Guidelines for the supervision of master theses at the working group “Agrar und Umwelt”, Institute of Sustainable Economic Development

On these pages we provide details about what kind of master thesis we supervise and share some thoughts about how to find a topic. It is organized as FAQs.

Which areas of research?

If you are intending to write in the field of environmental economics, agricultural economics or economics in general, we can offer to supervise you. A good starting point are questions discussed in lectures we are teaching and in the books and articles used there (see also below).

Which method?

In order to answer your research question, you will need to apply a method. Depending on what you are planning to do, we are suggesting the following methods.

  • Econometrics: A precondition is that you took classes in econometrics (not necessarily at BOKU). Additionally you need data suitable to answer you research questions. See below for possible sources of data.
  • Literature Review:  For a literature review it is important to follow a systematic strategy. Possibilities are the procedure described by Hagen-Zanker und Mallett (2013, ‘How to Do a Rigorous, Evidence-Focused Literature Review in International Development. A Guidance Note’.) or at the Webpage of the Griffith University "Systematic quantitative literature Review".
  • Theoretical work: Theoretical work should develop a mathematical or logical model to answer a hypothesis or deduce hypothesis, which can be proved empirically. It will often be useful to combine a theoretical work with an empirical study, e.g.  a simulation study or econometrics. Starting point could be models discussed in one of our classes. 

Which language?

You may write in German or English. Please make sure you know the language sufficiently well to write the thesis on your own. If you are not a native speaker, some editing by a native speaker is recommended.

How to find a topic?

From books used for teaching: Many books used for teaching discuss central economic questions. The more useful books provide references to further literature. This is often a good starting point.

From journals: you can also study good economic journals. Here some suggestions for journals: General Economic Journals:

  • American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Economic Literature, Journal of Political Economy, …

Environmental Economic Journals:

  • Environmental and Resource Economics, Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, Ecological Economics, …

Agricultural Economics Journals:

  • Agricultural Economics, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Journal of Agricultural Economics,  European Review of Agricultural Economics, Land Economics, Land Use Policy, Agribusiness, …

A topic from our current list of topics:

How can I get access to journals?

The number of economic journals provided by BOKU is limited. We recommend subscribing to Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien ("Mitbelegen"). It is free of charge (given you are student at BOKU and have enough ECTS) and you can use Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the literature available at WU which covers most economic journals.
Sometimes it is also sufficient to use to find articles (click on the link "similar articles"). If you don't find it there, you may also write to the author and ask if they can send you a copy (they often will be happy to do so).
Finally, you can also order an article via the library of BOKU "Fernleihe". It costs between 5 and 15 Euro and within a couple of days you can pick up a printed version of the article at the library.

Literature management

We recommend using a software to manage your literature. A good and free option is Zotero For more information see the BOKU webpage on Literaturverwaltung (German only)

Where can I take the data from?


Some journals provide data for the published articles which might be re-used:

  • Journal of Political Economy
  • American Economic Journals: American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives,  Applied Economics, Economic Policy, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics
  • Agricultural Economics
  • Journal of Applied Econometrics Data Archive
  • Quantitative Economics Journal
  • Applied Economics
  • Interesting is also the webpage where replication studies are listed and which also allows searching for method, software, keywords, ....
  • Sometimes the authors also share data if you ask them for it.

Collect your data:

  • With a survey: there are companies which offer stratified survey at reasonable prices.
  • You can go on the road to collect data or do an online survey to get a convenience sample
  • You can collect data in the Internet (e.g. automatically with a robot via R and Selenium ). See also the R Task View "Web Technologies and Services"

Simulate your data

  • Sometimes it is sufficient to simulate data, in particular in theoretical studies.

How to plan your master thesis?

According to the curriculum writing a master thesis has to be possible within 6 months (30 ECTS à 25 working hours). But there is no maximum duration (other than when the curriculum changes). In practice, it often takes a year or longer until a master-thesis is finalized. Partly, this is because students spend time on other things as well. But partly this is due to a lack of planning. We therefore sketch an ideal sequence here:

  1. Email to the person who you think could supervise you. Among the criteria to select a person are the topic you want to work on and if you have taken classes of this person. The first email should contain a) a short description about the topic you want to work on (about 100 words), b) he best term paper you have ever written (to demonstrate how well you can write) and c) a list of courses you took which are relevant for your thesis (related to methods and the topic).
  2. The supervisor will reply if as supervision is, in principle, possible (i.e. with respect to topic, method, capacity of the supervisor) and will give you a first general feedback on the suggested topic. You should then work on an outline for the thesis: the outline should contain: a) discussion of literature related to the research question, b) description of method, c) data (if applicable), and d) a time schedule. Obviously such an outline can be incomplete. It should not be longer than 3 pages. Please return the outline not later than four weeks after the reply of the supervisor.
  3. Given a suitable outline, the supervisor will invite you to a first meeting. Specifications and shortcomings of the outline will be addressed in this first meeting. If both consider the outline as worthwhile, the next steps will be agreed on, including when the next meeting will take place (or until when you deliver something).
  4. After the meeting, please update the outline, including the time schedule (this should detail what you will finalize until when and when you will be having the next meeting with your supervisor). Send the updated materials to your supervisor at least two working days later.
  5. Keep your master theses outline and the time-schedule up-to-date and share it regularly with your supervisor (at least after each meeting).
  6. If you find it difficult making continuous progress, organize yourself along one of the many available guidebooks.
  7. If you are stuck, try hard to find a solution. Before getting frustrated, contact your supervisor and explain the difficulties and the solutions you considered.
  8. Every student needs to present the work at the Master Seminar. At the Master Seminar you should present your research ideas or your preliminary results. Please discuss with your supervisor at which point a presentation makes moste sense. We try pooling serveral presentations for mutal feedback and more audiance.
  9. After submission of the theses,  you will present your final results at the official Defensio.

If at any point you have doubts about the topic, if you question whether you will manage at all, or any other reason why you might discontinue your theses, please let us know. The earlier these questions are raised, the easier it is to address them.   There are several administrative requirements releated to your master theses. We do not replicate them here, but ask you to read the respective instructions at the BOKU webpage (for example completion of studies).