to perfect right out of the box. As it is an important foundation on which you can build your thesis, the exposé should be improved over the next weeks.
Send your exposé to your supervisor.Provide feedback to the exposé.
Incorporate your supervisors feedbackPossibly suggest further literature.

This process should be repeated as often as necessary, as rarely as possible.

What’s next?
Once you have your exposé, outline, schedule and literature collection ready, it is time to register your thesis and then to really get started :)


Preparing the registrationRegistration
Around 1 week before you want to register your thesis.You can register your thesis at any time. So, the date of the registration is determined by the date by which you want to be done minus the available time to work on the thesis.

The time that you are allowed to work on your thesis is prescribed by the examination regulations you are enrolled in. To the best of my knowledge for Mathematics, the current regulations are that you have 3 months for a Bachelor thesis and 6 months for a master thesis. In special cases you can get an extension.

Please check your examination regulations for the current official regulations!

Preparing the registration Registration 
Prefill all relevant forms.Sign forms.Hand in all forms 
Think of title.Think of title.  
What’s next?
Continuously work on your thesis and try sticking to your schedule. Prepare and attend regular meetings with your supervisor.

Regular Meetings

On a regular basis and/or at specific milestones in the thesis, like after you have written your first chapter.

I like to meet you once per month and when you need advice.

In the meetings you and your supervisor discuss
  • the recent progress,
  • adjustments of the outline and schedule,
  • open questions,
  • suggestions for improvements,
  • miscellaneous.

To make these meetings as effective as possible, it is important that you prepare these meetings. The following tasks should help you with the preparation:

Check what tasks on your schedule you have done since the last meeting.Check whether the student is on track to complete the thesis in time.
What changes to the outline or schedule do you deem necessary and why?Provide feedback to the proposed changes.
Which open questions or problems do you currently have?Answer open questions.
If you and your supervisor agreed on this, send a text excerpt to your supervisor 1-2 weeks before to get feedback.Possibly read text excerpts and provide feedback on the writing style and the content.
 Possibly share relevant literature, events, etc. that you have discovered recently.

Around 1-1.5 months before the deadline the writing process should move into the focus. Still, the regular meetings go on - the discussions just slowly focus more strongly on the writing process.

Always be honest about your progress and problems! Nobody’s perfect and it’s absolutely fine if things are not going to plan. But only if you are honest about that, your supervisor can help you!

Reading and providing feedback to text excerpts is a lot of work for the supervisor. So, before sending text excerpts to your supervisor kindly ask the supervisor whether this is ok, see Organisational Meeting. Moreover, be understanding if your supervisor does not agree on this.

What’s next?
Between the regular meetings you should
  • continuously work on your thesis, sticking to the schedule,
  • incorporate feedback you obtained in the meetings,
  • ask for a meeting/help when you need it!

The last point is very important and goes along with the advice to always be honest about your progress and problems, see above.

Defense of the Thesis

Shortly before or shortly after the submission of your thesis.
In the defense of the thesis you give a presentation about your thesis and answer questions about it. As a preparation you should talk with your supervisor once - probably just in the schedule of the regular meetings - in order to discuss the formalities and expectations regarding your talk. If your supervisor has agreed to this, you might want to meet a second time for a rehearsal talk. However, the latter is rather unusual.