During your time as a Hamburg Mundusian you will have to write your thesis; this is the culmination of your MA work and the undoubtedly the biggest project you’ll undertake on the programme. Below is an overview of the general process from coming up with an idea to getting stuck into research.
Coming up with ideas and getting started: During the first (autumn) semester in Hamburg you’ll take a class called the ‘research colloquium’. This class is to get you thinking about developing any ideas you’ve got for a thesis. It’s worthwhile saying that independently of this in most other classes, your teachers will also push you to think about developing class projects as potential thesis options. At the end of the day, its your choice whether you develop an idea you’ve worked on in one of the classes, or you come up with a new project independent of that.
Choosing a supervisor: By January, you’ll probably start thinking more seriously about what you want to research, if you haven’t already. It’s around this time that you should start thinking about who you want as a supervisor. Sometime around then, Monika will let you know what staff are available to supervise students. Most people have two supervisors from Hamburg University but it is possible to have an external supervisor also. It can take some time to find a supervisor – it’s different for everyone; some people find a person straight away and others take a few months to find the right match. Some supervisors will only take on projects they’re personally interested in, others are more flexible. So there are many factors that go into finalising what project you’re going to work on, and who will help you along the way.
Starting the actual research: In March or April you will have your first research colloquium. This is where you present your initial idea to your classmates and supervisors. It’s an exciting time: Most people at this point have big ideas and are still in the process of refining and whittling them down to a project that is realistic. So it’s a good time for dreaming and discussing your project with friends. It’s also a time that can be confusing and overwhelming as students try and figure out how they’re going to go about actually achieving their research. During the colloquium, lecturers and students give you feedback on your project, which is normally really helpful and constructive.
During the main six months: Once you’ve been to the colloquium, you’re off on your own. The next several months will be yours to shape as you go – a pretty big freedom and responsibility. During this time, most people check in with their supervisors with a mixture of emails and face to face meetings. How often you do this is dependent on you and also on the supervisors you have. We’d also recommend getting together with classmates to workshop and problem solve challenges that come up during your thesis. During this time the professors also hold further colloquiums for you to bounce ideas and workshop problems that might come up.
And a few practical details: During the colloquium you’ll be told about the dates you need to officially register as a student who is writing their thesis. This is part of the process for all MA students at Hamburg Universität. As part of this process you will fill out a form stating the actual dates you will start and finish your thesis on. The start date is quite flexible. You will officially have six months to write the thesis, but since you’ll have been thinking about it for a while by this point, most people end up taking about eight months in total. You can start anytime between April 1 and June 30, and your six months runs from that date.
The experience of writing a thesis is a rather personal one, each person deals with the challenges and the freedom of it in different ways. Below are a few tips from previous Mundusians on how to get through your thesis writing months in Hamburg:
1. Get a library card of the Central Library of Hamburg of the Bücherhallen Hamburg. Yes, that huge building next to the Central Station! It has such an amazing variety of books, CDs, movies, magazines, that you will never spend a single minute being bored in Hamburg.
2.Practice German in conversation in the groups held at this same library. Besides putting in time to practice your German, you will get to know some very interesting people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds.
3. Another library tip… Try the Hamburg Branch of the German National Library of Economics. It has an amazing view to the Alster. You can also have the nicest break for lunch if you wander from here down to the park benches in front of the lake.
4. Do not miss a performance of the Hamburg Ballet. It is one of the most prestigious companies in Germany and Europe and you will get to know why when you watch it. With your student card you can get really good prices (15 euros) if you show up 30 minutes before the show.
5. If you’re studying at the Social Science Library in the AP building, you can leave the books you’ve been looking at on a special shelf for up to one week and no one will put them away for you. This means that if you don’t want to take the books home, each day you can go to the library and find them all in one place, without having to put them back on the shelves. Simply take a piece of paper, write the date that you took the books on, and when you’re finished in the library for the day, place the books in a stack (with the date showing) on the ‘reserved’ shelf on the far side of the library. If you don’t use them after seven days from the date on the paper, a librarian will put them away.
6. Take a break from studying at uni and head to one of Hamburg’s many cafes around Sternschanze, Eimsbüttel, or St Pauli to swat for a few hours. Check it’s got wifi, order some coffee and later a toastie, and you’re away laughing. I’d recommend Cafe Stark in St Pauli or Cafe May in Eimsbüttel or St Pauli, Less Political in Sternschanze or Cafe Gloria in Eimsbüttel. Just be sure to include a small tip for the staff when you finally pay and leave…
7. Organize yourself! This may sound obvious but many of us just start reading and then realize nothing is going to get done without a plan. Having a calendar and setting a determined number of weeks for reading bibliography, making interviews and writing, is actually necessary. Otherwise you’ll never give up reading, because you never feel totally ready for writing.
8. Combine your “thesis hours” with sports, friends, work or anything you can get distracted with: There is nothing more unproductive than having a whole day to write. Instead, set up a schedule and devote five to seven hours per day to your “thesis making”. That way you’ll know you need to make the most out of those hours and you’ll get something done in the end.
9. Make sure you do something to relax mentally and physically. Long Hours at the library will kill you after a month. Not to say three months! Personally, sports and outdoor activities were the most valuable to endure the thesis period. If you are writing in Hamburg get a sports card and go to the gym, you can find a whole lot of different activities from sailing to jazz dance. Dont waste the opportunity to move your body and accelerate your biorythm. If you are not into sports find a friend and go for a walk in the city centre, swim at Stadtpark lake or take a boat trip. Nature was also soothing after a whole day in front of the computer. “Partying” is also a good technique in times of stress, but don’t use it too often because there is nothing more worst than trying to be clever with a headache.
10. Use your supervisors! Very important! I know it may look like they don’t care, but believe me they do (at least a little bit). Even when you feel like you have nothing to ask (or too many doubts), grab a notebook and organize your thoughts, write down the three most important questions and go see your supervisor. They have been through this process many times and know how to handle confusion. Don’t feel stupid for asking: “How am I supposed to do this?” Because no one really knows. So, go ahead and ask them!
11. Clean Desk Policy: No matter where you choose to write, make sure it is comfy and is always tidy up. “Thesis making” is about organizing your thoughts and there is nothing worst for that than having to think surrounded by a total mess. So devote some time to keep your desk clean and tidy. Otherwise you’ll end up hating the place where you are supposed to feel motivated.
12. Do it now! …Or it will be painful: No matter what you commitments or plans you have. Try not to postpone the thesis issue. Believe me the sooner, the better. I know it may feel like you are waiting for the right time, but the time was never better than now. Afterwards, you’ll feel bad because your friends are almost over and you haven’t even started.
13. Finally; connect with your classmates and friends. I work just fine by myself, but I really appreciated having my pals around during the thesis period. That awful feeling you get after a day full day at the library and not even a line written down…. That is the same feeling your friends are experiencing now… So go talk to them! Share your frustration. And luckily you will also share those good days when you feel motivated and those tips like a database or an app that helps you organize yourself. In my experience we even booked meeting rooms at the library or went to a nice cafe all together. We had to set “non talking hours” to make it work, but indeed, it worked!