WHAT ARE THE EXAMINERS LOOKING FOR IN A GOOD PART II THESIS?
Let's start with the obvious. What the examiners most want to see is high quality scientific work, professionally carried out and well presented. There is not a requirement in the regulations that you should discover something entirely new and revolutionary. You only have nine months to carry out your project, and one of the essences of scientific research is its unpredictability. You may run into unexpected difficulties, or the project may not work out at all in the way you anticipated. It may even happen that other people are working on the same scientific problem, entirely unknown to you, who publish their results shortly before you complete your own work. You have no control over such events. For this reason, the examination regulations require only that you submit a report on your investigations. Tell us what you did. If it worked, thats great, If it didn't, tell the examiners why, and if appropriate, suggest how the project might be improved or redesigned to get better results. If you find that other people have duplicated your work, you should include a critical comparison of your work and theirs. If the various results agree, that's good: if not, that's interesting; try to explain the reasons for the discrepancies.
Now to some details. The Part II year forms part of your training for the M.Eng. degree, and for subsequent Chartered Engineer status. Thus there are a number of professional skills that you should be acquiring during the year, and for which training will be provided. These include experimental and / or computational abilities, literature searching, data analysis, oral and written presentational skills, and project management. Your Part II thesis should demonstrate what you have learnt in a number of these areas. For example:
- Your literature survey should be concise and critical, and you should include mention of what databases or other information sources you have used in compiling it.
- Full information should be given about the materials that you study - their source, purity, full composition, prior thermal and mechanical treatments, etc.
- The reproducibility of experimental measurements should be stated, and an estimate of experimental errors and uncertainties should be included alongside the results.
- Analysis of the statistical significance of experimental results should be included whenever appropriate.
- Where computer modelling has been used, an assessment of the reliability of the model and the accuracy of the calculations should be attempted.
- A short discussion of project management aspects of your research should be included, describing the evolution of the aims and objectives of the work, the chronology of what was actually done, and the reasons for any changes of strategy as the year progressed.
- The thesis should contain a clear summary of the main results and conclusions and (where appropriate) should identify key objectives for further work.
One aspect of the Part II which is not formally assessed for examination purposes is your development of oral presentational skills. You will give a talk about your project at a Departmental mini-symposium which is held shortly after Easter, and there is a prize for the best presentation on that occasion. But the examiners will not take this oral presentation into account when awarding your degree. The reason is simple: some people are naturally much better talkers than others! For the same reason, although you will have a viva voce examination following the submission of your thesis, you will not be marked for your presentational skills on that occasion. The purpose of the viva is to establish that you fully understand the subject matter of your thesis, that you are conversant with the workings of the equipment or computer models that you have used, and that you have a good critical appreciation of the significance of your results.
In assessing the thesis, the examiners will seek information from the project supervisor(s) about the extent of your interaction with other people, the nature of your specific contributions to the overall research, and about the effects of factors outside your control. But it is important not to let the existence of this form of evaluation distort your behaviour pattern. Don't hide away in a corner and refuse to talk to anyone about your work for fear of being penalised at the end of the year. Teamwork is vital, and discussing plans and ideas with colleagues is a very important and enjoyable aspect of research; its just that, at the end of the year, the examiners have to try to establish what contribution you have made to the overall work of the research group of which you have been a member.
Have a great year - the Part II should be one the most enjoyable parts of the whole course.