The Thesis Proposal
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 95 19:25:05 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: The Thesis Proposal
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Angela Marie Thomas <firstname.lastname@example.org>
29-Sep-90 12:07 Kevin.Knight@F.GP.CS.CMU.EDU Thesis Proposal
Many of the first-year grad students have come up to me and asked me
questions about the "thesis proposal". Such as, "What's a thesis proposal?"
and "How will I know when I've had one?"
Well, first of all, a thesis proposal is not that different from a marriage
proposal. You make sincere promises, you sweat profusely, you hope the
other party says yes. You get down on your knees and beg. Doing a marriage
proposal is in fact good practice for a thesis proposal. All first-year
grad students are encouraged to take the marriage minicourse.
On to basics. Here is a sample thesis proposal:
I would like to propose solving X. The traditional way to solve X is
stupid, while my way is most excellent. The traditional way suffers from
all sorts of problems. My way suffers from none of these problems. I have
built a prototype that takes "input" and converts that input into what I
call "output". The output of my prototype is excellent, although I could
make it even more excellent. This is what I would like to propose to do.
You should submit a draft like this to your advisor. You should then
organize a "committee". Your committee will behave roughly like any other
committee, for example, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
This committee has the power to make your life utterly miserable. On the
other hand, the committee can solve all of your problems with the stroke
of a pen.
During your proposal, some member of your committee will ask, "How will
science be different after your thesis?" There are two possible answers
to this question:
(true) "Science will be about the same."
(false) "Science will be far better off, like, incredibly."
Should you lie? In the words of Alan Perlis, "Why not?"
At the end of your proposal, you must then give a schedule for your thesis
work. A schedule for scientific research looks like this:
November: Have major conceptual breakthrough.
December: Apply breakthrough to solve problem.
January: Discover new problem.
February: Have another major conceptual breakthrough.
You should know that failure to comply with your thesis schedule is grounds
So when should you do your proposal? You will know when the time is right.
A candlelit dinner, a knowing glance, a bottle of wine. Just follow your
heart. Most students propose sometime during their first year.
© 1995 Peter Langston