Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Bachelor or Master thesis guidelines

This guideline describes the supervision framework for a Bachelor or Master thesis at the Conservation Biogeography Lab, as well as the major steps to be taken from discussing potential topics to submitting the thesis. Please read this document carefully – and follow it!


Is the Conservation Biogeography Lab the right place for me and my thesis?

Humankind is rapidly transforming the planet, with major consequences for nature. These transformations critically feed back on human well-being. Finding ways to use natural resources sustainably while protecting biodiversity is perhaps the greatest challenge we face in the 21st century. Land use is central to these challenges, as it is essential for human survival, yet intimately linked to most sustainability problems. Land use change is also the main driver of biodiversity loss and has large synergistic effects with other key drivers of the extinction crisis such as overexploitation and climate change. Against this background, the Conservation Biogeography Lab seeks to contribute to addressing three overarching research questions:

  1. Where, when and why does land use change?
  2. How does land-use change impact biodiversity, and how does it interact with other threats?
  3. Which conservation strategies balance biodiversity and resource use at different spatial scales?

Land systems are typically in the center of our research. A focus on land systems (= coupled human-natural systems on the land) enables us to put emphasis on the interactions between people and their environment, to explore dynamics in space and time, and to assess linkages and feedbacks across spatial scales. We are convinced that precisely these systemic aspects of land use are key for understanding biodiversity loss, trade-offs between resource use and conservation, and what characterizes successful conservation interventions. You can read more about our research focus here.

For carrying out a thesis in the Conservation Biogeography Lab, you should be interested in at least one of the above questions. More broadly speaking, you should be keen on learning more about issues of global change and how it manifests in regions, about interactions between people and nature, and about understanding threats to biodiversity and how to confront them. In the Conservation Biogeography Lab, we typically work with quantitative and spatially-explicit tools, for example geostatistics, advanced regressions modelling, econometric models, GIS, remote sensing, habitat or population models, connectivity analyses, or systems’ simulation tools. We work highly interdisciplinary, often in large and international teams, and the working language of our group is English.

For a successful thesis in our group, you should feel broadly comfortable with the thematic and methodological research mode outlined above. A thorough knowledge in basic statistics and GIS is mandatory for most topics we offer and a thesis with us will be most beneficial if you have visited several of our classes.

Finding a topic for a thesis

A thesis can be carried out with different motivations, for example with the goal to deepen your knowledge of a particular field or a particular methodological approach, or to get insights into ongoing research in our working group. While we do not expect you to approach us with a ready-to-go thesis topic, we do except that you have reflected on what, thematically or methodologically, you would like to put into focus in your thesis. Both our classes and our ongoing research projects (and publications) could be starting points for thinking about this. The theses we offer are typically part of a research project, and thus you would be working closely with a postdoc or PhD student in our group. If you already have a specific and well-defined thesis topic in mind, for example a topic that arose from an internship at an NGO or a research institute, the main question will be whether we can meaningfully supervise and evaluate this thesis. Another limiting factor, for all kinds of theses, is the number of theses that we are already supervising when you approach us.

The next step: writing a thesis proposal

Once we have agreed on a topic, a thesis proposal is written that includes:

  1. A background and rational section (i.e., Why is this an interesting and worthwhile topic?),
  2. Clear research questions and objectives (i.e., What will be done? What are central hypothesis to test and/or major steps to be taken?),
  3. A proposed research plan that provides a summary of the planned analyses for each objective, what data is needed for them, and what the expected outcome will be (i.e., How will the questions and objectives be addressed?).

This proposal should typically be around 3-5 pages and can consist of bullet points – the idea is to arrive at a ‘cooking recipe’ that will guide you through the rest of the thesis. Once a proposal is accepted, the thesis needs to be officially registered (i.e., started) with the study board (Prüfungsbüro, Fr. Schwedler). At this point, you are also expected to give a flashtalk in the Student Colloquium (5 minutes, ca. 5 slides).

During the thesis

While working on your thesis, report on your progress, particularly if you run into major problems or if you would like to discuss main results and their interpretation. For a thesis carried out within a research project, such feedback should be primarily obtained from the respective postdocs or PhD students. Once first results are obtained, you should present them in the colloquium – ideally at a point in time when you can still incorporate the feedback you will get there (for Bachelor students this will be the second presentation, after the flashtalk, for Master students this will be the first presentation). Your presentation should be 15 minutes (about 12 slides) and will be followed by a discussion. The colloquium is a place not only to present your own work and get feedback on it, but also to see and learn from hat others do. We expect regular participation of the thesis students in our lab in our Student Colloquium!

Writing your thesis should be an ongoing process, avoid ‘writing it all up’ in a rush during the very end. The most important characteristic of a high-quality thesis is that it is consistently so – from motivating the research question to discussing the results in light of other research. Plan in the necessary time to get to this level of depth – and do not trade off another analysis for a well-written discussion section!

The format of the thesis itself is regulated in your Studien- und Prüfungsordnung. We encourage thesis that are written in English and, at the MSc/MA level, are in the form of a research paper. Guidelines for the latter, especially regarding the length of the thesis, have been specified by the examination board (Prüfungsausschuss).

Submitting your thesis

You submit your thesis once it is ready (or the deadline approaches). In case you need a quick review that is shorter than the time allocated in the respective study program, for example because of a pending job offer or fellowship application, please contact us early on to discuss this. Once you have submitted your thesis, we would also like you to prepare a short summary (this can be the abstract) of your thesis with one or two key figures and/or photos for our webpage1.

Key steps to a successful thesis in the Conservation Biogeography Lab
  1. Generate an idea Before you contact us: think about what interests you, what your thesis should or could be about, and what you would like to learn during your thesis!
  2. Develop the idea together with us
    1. Discuss your ideas with us
    2. Write a thesis proposal - This will be an iterative process.
  3. Register your thesis once we have agreed on a topic and outline
    1. Register the thesis with the Prüfungsbüro
    2. For Bachelor students: present the thesis’ idea in the colloquium (Flashtalk:  5mins, max. 5 slides. Use our template for presentations! You will find it in Moodle.)
  4. Carrying out your thesis
    1. Implement the work and report on progress. Get in touch when there are problems.
    2. Participate regularly in the colloquia
    3. Get the writing going early on!
  5. Colloquium presentation

    Both Bachelor and Master students present first results and interpretations in the colloquium (Full talk: 15min, about 12 slides. Use our template for presentations! You will find it in Moodle.)

  6. Submitting the thesis
    1. Submit the thesis to the Examination Office (Prüfungsbüro)
    2. Write a half-page summary / abstract with one or two key figures/photos for the webpage and send this to Camille Dammann (camille.dammann@geo.hu-berlin.de).
    3. If you are a Master student: defend your thesis in the colloquium.
  7. Celebrate!



[1] Use only your own photos/figures or photos/figures without copyright restrictions. Always give the source for photos and figures.