This series will outline my experience doing my master’s thesis in physics as a collaboration between a research group in my home country of Germany and a Swedish group. I will write about the organisational aspects of everything, aspects regarding my work and the whole experience of having an international collaboration project as a master student.

I hope it can inspire some of this reading to also pursue ambitious projects like this!

A few words about me

I am physics student based in Hamburg, Germany. My focus is on theoretical condensed matter physics (Wikipedia). I already did my bachelor’s thesis in that area, that was about exploring Quantum Espresso, a software package implementing Density Functional Theory (which is the gold standard for the simulation of many classes of materials nowadays). So I did a lot of computing seeing how it parallelises and then did some calculations on a material that was of interest for the group (or rather repeated calculations that were already done, which is more in the scope of a bachelors thesis).

First of all: having the idea that it is possible

When I finished my bachelor’s thesis and started into my master’s program, the doing part of my studies somewhere else than Hamburg was already in my mind. What I had in mind was a typical Erasmus exchange semester, 1 or 2 semesters into my master’s studies, getting a bit of experience at another university, maybe seeing what kind of research is done there. I looked into universities that have an Erasmus partnership and had multiple cities that peaked my interest, from Spain to Norwegen and then of course Uppsala, Sweden.

I then spoke to the supervisor of my bachelor’s thesis about that, and he immediately brought forward that I should do my master’s thesis like that instead. This was the first time I even considered a collaboration like that could be possible. Which is pretty wild, because even though I know that two people in the group of my supervisor did master’s projects in other countries, nobody ever made an information even during my years studying with things like “These are the things you could do using these ressources”.

Finding a project

This step was surprisingly easy: after talking to my supervisor about going to Uppsala, he suggested two groups at Uppsala University he knew and could contact. After reading through the research both of them are doing, I decided on the group of Prof. Annica Black-Schaffer. Her group does more “pen and paper” physics, so more toy models that can be solved analytically or with a bit of numerical effort, and the prospect of doing more of that after my more computationally focused bachelor’s thesis seemed very enticing.

We do not have a concrete project yet, that will be a discussion over the next weeks and months. It will probably involve superconductivity with finite momentum pairing (I will explain that in more detail in a later post, when I understand it better myself).

Application hell

And now it was on to sort out funding…

In the process of casually talking with the people in the group of my supervisor, I got the tip of applying for an Erasmus traineeship (website). This programme supports students for work placements and internships, and this explicitly includes something like the research phase of a master’s thesis (like in my case). It seems to be quite unknown, at least in my faculty, so maybe there are some people reading this who take this as an inspiration for projects of their own.

The application involves filling out quite a lot of documents ranging from insurance to a learning agreement detailing what my project entails, how will be monitored, etc. I also needed to write out a motivational letter and apply to have my thesis examined by a person not part of my university.

But I got through all that, and just got the confirmation that my application got approved! So now it is finally fixed that I am off to Sweden next year. All in all, it took around 2 months from starting the first document to actually getting the confirmation of funding.

Conclusion and next steps

This post was a rundown into the first steps of my journey of doing my master’s thesis in an international collaboration. The next steps will be to get housing sorted out for my time in Sweden and talk to my supervisors to see what exactly the project will be and how I can prepare a bit already in the next semester.