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Thesis Proposal

Thesis Proposal

The thesis proposal is a very important reference point for both the student and supervisory team. Once the thesis proposal has been reviewed and agreed, research should focus on the identified topic according to the plan. Future progress reviews will make reference to the plan, making explicit adjustments as required by circumstances.

The thesis proposal should define a research topic, indicate progress achieved to date, and give a plausible research plan which includes sub-goals, a schedule for attacking them, and contingency plans:

  • Research Topic: What is the problem? Why is it interesting? What has already been done by other people to address it? Why are these existing approaches / solutions inadequate?  
  • Your Approach: What new approach / angle / idea are you proposing to pursue? Why does it seem promising? What have you achieved so far?
  • Your Plan: What are the sub-goals that need to be achieved? What is your planned order of attack, and how long do you expect each task to take (schedule)? What are the risks in this plan and how will you address them (contingency plans)?

The form of a thesis proposal is much less important than its content, provided the above questions are clearly answered in some way (but note that a simple question-and-answer format is not appropriate). The literature review produced earlier in the year could be included as a section or as an appendix as part of the answer to the "What has already been done by other people?" question.  A thesis proposal will typically be around 15-25 pages long.

The first year of research will often involve completion of a mini research project. For example: production and study of a substantial example; design, running and analysis of a preliminary experiment; design and perhaps partial implementation of a system; main definitions of a theory completed with some of their properties established. The thesis proposal could consist of a report on this work that is suitable for workshop or conference submission, together with a separate document containing an explanation of the relationship between the report and the thesis topic, the research plan, and any other missing content.

The plan should be for completion at the end of year 3, including write-up, regardless of the period of funding, under the assumption that no serious obstacles arise. If it is not feasible to complete the research within this time period then the topic is too ambitious.

Preparing for 1st Year Review

When you have a thesis proposal that has been accepted by your review committee, submit it as follows. If your proposal is in the file MYPROPOSAL.pdf, then:

  cp sMATRIC.pdf /afs/

where MATRIC is your student number. You cannot overwrite the file, but you should be able to see that the file is there by:

   acroread /afs/

If you want more technical information, see:

Examples of previous thesis proposal submissions include:
Michael Chan  (CISA, 2008)
Julian Gutierrez (LFCS, 2008)