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MSc Project Guide, 2015-2016

  1. Introduction
  2. Skills
  3. Supervision
  4. Choosing a Project
  5. Proposal of Projects
  6. Projects With Industrial Collaborators
  7. Selecting Your Project Preferences
  8. Allocation of Projects and Supervisors to Students
  9. Project Groups
  10. The Dissertation
  11. Computing Resources
  12. Submission
  13. Demos
  14. Project Assessment
  15. Important Dates
  16. Further Information


The project is an essential component of the Masters courses. It is a substantial piece of full-time independent work which occupies the final months of the course starting in late May/early June, after the Board of Examiners for the course module examinations, and continuing until mid-August. A dissertation describing the work must be submitted by a deadline in mid-August. Students may also be required by their project markers to demonstrate any system that arose from the project. If a demo is requested, it will typically take place just after the dissertation submission date. If the student is going to leave Edinburgh straight after submitting the dissertation, then they should contact their project markers in good time to tell them this, so that if the markers want to see a demo this can happen a few days before the project is submitted. Information about who is marking the project is typically released in July.


The project involves both the application of skills learned in the past and the acquisition of new skills. It allows students to demonstrate their ability to organise and carry out a major piece of work according to sound scientific and engineering principles. The types of activity involved in each project will vary but all will typically share the following features:


Supervisors enable students to complete the taught module Informatics Research Proposal during Semester 2, and to carry out MSc projects over the summer.

Over the summer, the supervisor gives appropriate technical advice and also assists the student in planning the project and working towards various targets during the period of work. Students should expect approximately weekly meetings with their supervisor at the start of the project but the frequency of these meetings will normally drop as the project progresses and as students become more self-sufficient. Backup supervisors may be allocated to cover periods of absence of the supervisor, if necessary.

Choosing a Project

Both staff and students will have proposed MSc projects by the start of Semester 2. Students then have 10 days to select a choice of 5 projects that they would be interested in doing. Then, early in week 5 of Semester 2, students will be assigned a project and MSc supervisor. That supervisor, together with the IRP tutor, is then responsible for delivering Informatics Research Proposal, as well as ensuring that the student completes their summer project. Details on how to propose a project and select your project preferences are given below.

The compulsory taught module Informatics Research Proposal will normally be the forum in which the student, with the guidance of their MSc supervisor, will develop a fuller MSc Project proposal.

Proposal of Projects


Teaching and research staff who wish to propose MSc Projects must do so by the end of week 1, semester 2. They should complete the following web form. All teaching staff with a standard teaching load must submit project proposals that can be taken up by at least 4 MSc students (either 4 distinct projects, or fewer than 4 projects but with multiple possible variants, allowing more than one student to undertake a similar project). Research staff are also strongly encouraged to submit project proposals. Some projects may be proposed by staff from other Schools or people from industry, but they will usually then jointly supervise the project with a supervisor from Informatics.

All staff and students can view the proposed projects from the MSc project proposals web page. Note that the list of projects can be sorted by project title, number or supervisor name by clicking on the relevant columns. There is also a search facility, so that you can, for example, form a list of all and only those projects in the area of, say, "AI and Education" and "Cognitive Science". The resulting list can be ordered as above.


The students can submit their own project proposal only if they find a member of academic staff willing to supervise the proposed project. This procedure of self-proposal is intended for students who know at the beginning of semester 2 (or earlier) what specific project they wish to do. The student must discuss their idea with a member of academic staff and get them agree to act as supervisor for the project. The MSc project coordinator will take self-proposed projects into account when making the allocation between students and MSc supervisors, and allocate a self-proposed project whenever feasible.

It is not expected of students to propose a project; the default is that students will be assigned a staff-proposed project which they will flesh out into a fuller MSc project proposal as an outcome of the taught module Informatics Research Proposal (henceforth IRP).

If you do wish to propose a project however, you must discuss your ideas with a member of staff and get them to commit to supervising your project before submitting a proposal. This will cover aspects such as the suitability of its topic, the methods to be used, any facilities or systems required, the form the results would take, any difficulties that might arise (i.e., risks), the likelihood that it can be completed and written up by the August deadline, etc. It is up to you to find a supervisor who is willing to supervise your project. Having done this, submit the proposal as instructed in the Self-Proposal page with all the relevant details filled in. The deadline for completing the whole process (discussion with staff and filling in the proposal webform) is Thursday, 28 January 2016 (week 3, semester 2).

There are two steps to self-proposing: Both must be completed. The first is to fill out the Self-Proposal Form. The second is to fill out the Preference Form, to which you will automatically directed when you hit Submit on the Self-Proposal Form. You MUST fill out this form. It assumes that your first choice of projects is the one you have just self-proposed. Thus, it only asks you about your second, third and fourth choices. You need to fill these in, as you may not get your self-proposed project if the named supervisor ends up with too many projects to supervise. You need a fall-back, so figure out what your other choices are and fill them in. As with the Self-Proposal Form, the Preference Form must be completed by Thursday, 28 January 2016 (week 3, semester 2).

N.B. If you have self-proposed a project and neglected to fill out the Preference Form, just return to the page for your project -- e.g., to
if your project is S045. On that page, tick edit at the top of the page. Then, without actually making any changes to the form, hit Commit Changes at the bottom of the form, and you will automatically be taken to the Preference Form.

There is no guarantee that all proposed projects will be allocated. However, any `pairings' between staff and students that happen as a result of student self-proposed project development during these first 2 weeks of the semester will be taken into account when assigning staff their MSc students.

Projects with Industrial Collaborators

Students who are sponsored by, or have close contact with an industrial company may wish to undertake a project which relates to that company's activities. This is encouraged. The industrial partner may initially like to submit an informal project description which should be discussed with staff in the School. For those suggestions which are followed up, a more tightly specified proposal is produced in the normal form. A student undertaking the project will have both an industrial supervisor and an academic supervisor. They are still expected to spend a significant portion of their time at the University but may spend periods at the industrial collaborator's premises where this is appropriate.

Selecting Your Project Preferences

Students can view the proposed projects from the MSc project proposals web page. As described above, the list of projects can be sorted by project title, number or supervisor name by clicking on the relevant columns. There is also a search facility, so that you can, for example, form a list of all and only those projects in the area of, say, "AI and Education" and "Cognitive Science". The resulting list can also be ordered by clicking on the column headings.

Students must express a choice of 5 MSc projects that they would like to do (including a self-proposed project, where relevant). To do this, they should complete the following web form. Before completing their project preferences form, students must contact the project proposer. This is so that the project proposer can provide feedback to the MSc project coordinator about the student's suitability for doing the project. When a project is chosen by more than one student, preference will be given to the students found to be suitable for the project by the supervisor.

All students must complete their project preferences form by Thursday, 28 January 2016 (week 3, semester 2). By failing to meet this deadline students risk being assigned an unsuitable project and/or supervisor.

Advice for getting the project you want

Most students will be assigned a project they want. This may not be the case, however, if:

It is important when making your project choices that you realise that you may be allocated any one of them, or a different project altogether.

The best way to ensure you get one of your preferred projects is to avoid very popular projects; do not select multiple projects with the same supervisor (each supervisor can only take a limited number of students); and to meet with potential supervisors to ensure that there is a good match between your skills and the demands of the project.

NOTE: you are not guaranteed to be assigned a project in your area of specialization

Allocation of Projects and Supervisors to Students

The MSc project coordinator will allocate each student a project and MSc supervisor on the basis of the preferences expressed by students and the supervision load of individual supervisors. There will inevitably be difficulties when more than one student wishes to do the same project. Some supervisors' proposals are very much more popular than others. Students should not, therefore, necessarily expect to get their first preference of project, or even (in rare cases) any of the preferences that they stated. This process of assigning students to supervisors and projects will be completed by the middle of week 5, semester 2.

These initial assignments of students to projects happens this early in the semester, so that the supervisors, together with the IRP tutors, can deliver to their MSc students the compulsory taught module IRP. However, there is flexibility in changing supervisors in at least two ways. First, a member of staff can, if he so chooses, delegate supervising duties to a member of research staff (with the researcher's agreement). However, the staff member remains responsible for ensuring that the supervision meets acceptable standards. Secondly, a student can also choose to change supervisors, provided he gets agreement from his existing supervisor and the proposed new supervisor. If there are problems between a student and supervisor that they can't sort out themselves, then the student can consult with their Personal Tutor (for personal problems).

This flexibility for changing supervisor remains, until the end of week 6, semester 2, thereby leaving 6 weeks to complete the IRP assignment. It will not be possible to change supervisor after this time.

Project Review Groups

Students are formed into groups for the purpose of a Review Meeting which will take place at the end of June or early July, so that the student can get feedback on their project proposal and initial progress. The groupings will put related project topics together as far as possible. At the meeting, each student will give a 5 -- 10 minute talk describing their project and its objectives, outlining progress so far and plans for future work together with a timetable of milestones to be achieved. Students are strongly encouraged to prepare slides to support their presentation as past experience shows that this greatly enhances the effectiveness of the talk, and helps develop transferable skills.

The purpose of the talk is to allow students to take stock of their progress and to elicit constructive feedback and suggestions from the audience of fellow students and supervisors. Problems are aired and possible solutions discussed. If a project is running into trouble for any reason, it is vital to identify this as soon as possible so that remedial action can be taken.

A secondary benefit of the review meeting is that of giving students experience in making presentations of their work. This will be a vital skill in future careers.

After each meeting the supervisors will hold a brief private conclave to discuss the projects presented and to make observations and recommendations for transmission back to the student. This formative feedback will be communicated to the student and supervisor, and copied to the MSc project coordinator who will monitor the progress of all students.

The Dissertation

The project is only assessed on the basis of a final written dissertation. Additional material, such as the code you submit, may be taken into account in case of doubt, but you should make sure that all the work you have done is carefully described in the dissertation document. Dissertations will typically conform to the following format:

In addition, the dissertation must be accompanied by a statement declaring that the student has read and understood the University's plagiarism guidelines.

Students should budget at least four weeks for the final dissertation writing-up phase. The length of the main body of the dissertation should be around 40 to 50 pages. Where appropriate the dissertation may additionally contain appendices in which relevant program listings, experimental data, circuit diagrams, formal proofs, etc. may be included. However, students should keep in mind that they are marked on the quality of the dissertation, not its length.

The dissertation must be word-processed using either LaTeX or a system with similar capabilities. The LaTeX thesis template can be found via the local packages web page. You don't have to use these packages, but your thesis must match the style (i.e., font size, text width etc) shown in the sample output for an Informatics thesis.

Computing Resources

The standard computing resource we provide is 24/7 access to communally used DICE machines; we cannot guarantee access to or a specific lab or specific machine, reliable constant remote access, or exclusive use of any machine.

By default, you and the project supervisor are responsible for providing any and all resources required to complete the project. If necessary, the supervisor should discuss any exceptional requirements with support and/or the ITO, and receive their approval before writing the proposal.

Technical problems during project work are only considered for resources we provide; no technical support, compensation for lost data, extensions for time lost due to technical problems with external hard- and software as provided will be given, except where this is explicitly stated as part of a project specification and adequately resourced at the start of the project.


A demonstration is not a compulsory component of an MSc summer project. However, there are circumstances where providing a demo to both supervisor and second marker will enable them to more accurately assess the project. A guide to MSc Project Demonstrations can be found here.


Students must submit their project by the deadline 12 noon on 19 August 2016 (see the timetable of events). Students need to submit hard copy, electronic copy and archive software as detailed below. Students also need to sign a form indicating that, unless otherwise specified, the work is their own.

Hard Copy

Two printed copies of the dissertation, bound with the soft covers provided by the School, must be submitted to the ITO before the deadline.

Electronic Copy

Students must follow the instructions for how to submit their project electronically. Please use the online submission form that is linked from there.


Students are required to preserve any software they have generated, source, object and make files, together with any associated data that has been accumulated. When you submit the electronic copy of your thesis you will also be asked to provide an archive file (tar or zip) containing all the project materials. You should create a directory, for example named PROJECT, in your file space specifically for the purpose. Please follow the accepted practice of creating a README file which documents your files and their function. This directory should be compressed and then submitted, together with the electronic version of the thesis, via the submission webpage.

Project Assessment

Projects are assessed in terms of a number of basic and other criteria. Only the dissertation is used for assessment. Knowledge of these criteria will help you to plan your project and also when writing up. They include:

The marking guidelines can be found here

Important Dates

All the deadlines for the various tasks, including the deadline for submitting the thesis, can be found in the Timetable of Events, which is also accessible from the MSc Projects Website Homepage.

Further Information