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 May, immediately after the course module examinations, and continuing until August. A dissertation describing the work must be submitted by a deadline towards the end of August. Students may also be required by their project markers to demonstrate any system that arose from the project. If they are so requested, then the demo will typically take place just after the submission date. If the student is going to leave Edinburgh straight after submitting the thesis, 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 principals. 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.
Both staff and students nominate MSc projects by the beginning of Semester 2. Students then have a week to select a ranked choice of 3 projects that they would like to do. By the end of week 4 in Semester 2, they will be assigned a project and/or MSc supervisor. That supervisor is then responsible for delivering Informatics Research Proposal, as well as ensuring that the student completes his summer project. Details on how to nominate 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.
Teaching and research staff who wish to nominate MSc Projects must do so by the beginning of week 2, semester 2. They should complete the following web form. This form has been successfully tested on the usual operating platforms and web browsers. It is guaranteed to work with Mozilla on the DICE machines. All teaching staff with a standard teaching load must submit 3 MSc project proposals. Research staff are also strongly encouraged to submit project proposals.
All staff and students can view the nominated projects from the MSc projects 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 "Cogntiive Science". The resulting list can be ordered as above.
If they wish, students can submit their own project proposal. This procedure of self-nomination is really intended for students who know at the beginning of semester 2 what specific project they wish to do. The MSc project coordinator can take this into account when allocating the student their MSc supervisor, this taking place in week 3 of semester 2. It is not compulsory for students to nominate a project; the default is that students will be assigned a staff nominated 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 nominate a project however, you must discuss your ideas with a member of staff or with the Projects Organiser to seek approval of the project before doing so. 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, and so on. It is then up to you to find a supervisor who is willing to supervise the project. Having done this, submit the proposal to the Projects Organiser as instructed in the Self-Proposal page with all the relevant details it requires filled in. Read the Guide to Self-Proposed Projects for further advice. The deadline for completing the whole process is the end of week 2 semester 2.
It is not compulsory for students to nominate a project, and as stated above the default way in which students will develop a topic is through guidance with the supervisor, as an outcome of the taught module IRP. If you do wish to nominate a project however, you must discuss your ideas with a member of staff or with the Projects Organiser to seek approval of the project. 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, and so on. It is then up to you to find a supervisor who is willing to supervise the project. Having done this, submit the proposal via the project proposal form on the MSc Projects website. Students who self-propose projects must still use the project preferences form in week 2 semester 2 to state a ranked choice of 3 projects (see below for details). Obviously, your first choice should be your self proposed project, and the other two projectsl proposed by members of staff.
There is clearly no guarantee that all nominated projects will be done. However, any `pairings' between staff and students that happen as a result of the project nomination process during these first 2 weeks of the semester will be taken into account when assigning staff their MSc students.
Students who are sponsored by, or have close contact with an industrial company may wish to undertake a project which relates to that companies activities. This is encouraged. The industrial partner may initially like to submit an informal project description which can 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. He is still expected to spend a significant portion of his work at the University but may spend periods at the industrial collaborator's premises where this is appropriate. Further information on this can be found in the document on Industrial Collaboration.
Students can view the nominated projects from the MSc projects 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 "Cogntiive Science". The resulting list can also be ordered by clicking on the column headings, as described above. Students must express a ranked choice of 3 MSc projects that they would like to do (including one's own nominated projects, where relevant). To do this, they should complete the following web form. Before completing their project preferences form, students are strongly encouraged to contact the project proposer. This is so that the project proposer can provide feedbacck 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 those students who have contacted the supervisor.
All students must complete their project preferences form by the beginning of week 2, semester 2. By failing to meet this deadline students risk being assigned an unsuitable project and/or supervisor.
Advice of getting the project you want
Most students will be assigned the project they want. This is not always true however:
The Projects Organiser will allocate each student a project and/or 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 person wishes to do the same project. Some supervisors' proposals are often very much more popular than others. Normally only one student can do each project, though variants of the same proposal can sometimes be invented. Students should not therefore necessarily expect to get their first preference of project, or even any of the preferences that they stated. This process of assigning students their supervisors and projects will be completed by the end of week 3, semester 2.
These initial assignments of students to staff happens this early in the academic year, so that the supervisors 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 an RA (with the RA'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 the MSc DoS (for personal problems) or the MSc Course Organiser (for technical problems).
This flexibility for changing supervisor remains, until the end of week 7, semester 2, thereby leaving 3 weeks to complete the IRP assignment. It will not be possible to change supervisor after this time, except in very exceptional circumstances.
Students are formed into groups for the purpose of a Review Meeting which will take place in July, so that the student can get feedback on his project proposal. 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. These talks can be purely verbal and do not need to use slides. 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.
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:
Students should budget at least four weeks for the final dissertation writing-up phase. The length of the dissertation should be around 40 to 50 pages but may well be much longer. However, students should keep in mind that they are marked on the quality of the dissertation, not its length. Where appropriate the dissertation may additionally contain appendices in which relevant program listings, circuit diagrams and formal proofs may be included. These should not be excessively long.
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.
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. If a project requires anything more, this needs to be requested at the time of writing the proposal, and the supervisor needs to explicitly ask for additional resources if necessary; once a project is allocated we are making an explicit commitment to it being properly resources.
Anything that can be considered a technical problem during project work is strictly limited to 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, except where this is explicitly stated as part of a project specification and adequately resourced.
Students must submit their project by the deadline (see the timetable of events for this year's deadline). Students need to submit hard copy, electronic copy and archive software as detailed below.
Hard Copy. Two printed copies of the dissertation bound with the soft covers provided by the School must be submitted to the ITO.
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.
Software. Students are required to preserve any software they have generated, source, object and make files, together with any associated data that has been accumulated. You should create a directory named PROJECT in your file space specifically for the purpose. A set of instructions must also be included which allow the demonstrations to be rerun at any later date by someone else. Please follow the accepted practice of creating a README file which documents your files and their function.
Projects are assessed in terms of a number of basic and other criteria. Only the report is used for assessment. Knowledge of these criteria will help you to plan your project and also when writing up. They include:
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.
Some documents produced in previous years by the old AI department may be of interest. They contain useful advice about project work and writing dissertations which is equally applicable to all the MSc courses in the School: