CIS Undergraduate Research Projects: Proposal Requirements
Prof Sklar

for students who want to register for CISC 5001 (88.1):

last updated: sklar/20-dec-2011

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As of Fall 2010, students wanting to register for CISC 5001 (formerly CIS 88.1) need to submit a proposal to the CIS department for approval. Once the project proposal is approved, you will be given permission to register for the course.

The project proposal must be prepared in collaboration with your project advisor, i.e., me. It is likely that you will write a draft, send it to me for comments, and then I will send you feedback, and you will make modifications and send me a revised version. This revision cycle may iterate more than once, but eventually we will converge on a version that I am comfortable sending to the committee for review.

CISC 5001 is the Honors Project course. If you have a (major) GPA above 3.5, then you may be considered.

It is a good idea to look at the final report requirements first, so you know where you are headed.

The project proposal should be between 1-2 pages long (single-spaced, 11-point font). PDF format is preferred for the final version. However, drafts can be sent to me in RTF or ODT or DOC formats, to facilitate the editing/feedback process.

Make sure to spell check your proposal, and read it through carefully. Spell checkers will not catch words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly.

The proposal should have the following sections:

  1. Title and Abstract
    The Abstract should be 1 short paragraph explaining the overall goals of the project.
  2. Introduction
    This should re-state the abstract in more detail and should provide motivation for the research project. Here are some questions that you might answer in this section:
  3. Background
    Your project will be based on some background reading that grounds your research in some technical computing field. You may have time to read 1-2 papers before writing the proposal, but you will certainly read at least 2 or more papers during the course of the proposal. Typically, I will supply you with 2 papers to get you started, at the time that we begin to discuss your project proposal. This section should briefly outline the background information you have. It is not expected that you will have a lot of detail to provide at the proposal stage, but you should have a general idea of the area of research you will be working in and how it will fit into prior work in the field.
  4. Project Description
    Describe your proposed project. Explain how you plan to achieve the goals and answer the questions set forth in your Introduction. You are not expected to know all the minute details of the project when you are in the proposal stage, but you should have some general idea of your overall plan and some thoughts about what you want to do.
    Your project will probably involve writing some software, so you should briefly discuss your plans for software development. Include information about the language/environment you expect to use. In some cases, this will be an open question, and you can state that in your proposal (i.e., which languages you are considering and why).
  5. Experiments and Results
    If you are planning to conduct any experiments with your research, you should outline here what those are. Explain the experimental design, what variables you are planning to measure, and how you will analyze the data that you collect. What do you expect to learn from the experiment(s)?
  6. Research Plan and Schedule
    Make a schedule that plans out the investigation of your research goals. A semester is typically 15 weeks long (including exams). You should set 2-3 major goals for yourself over the course of the semester, and minor goals in between. Ideally, you will set a major or minor goal every 1-2 weeks.
    You will not be held tightly to this schedule--research is, by design, open-ended, and you will encounter unforeseen difficulties or come across new questions that you did not anticipate at the beginning of the term. Nonetheless, it is good to have a working schedule. Then, if you do make changes to your initial research plan, you should adjust the working schedule as you go along.
  7. Bibliography
    Include FULL bibliographic references from any outside sources. FULL means you need to include: author(s) (full names of all authors), title of article, where it was published (book, journal, conference proceedings, etc.), when it was published (year), who published it (name of publisher). Journal articles typically have a volume number and sometimes an issue number. If you are citing a URL, something that is only published online and is not part of an archival document (i.e., never published on paper), then you need to include as much of the above information as you can find, plus the complete URL plus the date when you last accessed the source. In the bibliography entry, you say something like: last accessed: January 1, 2010.

    Note: Wikipedia is not a reliable reference. The content is not peer-reviewed (not reviewed by qualified professionals working within the content area), so the information has not necessarily been verified. While you might go to Wikipedia as a first place to look for information, you should make sure to double-check all the information that you gather there using another source that is published and peer-reviewed (e.g., a book, a journal article or an archival conference---such as one sponsored by IEEE or ACM).