Student Thesis Overview


This overview will describe the thesis, why it is very important to your graduate study, what are the steps that you will need to do and when they should or must be done, how to find an advisor, and the resources that are available to help you along the way. In the following section, questions and answers are provided for some common questions.

A thesis is a "position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument." and a document containing results of original research and especially supporting a specific view.

What is a Thesis?

The thesis is the most important part of your graduate education. While the course work lays the foundation by providing analytical methods and tools, it is the thesis that provides to you the opportunity to use this knowledge in a new, original and creative manner. During your thesis research you will be able to consolidate what you have already learned, and possibly extend this by further self-study, and to use this body of knowledge to attack a new problem. The thesis will hopefully be your crowning achievement of your graduate study, and will be your introduction to the community of scholars.

Choosing Your Topic and Advisor

The first step in the thesis process is choosing an advisor and a topic. While your formal thesis slots may be in the last 2 or 3 quarters at NPS, it is very important that you have a thesis advisor and topic chosen well before this, preferably a year or so before you plan to graduate. During the time between choosing an advisor/topic and the start of your thesis slots, you should meet regularly with your advisor and spend a few hours a week reading background material and thinking about the problem.

The method for choosing your topic and advisor is completely up to you. However, you are strongly advised to talk to every faculty member in all the areas that you have any interest before making decisions. There are several questions you might want to ask yourself, before talking to the faculty. What type of work do you most enjoy? Generally, thesis research may be categorized as analytical (e.g. using a pencil and paper for mathematical modeling and derivation of solutions), computational (e.g. using finite element technique or computational fluid mechanics to find solutions), experimental (e.g. designing, building, or modifying an existing set-up to obtain new data) or some combination of the three. It is generally advisable that you take a course from a professor before you make a commitment to work for him or her. The Mechanical Engineering Faculty periodically schedule thesis opportunity presentations, where they will discuss their current research interests and the available topics. In addition, there is a ME website which contains short written descriptions for current thesis topics of ME faculty. You may talk to fellow students, who are close to graduating to discuss what they have done and how they enjoyed their experience. However, they probably will not be as good a source of what the available research topics are as the faculty members, themselves. Finally, you may wish to review previous thesis, as well as conference and journal publications from the various faculty members. 

After you find an advisor and agree on the topic, you are required to fill out a thesis approval form, which must be signed by the thesis advisor, the Academic Associate and the Chairman of the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Common Pitfalls and Advice

While your advisor will help you along the way and provide broad guidance and feedback, it is the responsibility of the student to be self-motivated and to initiate all of the steps. Do not expect your advisor to provide a detailed, step-by-step, road map for you. You should be independent and think through problems first, before asking your advisor. However, that does not in any way mean you should avoid meeting with your advisor. You should meet regularly with your advisor to discuss what you have done, what issues have arisen, how you plan to solve them, and what your next steps should be.

One common problem faced by researchers, is the failure to sufficiently limit the scope of their work. Being overly broad can lead to a lack of focus and prevent any contribution from being made. It may seem to you that your advisor has asked you to solve a problem that you consider trivial and your may be inclined to broaden the scope. Stay focused on the immediate problem. If you solve the problem then by all mean go on to a larger problem. But initially, stay focus on a narrow and well-defined problem.

Thesis Proposals

One way that you can help yourself is to write a short Thesis Proposal. It can be useful in helping to consolidate your understanding and focusing your future work. This may be written after you have been working on the problem for several months, have read dozens of articles and it may contain the following elements:

  1. Introduction to the problem. This describes the problem and why it is important.
  2. State of the art. Literature review and what is not known.
  3. Objectives. Your goals for the work. What would be the desired outcome(s). Be specific. Do not say "to better understand something".
  4. Proposed work. Very limited and specific.

For you to make an original contribution, it generally requires that you have an understanding of what is already known, by experts in your field. Therefore, one of the primary resources on which you will depend is the NPS library and the reference staff. While the world-wide-web is becoming an increasing source of information, and you should make use of it, there are many primary sources, such as books and journals, which are not available on the web. Most of the information on the web is not archival in nature - that is, it might not exist if a certain site is closed. One of the most valuable skills you should learn during your thesis is how to obtain and process information and how to synthesize new results from that original information.

After your research is complete you will be required to write and submit a thesis document. For many of you it will be the longest document that you have written. There are several sources available to help you in writing the document, including "How to Write a Thesis" by the Mechanical Engineering Department and several guidelines and templates available on the NPS web site.

Finally you are required to make an oral presentation of your thesis research to the faculty and students of the Mechanical Engineering Department. The presentation is approximately fifteen minutes with about a 5-minute question and answer period. A document on how to prepare and deliver this presentation is available from the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Common Questions and Answers

Please visit our Thesis Q&A page to view common questions and answers regarding your Thesis.