First Semester

Preparing for the Project

  • MSCS students are required to complete a 2-semester thesis (297 + 299, also called "Plan A" in the university catalog) or writing project (297 + 298, also called "Plan B").
  • You must decide whether you want to work on a writing project or a thesis. The principal difference is that the writing project will not be filed with the Associate Vice President of Graduate Studies and Research. The Graduate Studies office is very stringent about English language usage and typography of theses.
  • You must find an advisor who is willing to work with you. It is a good idea to be flexible and be prepared to work with one of several potential advisors.
  • You and your advisor must agree on a topic for your project. Again, it is a good idea to be flexible and find a topic that is of interest to you and your advisor.
  • You should start contacting potential advisors by the middle of the semester preceding the start of the project.
  • Your project deliverables should show that your project meets one or more of the following criteria:
    • Technical innovation: Are you using new techniques that have not been used in this way in the past?
    • Technical challenge: Are the tools and techniques that you are using so difficult that they require the maturity of a graduate student?
    • Theoretical foundations: Are you providing a theoretical framework for your work, for example by discussing architectural patterns, by analyzing the relationships between your implementation and prior art, or by performing a mathematical analysis?
    • Quantitative analysis: Are you gathering and evaluating quantitative data? Projects must have appropriate depth for graduate work. "Literature review" and "routine implementation" projects will not be approved by the department. Projects that are merely lengthy but shallow are not appropriate. In particular, you need to be able to demonstrate how your project rises above the level of a senior undergraduate project. We consider the following criteria:
      • The results of your project (i.e. the final report and the source code) must be available for public inspection.
      • Proprietary work is not appropriate.
      • Be sure that you understand the plagiarism policy.

The following information is for the first semester of the culminating experience:


  • Present a proposal (1-2 pages) to your project advisor that includes:
    • a description of your project
    • a proposed schedule for your project work
    • a tentative list of proposed deliverables
    • a list of literature references
  • If your advisor approves, you will receive an add code for CS297.
    Remember to file your candidacy form [pdf] as soon as you have started with your CS297 class. If you don't file this form by the deadline, you won't be able to progress to CS298. (Spring graduation deadline, Fall graduation deadline)
  • It is strongly suggested that you do some implementation work and some writing in the first semester.
  • At the end of the first semester, you report your progress to your advisor and your committee members. Your advisor determines how this should be done (a report, a presentation to the committee, etc.)

The Committee

  • You and your advisor need to find two additional committee members to form a 3-member project committee.
  • The advisor and at least one other committee member must be a permanent member of the CS faculty.
  • You must form the committee by the end of the first semester.
  • If at any time you need to change the committee, you need to have written approval from the department.
  • You need to keep your committee members updated throughout your project. Meet with them at least three times (at the end of the first semester, a month into the second semester, and when you are about to complete your work). Solicit their input early so that you are not surprised by requests for enhancements late in the project or even worse, the defense.
  • In the defense, all committee members must agree that your work is complete and correct. Committee members have the right and the obligation to reject substandard projects.