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Other Influence of bachelor's thesis on further studies

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How does the topic of your bachelor's thesis influence your further progress in your master studies and chances to join a research group for a master's thesis?

I basically try to achieve a career in experimental particle physics and I'd like to do a bachelor's thesis in said field, that is offered by my university. As the thesis has to be done as part of a lab exercise class, I run into some organisatory problems with the time of the exercise and extremly limited number of participants. The consequence is a probable loss of a whole year.
Alternatively I could do a bachelor's thesis in electronics as part of my electronics lab exercises. Doing that thesis would not end in any losses of semesters.
So if I choose to do electronics, would that in any way give me an disadvantage on getting a master's thesis in experimental particle physics or reduce my chances to join such a research group for a master's thesis?
 

Dr. Courtney

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There are several aspects of this.

1. When are the graduate program applications due relative to completion of the thesis on each pathway? Many graduate program applications are due in the fall of a student's senior year. I remind students I mentor that only accomplishments that are completed prior to their applications will help their applications.
2. A strong and timely recommendation letter from the professor overseeing your thesis project is more important than the subject area.
3. Authoring or co-authoring a published paper relating to your project is more important than the subject area. Papers accepted but still in press are as impressive as papers that have already appeared. Papers "in preparation" are only as impressive as the recommendation letter from the overseeing professor.
4. All other factors being equal, completed research work as an undergraduate is best done in the same field as one aspires to for graduate work. But other factors are seldom equal, and the above factors tend to be more important.
 
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Choppy

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In my experience admissions committees don't place a lot of weight on something like a thesis topic. As Dr. Courtney said, they're interested in what you've achieved based on the opportunities that you've had and taken.

That's not to say there aren't advantages. Taking on a undergrad thesis in your desired graduate field helps you to climb that learning curve and build connections in that area a little faster than other people who don't start until later. And if you find out you don't like it -- it's a lot better to figure that out over the course of a one or two semester project that you can force yourself to plow through than on a two years MSc project, or worse, a four plus year PhD project.

But it's also important to consider the advantages of broadening your horizons. For one, coming into a sub-field with a different skill set or different set of experiences can bring new ideas. And some groups really embrace this. If everyone came in with the same coursework, the same types of undergrad projects, etc, the field doesn't benefit from new ways of thinking. Further, you could discover something else that you really like. Toward the end of my undergrad I thought for sure I was going into astrophysics, but today I'm a medical physicist and very happy with the way things turned out.

If it's just a case of deciding which topic to pick, sure, I'd go with the field you're most interested in. But if that's coming at a potential cost of extending your undergrad, or causing some detriment to your studies, I don't think it's worth it. Also, working on an electronics project just might help you pick up a very valuable skill set for later experimental work.
 

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