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I have just started an online M.S. statistics degree which I expect to be finished with in 5 years. I interviewed for a data analysis position today and the interviewer asked me if I was going to pursue a thesis with this degree.

What is the purpose of such a question?

Now perhaps a bit more subjective (not sure if appropriate for this site): would saying that I am pursuing a thesis be a red flag to an interviewer?

Edit: Thank you all for your insights. To give some context as to why I even thought of why mentioning that doing a thesis is a red flag, that's because I came from a field where doing anything academic outside of the workplace is strongly discouraged.

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    If I asked, it'd just be because a thesis is a great view of the applicant's current skills and interests, and discussing it would tell me a bit more about them. No motive beyond the obvious one of the interview. – keshlam Jul 25 '15 at 2:28
  • Does your masters program have the option of a thesis or a project? In computer science and other technical disciplines, this is a common option. (Not sure about stats.) – Kent A. Jul 25 '15 at 4:07
  • @KentAnderson I told HR (whom I interviewed with) that I was in the process of getting the thesis option approved for my degree. Apparently it's uncommon to do a thesis for the M.S. where I am studying. – Clarinetist Jul 25 '15 at 4:08
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The interviewer asked you a straightforward question, and is expecting a straightforward answer. It's going to hurt your credibility and it's going to be a large red flag if you are unable to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question and you don't even know if your own degree program requires a thesis.

Back in my time (early 1980s), the Chemical Engineering Dept of the School of Engineering of Columbia University was the only one that required a %$#^! Master thesis. Guess which Dept I was in? I regarded a thesis as a huge imposition, then and now. Unless you are a child prodigy, I doubt that anyone wants to even look at a Masters' thesis let alone look it up. I needed the uncertainty about the date of graduation that came with having to finish the thesis like I needed another hole in the head. Anyone who doubted my competence as a Chemical Engineer was doing so at their peril. Masters' thesis time was not a happy time for me.

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Simple answer, to gauge you and your interest in the field as a whole.

To explain that more, writing a thesis is known to be extremely hard. Some people 'give up' essentially and make something mediocre and try to 'opt out' by doing this and think they can get away with it by explaining it off. The purpose of a thesis is to express your argument in your main essay, so if you can't make a thesis then how are you going to explain it off when the purpose of the thesis is to explain your argument and opinion to begin with?

They are merely trying to gauge you on what you say you know/are.

EDIT: You not knowing why this is a valid question could actually be a good thing if your focus is that 'of course I'd write a thesis, what kind of stupid question is this?' else if your view is 'Who gives a crud if I write a thesis' then hiring you would be a cause for concern in my eyes since it proves that you merely want to be given the job to 'get paid'. A lot of companies want their employees to be passionate, and rightfully so.

  • Some people 'give up' essentially and make something mediocre and try to 'opt out' by doing this and think they can get away with it by explaining it off. - I like this point. Because if you did a thesis, you should have a lot to talk about , yes. Good point – Adel Jul 25 '15 at 2:38
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    Why this petty personal fray here? – Adel Jul 25 '15 at 3:46
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    I honestly don't know, Blam started coming after me even attacked my name. I've simply tried to be peaceful but this guy just wants to show me his boot. – user37925 Jul 25 '15 at 3:47
  • Sorry, comment removed – paparazzo Jul 25 '15 at 16:10
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I believe that he is just curious about your background and motivation. It is a well-known aspect of Masters program

I think there's an underlying assumptions, which is not necessarily false(of course, it may be false), that the people don't do the thesis option are going the easy-route.

By doing the thesis option, it implies that you had to undertake a large project. That took significant time.

The irony is that oftentimes taking the extra coursework ends up taking more time.

But that's my view

References:

Thesis Vs Non-Thesis - Quora

Thesis vs. Non-thesis options in MS in CS?

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    Exactly, if you aren't motivated to express your answers/opinions than why are you really do this. – user37925 Jul 25 '15 at 2:37

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