M.Sc. in Computer Science 2003

Choosing Your Dissertation Project

C P Willis

1. The MSc Project

The dissertation project is an important component of the MSc course. The final assessment of the course is made on the basis of the overall taught modules mark and the dissertation mark. To obtain an MSc degree you must pass the taught modules and obtain a pass at the dissertation stage. As so much depends on the result of the project, both the choice of project and the way in which you carry out your project are obviously important.

Students may choose projects which involve use of their previous knowledge before coming on the course, but this should not usually be the major emphasis in the project. The project must exploit knowledge and skills acquired during the course, broaden and deepen these skills, and apply them to a substantial task. Most projects are concerned with investigating a particular topic or area, and usually involve a substantial software component. As an integral part of the dissertation project you should demonstrate that you can use the professional and academic literature available, to extend your knowledge and understanding, in order to successfully undertake the project. In addition, the project should show that you are able to critically evaluate both the work of others and of yourself.

To get you started on your dissertation you have to take CM50175 Research Project Preparation, which will introduce you to some of the issues in undertaking an MSc dissertation, to the research areas of the staff and to some of their project ideas. During this unit you will be allocated your project supervisor and will undertake a literature review of your chosen dissertation area, leading to a project proposal. The literature review and project proposal form 100% of the assessment for CM50175.

Summary of dissertation timetable

12th February This document made available to students.

21st February Hand in Project Preference Form to Angela.

27th February Final project allocations given to students. Students start working on their literature review and project proposal for CM50175 Research Project Preparation.

16th June Students start working full time on their dissertation projects.

24th Sept Final hand-in date for project.

2. CM50175 - Finding a suitable project area and doing your project preparation

You should listen to all the talks given by the staff about project areas, and read all the information about potential projects that staff put up on the CM50175 web pages. Do some searching on the Web and the published literature to find out information about the project topics, and decide which ones you are most interested in. Some members of staff may choose to hand out project areas via email and not give talks. Please remember to hen, it is ve

Please fill in the Project Preference Form at the end of this document with your three preferred supervisors and project areas. Each project area must be with a different supervisor. You must choose three different supervisors to enable us to even out the supervision load across all members of the academic staff, but we try to give as many students as possible their first choice. Return the completed form by 21st February 2003 to Angela.

Please note that we cannot guarantee that you will be allocated any of your preferences, especially if all three of your preferences turn out to be extremely popular with other students.

The most important factors in choosing a project supervisor and project area are:

• Choose something that you feel will be achievable. Assess the difficulty of the project and compare it to your ability in the topic. This is often difficult to assess, so discuss the topic with the supervisor and obtain his/her advice.

• Choose something that you find interesting — the best projects are usually the result of someone being highly motivated by the topic. If it is something that you dislike doing, then you are unlikely to do well, however much time you spend on the work.

• Maybe you can look towards the future - where are the job opportunities, what area of computing do you want to work in? Find something related.

• If you want to go on to research for a PhD try to do something related.

• Remember that your supervisor may not be available for the whole of the dissertation period. Remember staff do go away to other universities, to conferences, and on holiday during the summer.

• Be careful about using obscure programming languages or packages unless you are sure you can cope with learning them. If you have to share resources then ensure that there is sufficient time available for you to complete your work.

• Consider the supervisor. If your views on the project topic are incompatible with those of the supervisor, or there are other problems then choose another project.

2.1 Undertaking your dissertation project preparation for CM50175

Note: Students are expected to work individually on their projects.

You have until 21st February 2003 to indicate your first, second and third preferences for your project area and supervisor, and to return the project preference form to Angela. We aim to make allocations of students to supervisors by 27th February 2003.

As soon as you have been allocated a project supervisor you should meet with your supervisor to confirm your project area. You will need to make an appointment to talk to your project supervisor. Your supervisor should also be able to give you some indication of where to start your literature search, and perhaps a more detailed idea of possible project directions. The project supervisor has the right to veto a project if he or she believes that the project will be inappropriate (for example, if it is too trivial for an MSc dissertation). You will then have to choose another, appropriate, project area with the same supervisor.

The literature review and project proposal must be handed in by 6th May 2003. Details of time and place for the hand in will be found on the web pages for CM50175. This hand-in will provide 100% of the assessment for CM50175. You should expect to spend about 80 hours researching and writing your literature review and project proposal.

3. Undertaking the dissertation project

Note: Students are expected to work individually on their projects.

The project proposal that you write for CM50175 will be the project that you undertake for your dissertation over the summer. You should be able to reuse some of what you have written for CM50175 in your dissertation, although you should expect to alter and improve it.

The dissertation project for the MSc should occupy you full time (about 40 hours each week) from 16th June 2003 (the end of the exam period) until 24th September 2003. After the submission date you have no further right to assistance from your supervisor, and access to the computers will be severely limited as priority for access must be given to the new intake of students.

As a postgraduate student you are not expected to take the holidays that the undergraduates take. The University is open during the holidays, so you can always gain access. You are advised not to take any holidays during the summer dissertation period. However, if you do decide to take a holiday, then the best time is immediately after the examinations. If you decide to take a holiday, keep the period of your holiday as short as possible, for example, one week, and ensure that your supervisor is aware of your plans. If this advice is ignored, and you take long holidays, then previous evidence has shown that you will find great difficulty in finishing your dissertation on time. Remember that the MSc is a 12-month intensive course, and you are expected to work full-time on it.

The summer dissertation period is part of the MSc and you are expected to be working at the University during this period. By working at the University you will be with other MSc students and be able to talk to your project supervisor more easily. Students who choose to work away from the University often find that they lose motivation and find that it is harder to keep up the level of work required to finish the project in time. If you base yourself here in Bath you will find the support of other students working around you as a great advantage.

If you choose to do the project work on your own PC, rather than using the BUCS PCs in the lab, or if you keep all your work on floppy disks instead of on the BUCS filesystem, then it is entirely your responsibility to make and keep backups. A crashed hard disk on your home PC or a lost/corrupted floppy disk will not allow you a late submission of your dissertation. The BUCS filestore is backed up regularly and will provide some possibility for retrieving lost information. However, do not expect them to backup every night. My personal opinion is that it is far safer to keep your own backups on floppy disk or ZIP disk, even if you are using the BUCS system.

If you are using your own computer, you should also bear in mind that you will have to demonstrate any software you write for the project to your supervisor. Make sure that you can run your software on the BUCS PCs in the MSc lab, otherwise you will find yourself bringing in your home PC in order to give the demo. Note that some supervisors will have specific requirements for the operating system that any software you write can be run under. For example, I require that some of my graphics projects must run on the BUCS system, and this requirement is not negotiable.

Important note on University accommodation

Some MSc students choose to move into University accommodation over the summer once the undergraduates have left. You need to be aware that you will be required to leave this accommodation by 26th September 2003, so that it can be prepared for the new intake of students. This is an immovable deadline — you will not be allowed to stay on in University accommodation after this date. You will not be able to get an extension for your dissertation project simply because you have to move out of University accommodation two days after your dissertation is due in!

3.1 Project supervision

The project is carried out in consultation with a project supervisor who is normally the member of staff who proposed the project, or the designated member of staff who is liaising with an industrial supervisor. The period of supervision is from the time that you have been accepted onto a project, through to the project submission date. It is important that you have regular contact with the supervisor(s). You can expect your supervisor to offer the following:

• at an early stage of the project, during CM50175, help in finding an appropriate topic, where to start researching the literature and some worthwhile goals;

• general guidance on the project;

• help with points of theory and analysis that you are finding particularly difficult;

• advice on software/hardware needs;

• critical review of work you have done so far (at any stage of the project);

• advice on the next step to take;

• advice on the structure and content of your dissertation;

Do not expect your supervisor to:

• teach you a programming language;

• debug software;

• be available on demand — you must make an appointment;

• search the literature for you;

• do your project for you;

• write your dissertation for you.

Guiding you to establish the final form of the dissertation is considered to be part of your training, but as time is finite you can only expect a reasonable amount of your supervisor's time. If you wish to have comments on your dissertation then start showing drafts of your efforts to your supervisor early on in the summer. A supervisor who is presented with drafts from say four students in early September will not be able to cope with the bulk of work.

3.2 Plagiarism and Cheating

All forms of cheating are serious academic offences, and may lead to the person being required to leave the University without gaining any qualification.

Cheating includes:

• Plagiarism (passing off work done by others as your own), such as: copying from books and papers without acknowledging where the information comes from; reusing programs or designs and pretending that you wrote them; obtaining work from someone else and pretending that you did the work; working jointly with someone and presenting the work as yours alone.

• Fabricating evidence, such as: inventing testing results; inventing questionnaire responses; pretending that you have performed some task when in fact you haven’t; changing results obtained from experiments to look better in some way.

When you describe the work done by others, be careful not to copy it word for word from their publications. You need to read what they have done, and then summarise and discuss it in your own words, and reference the original article where you read the information.

It is perfectly acceptable to quote small sections from the work of others, as long as you make it clear that it is a quotation, and where the quotation is taken from. However, only include quotations where absolutely necessary — your discussion of related work should mostly be in your own words.

If you need to use code developed by others ensure that you clearly mark the code with the name of its rightful author — if it contains comments stating the author, you must not remove these comments.

3.3 Submission of your dissertation

You must submit your completed dissertation project by 24th September 2003, which is the official deadline for submission. Most students find that the final write-up of the dissertation takes much longer than was originally planned.

Submission details will be provided later in a separate document which will also give advice about writing your dissertation.

The 24th September 2003 submission deadline is rigid. Do not ask for an extension of this date - you will be refused. Extensions are only allowed by permission of the Board of Studies for the Faculty of Science. They only consider ill-health and compassionate grounds as reasons for extensions. Being behind schedule, having a hard disk crash, or having been offered a job, etc, will not be considered as grounds for late submission.

Note: If you are given an extension of registration you will be asked to pay a continuation fee. Last year the continuation fee was £408 per year (with supervision and access to the library and BUCS), payable as £136 every four months; or £62 per year (without supervision or access to the library or BUCS). You will be asked to pay pro rata for the length of your extension. You will also have to pay a re-registration fee. These fees are set centrally and cannot be waived.

If you have software/hardware problems or supervision problems speak to your supervisor or the Director of Studies (Dr C P Willis). If you are ill or there are compassionate reasons for being delayed then inform both your supervisor and the Director of Studies. You must give the Director of Studies appropriate documentary evidence (such as certificates from your Doctor) that can be brought to the attention of the examiners or the relevant committee.

Project Preference Form

Please return this form to Angela by 21st February 2003

Each project must be with a different supervisor.

The project area must be one that the supervisor has stated as a possible project area. You cannot expect a supervisor to supervise you in an area they are not interested in!

Student Name:

Email address:


1st choice


Provisional Project Area:

2nd choice


Provisional Project Area:

3rd choice


Provisional Project Area: