About Defending a Master's thesis

Helmut Neukirchen, 19. June 2016

Note from 2023: the text below is partly outdated. On Ugla, SENS has pretty good info on the timelines and the webforms to be filled out, i.e. ignore the timelines and webforms mentioned below.

The official regulations are in articles 7. and 8. of Regulation no. 994-2017 / Reglur um meistaranám við Verkfræði- og náttúruvísindasvið Háskóla Íslands, nr. 994/2017 (and article 69, items 9-15 of Regulation for the University of Iceland no. 569-2009 / Reglur fyrir Háskóla Íslands Nr. 569/2009. The text below should be in accordance -- if not, it needs to be updated... In charge of MSc. theses at VoN student service is Donna, reachable via the HÍ email user alias sensgraduate.

If you want to graduate, take care that latest in parallel to your Master's project, you finish all your coursework, e.g. Software Engineering students have three mandatory HBV courses. If you are a student coming from non-Computer Science/non-Software Engineering Bachelor, you typically have to take extra courses as part of there admission to the Master's program!

A Master's thesis needs:

  • A supervisor (i. leiðbeinandi): Supervises the student during the whole thesis project.
  • An M.Sc. committee (i. meistaraprófsnefnd) consisting of the supervisor and at least one other person who needs to have an MSc. degree -- typically another university teacher -- (unofficially called "secondary supervisor" (i. meðleiðbeinandi)): Often just gets into the game once the student is almost finished (internally, 10% of the overall supervision efforts assumed, but may be up to 25% and 50%), i.e. has a more or less final draft of the thesis available. Gives comments to improve your draft. So this person should be somewhat familiar with the topic.
  • An external thesis examiner (i. prófdómari): If possible, should be from outside HÍ (in the old days, that person was from the faculty and thus often the old English term "faculty representative" is used. Use in your English thesis the official translation External examiner). That person needs a final draft (release candidate status) before the defense, but must not otherwise be involved in the supervision.

Two web forms needs to be filled out latest 1 week before the defense by the supervisor to book a defense: one for advertising the defense, one for appointing the external examiner (the web forms can be reached via VoN intranet page in UGLA).
There, all the information that are needed (name, title, abstract (for writing an abstract, see also item 4 from Kent Beck), day, supervisors, a photo of the student that will be used for advertising -- but more recently, it seems that the photo is anyway not used, etc.) have to be provided.

To make it for the next graduation ceremony (i. brautskráning) which is in February and June each year (there is till some deadline in October, but no ceremony), there is a deadline (latest 3 weeks before the graduation ceremony for which obviously all the grades need to be handed in). A few days before that deadline, there is typically an event called meistaradagurinn where the idea is that all the students of the faculty defend their thesis. Someone organises this and needs to be contacted to participate. But of course, it is also possible to defend a thesis on another day than on meistaradagurinn.

The schedule of the defense is as follows (meistaradagurinn: typically 45 minutes for talk and discussion, but there is 60 minutes time between defenses to allow time for setting up the presentation):

  • A few introducing words by the supervisor (including an explanation of the procedure).
  • 20-30 minutes presentation of the thesis by the student. No need to be nervous: you know best about your topic and thesis (also, your supervisor would not allow you to defend if you would likely fail)! Learn the introducing words (to get your presentation started fluently) and the concluding words (to avoid an abrupt termination of your talk) by heart.
  • Max. 15 minutes questions from the audience (Note: in practise, 5 minutes for the audience and 10 minutes for internal discussion is best)
  • The audience leaves the room, only the student and the three teachers remain. Now some more private discussion (what was good/bad) and further questions are possible.
  • Finally, the student leaves the room and the teachers discuss the grade (e.g. using a grading scheme) for the thesis and after this, the student is called in again and is told the grade.

Note that the grade is filled into some form that needs to be signed by those involved in grading when using the above web form, this gets prepared by the administration based on the above web form (typically, a PDF of the form is sent to the main supervisor via e-mail by Sigríður Sif Magnúsdóttir a few days before the defense).

Based on the comments that are given during defense, some minor changes to thesis might be required.
Students need to submit an electronic copy of their thesis latest three weeks before (so that you can send the confirmation of submitting before the deadline) the next graduation ceremony (i. brautskráning) to skemman.is (printed version not required anymore, nor is an ISBN number required: remove that line if it is part of your thesis template). Student should also simultaneously need to fill out an declaration of access. The declaration of access template is accessible in English and Icelandic. For commercial settings, access to the thesis can be closed (but not for longer than 4 years); if the thesis is closed, please send the final PDF as well to your supervisors, because they can otherwise neither access it.

If the thesis is accepted, the student will receive an e-mail confirming this. The student must send the confirmation from skemman to sensgraduate at hi.is or to Sigríður Sif Magnúsdóttir by email (before the deadline where all grades for brautskráning need to be available). There is also an UGLA page on brautskráning that hopefully is still available when you read this...

To allow the supervisors to read and comment on the thesis, a first draft needs to be finished in time:

  • First draft for the supervisor: latest 1 month before the defense. Preferably, use an agile approach of delivering early drafts as soon as a new chapter is finished. (Do not start with the Introduction -- that is often the last chapter written.)
  • Release candidate draft for the co-supervisor and "prófdómari" latest 1 week before the defense, better much earlier. This deadline applies also for filling out the above mentioned web form.
  • Poster needs to be printed latest 1 day before defense on Meistaradagurinn (e.g., Háskólaprent does this within 15-30 minutes).

If you finish your thesis in August/September/October you may not need to pay tuition fees for the new academic year.

There is an UGLA page with the various deadlines of the graduation process.

Templates for thesis, presentation, and poster

Note: Since 10/2021, HÍ has a new corporate identity that is covered here:

  • A MS Word template, but I really recommend using the LaTeX templates for writing the thesis. As "Advisors", list first your supervisor and in the next line the secondary/co-supervisors. Note that while the template may contain an ISBN number, you have to remove that line as nowadays, everything is electronic only. Have a look at some older MSc. theses to get an idea of the typical contents.
  • For the defense, a PPT slide template is available on the HÍ corporate design web page -> Hönnunarstaðall (at top right corner) -> Rafrænar einingar ->PowerPoint (and then the download is at the bottom). If you want to rather use LateX for your presentation, Katrín Halldórsdóttir created a LaTeX Beamer template that however is using the old 2010 corporate design (the tex file is GPL, however the logos are property of the University). Any volunteers to update it to the new design?
  • Furthermore, a poster is displayed on Meistaradagurinn (if defense is on a different day, you are still supposed to prepare a poster to be displayed later on Meistaradagurinn). You find templates with the new 2021 look on the HÍ corporate design web page -> Hönnunarstaðall (at top right corner) -> Prentmiðlar -> Veggspjöld (and then the download is at the bottom). However, that template contained in the ppt download is not very helpful -- you rather would need the provided Adobe InDesign template. As most will not have a license for Adobe InDesign, I provide here a PPT template that has been converted from the Adobe InDesign template. Note that you need to download all fonts of the the Google fonttype family "Jost" and install them (if you have it not installed, PowerPoint will use another font, but the printshop that probably has the Jost font and then, the layout does not match anymore).
    I suggest to use a smaller fontsize than in the template: compare with the fontsize used in the PPT template using the old look (but note that the old template uses A0 page size, while the new one uses A4 pages size -- which will then be scaled up when printed in, e.g., A0. Hence, display both side by side for comparison.)
    You should also refer to that old template to get an idea of the typical contents, such as adding the names of the supervisors, etc. As a backup, I provide here a copy of that old template.
    Háskolaprent can print the poster (typically in A0 size).

Note that our School of Engineering and Natural Sciences offers a Course on thesis skills such as writing (and you even get ECTS credit points for it). In addition, you will find on the web other general information on thesis writing.