Master's Thesis: Matching the Writers and the Supervisors

Subject: Master’s degree programme in Educational Psychology. Course: Master’s thesis coordination. Study level: Master’s degree / Master's thesis. Class size: 170 - 200.

Motivation for the activity

In order to improve the opportunities for all Master’s degree students to get the Master’s thesis process off to a good start and to improve the supervisors' opportunities for planning their workday in relation to supervision, we make use of a coordinated supervision allocation.

Each semester there is a fixed deadline by which the students must apply to be assigned a supervisor within a specified subject area. This coordinated supervision allocation facilitates the process for both the students who apply for a supervisor, as well as the staff members who are potential supervisors.

The objectives and background of the activity

To offer the students relevant Master’s thesis supervisors so that the individual student begins and can complete the work on their Master’s thesis as this is intended in the academic regulations for the Master's degree in educational psychology, and to ensure that the supervisor resources cover the requirement for supervision in combination with the fact that the students begin their Master’s thesis at very different times of the academic year.

Some students themselves contact supervisors, others do not, which makes it difficult to plan and prioritise supervision resources for the students writing the Master’s thesis. 

From the introduction of a requirement for thesis contracts as prerequisite for supervision and examinations, there has been a tendency for many students to postpone the thesis contract for as long as possible to avoid losing an examination attempt. It has therefore become important for the students to quickly have the opportunity of being affiliated to a course of supervision that could support and contribute to targeting the work on the thesis. The Master's degree programme in educational psychology also often has too few tenured academic staff to cover the large requirement for supervision (due to the large number of students writing the Master’s thesis).

In practice this meant that the students previously often had to contact many different potential supervisors before they managed to land an agreement on supervision. Furthermore, this arrangement favoured the students who were good at, and quick to, contact supervisors. For the department's academic staff it was often difficult to avoid taking on too much supervision work, which i.e. led to a very inexpedient excessive workload for part of the staff.

The course of the activity

  • During the current semester the Master's thesis coordinator uses BlackBoard to inform the students of the deadline for applying for a thesis supervisor for the following semester (e.g. 8.12 for thesis supervision during the following spring and 15.06 for thesis supervision during the following autumn) 
  • The Master's thesis coordinator / Master's thesis studies secretary makes the form for applying for a Master’s thesis supervisor accessible to the students on BlackBoard
  • The Master's thesis coordinator / Master's thesis studies secretary checks which supervisor resources are available for the degree programme by sending an enquiry to potential supervisors affiliated with the degree programme
  • The students apply for a Master's thesis supervisor by completing the form before the deadline
  • The Master's thesis coordinator / Master's thesis studies secretary compiles the responses from potential supervisors and applications for Master's thesis supervision from the students
  • Based on the students' applications, the Master's thesis coordinator / Master's thesis studies secretary allocates the supervisor resources that are available
  • The Master’s thesis coordinator / Master's thesis studies secretary informs the students of the person that has been allocated as their supervisor for the Master's thesis, that the supervision begins in the following semester and that the thesis contract must be completed and signed no later than three weeks after the first supervision.

Outcome of the activity

After the introduction of a common deadline for applying for a Master's thesis supervisor it has become possible for potential supervisors to prioritise and plan the thesis supervision in relation to other tasks. This has made work planning easier for the individual employee and provided the students with much better opportunities for planning and receiving supervision of their Master's thesis. Students no longer need to approach many different potential candidates and depend on luck in finding a Master's thesis supervisor. At the same time the application deadline supports and presses the students in relating to and planning their thesis so that they start on the work quicker than previously, provided that the supervision collaboration functions. For the majority of the students, this is a great advantage.

In addition, it is now possible to offer joint thesis seminars where the students are introduced to the formalities regarding the Master's thesis and the completion of the degree programme, ethical considerations and reporting to the Danish Data Protection Agency, qualification of their thesis statement, literature searches and other work with State of Art, their survey design, theory, method and analysis. Student feedback shows that these seminars are a big help both academically and socially in the work with the Master's thesis. The seminars are relevant for many as their work processes are to a greater extent parallel after the thesis supervision begins at the start of each semester, which is now possible through the introduction of applications for Master's thesis supervision.

The procedure’s deadlines do, however, appear to contribute to some of the students being exposed to considerable pressure due to deadlines, and there are examples of Master's thesis students being delayed in their work on the thesis as a result of stress. In addition, the emphasis on Master's thesis contracts having to be completed early in the supervision process has led to an increase in the number of contract extensions compared to previously, where students first entered into a contract later in the process. In this way the actual time spent working with the supervision of Master's thesis has been made visible.


Anne Maj Nielsen

Associate professor