Master Thesis #1

Second try, second chance! Five years ago, I have written my first master thesis. An Egyptological study about how the Ancient Egyptians used graphical tools and layout to structure their papyri. And for some reason I wonder why I have never published any of my results on my webpage. I definitely should have done that! But that’s for a second project.

This time, I have changed the university and the basic subject, as this master thesis will be done in computer science. I am studying CS with the minor “machine intelligence” – there are actually three chairs in Basel dealing with this topic, leaning towards artificial intelligence, biomedical data analysis, and computer graphics and vision.

Now, the first and obvious choice for me would have been the last one – I have studied media informatics in Munich and I do work a lot with 3D models in my day job. And it is a very fascinating field of study! I had some courses there and they were magnificent. The same with the biomedical data analysis, I had a full course on bioinformatics and really loved the algorithms and how they were used to solve problems which otherwise might take ages to calculate. Buzzword “sequence alignment”.

For some reason, though, artificial intelligence kind of made it into my head. For several reasons, to be honest. First, planning and the optimization of plans is something which has been stuck in my head for almost 30 years. As a child I went along and tried to be as structured and reasonable as possible: where am I? Where do I want to go? Which obstacles are in my way? Which options do I have? Now go find a route through this maze. A way of thinking of problems which can be adapted to anything in life. Trying to find the best or cheapest path from my current state to a goal state, that’s just how my brain worked.

Second, I love how this field has been very formal, very focused on maths during my studies. Don’t get me wrong, all informatics are about maths. You cannot do advanced informatics without knowing your maths. But in this particular field I learned a lot about how to define things formally and properly, how to write those things down and how to prove all that. It is – I have to admit it – quite a challenge. But it is well structured and very logical. Quite a contrast to my first master thesis, done in humanities, and quite a contrast to my bachelor thesis where I had to program, but not really to do anything mathematical.

Which leads to my third aspect – the challenge. Yes, it is a challenge, and yes, I am full aware of that. I could make my life much easier here. I don’t want to. I kind of need this challenge to get a deeper understanding of my own abilities. I want to convince myself that I can do that – and not just fulfill the task, but do it in an excellent way. This may sound arrogant, yes. In fact, it is not. To the contrary. I abuse this work to make myself more comfortable with my skills. And increase them. As I usually say: reach for the utmost to extend your possibilities. You won’t grow in life if you stick to what you already know.

This week I had my first meeting with my potential supervisors, and they spent some time on me and presented me with two topics I could choose from. Both topics sound very interesting, but challenging – I guess you will understand I don’t write them down here without having read the first papers. Better not write something down which is complete and utter nonsense. 😉 But they don’t sound like completely undoable jobs. Which is an important first trait.

One good thing about doing a master at my new university: the master thesis is kind of split into two parts. First, you have to do a preparation phase for your master. You choose a topic and start reading on it, gather all the relevant literature, figure out the current problems and the basic history of the work in this field. After one month, you report on your findings and either pass or fail. If you pass (and have finished the rest of your studies in a good enough way), you can finally start your real master thesis, a work to be done in six months.

The advantage, compared to my first master thesis: a lot of work is done before the actual work starts. Not having to get a first grip on the topic, already being familiar with the fundamental literature, having had some first thoughts about the problem and potential solutions, that’s really a big help when starting into a project. And it doesn’t take additional time. Besides, if you figure out after this one month that the topic does not really fit, you can still change. Better now than when writing your thesis, right?

Anyway. I am really motivated to do this in a good, motivated, organised and concise style. I have learned a lot about complicated project works over the last couple years, and I have improved my own discipline and tactics as well. Let’s see if it works out. And it might be a nice thing to leave some notes here on my website from time to time – not as a general “blog” of my master thesis, but to let you and myself know the current state and my thoughts about the work.

So, I’d say – let’s get started! 🙂