CS Undergraduate Research Options

General Information

Undergraduate independent research in Computer Science is done as an Independent Study or as a Senior Thesis (which typically grows out of a prior Independent Study experience). To find out about the research interests of the CS faculty, look at the Faculty Research Guide. You may also want to examine the archival list of undergraduate thesis topics and advisors from prior years. In the Spring, CS thesis and independent study students participate in the university-wide Meeting of the Minds celebration of undergraduate research.

Students looking for summer research opportunities should also check out the National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates program, including the student-oriented REU area list.

Independent Study

The School of Computer Science offers Independent Study courses, which allow motivated students to work on projects under the supervision of a faculty advisor while receiving academic credit. Independent studies are usually one semester in duration and require prior approval from the faculty member and the School of Computer Science. This approval takes the form of an Independent Study Prospectus which must be filed with the CS Undergraduate Office for any independent study project. The Prospectus form can be found on the Independent Study in CS page or is available in the CS Undergraduate Office, Gates Center 4115.

The SCS Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis

Students considering going on to graduate school in Computer Science should take a wide variety of computer science and mathematics courses. You should consider getting involved in independent research as early as possible. We recommend no later than the junior year and you can begin even earlier. Students interested in graduate school are strongly encouraged to participate in the Undergraduate Research Thesis program. Additionally, graduate CS courses can be taken with permission of the instructor and in consultation with an academic advisor.

The goal of the Undergraduate Research Thesis Program is to introduce students to the breadth of tasks involved in independent research, including library work, problem formulation, experimentation, analysis, writing and speaking. In particular, you will write a survey paper summarizing prior results in your desired area of research, present a public poster session in December describing your current progress, present your final results in an oral summary in the year-end university-wide Undergraduate Research Symposium (Meeting of the Minds) and submit a written thesis at the end of your senior year.

You will work closely with faculty advisors to plan and carry out your research. The Undergraduate Research Thesis (07-599) typically spans the entire senior year. You receive a total of 36 units of academic credit for the thesis work. Up to 18 units can be counted toward CS elective requirements (9 per semester). For most students, the thesis program requires 18 units of thesis work for both the fall and spring semesters of their senior year, so you are advised to plan your schedule carefully to ensure there is ample time to perform the required research for the thesis.

If you are interested in research we recommend you consult with your CS undergraduate advisor and Assistant Dean no later than the start of your junior year in order to plan your workload effectively.

Juniors majoring or double-majoring in Computer Science may apply for acceptance in the SCS senior thesis program, which will be based upon academic record and a project prospectus of no more than three pages. A prospectus must include:

  • The name of your research advisor (an SCS faculty member)
  • A short abstract (two paragraphs, max)
  • A description of the problem to be worked on and its significance
  • A tactical description of your proposed research plan, including:
    • a description of the background reading to be carried out,
    • a description of your research contribution,
    • a description of the expected results of the research, and
    • a reasonably detailed timeline for the thesis work
  • A bibliography of related work (all references belong here)
  • The signature of your research advisor, signifying endorsement of the project and willingness to supervise and evaluate it.

Students who need help finding potential advisors should get in touch with the Associate Dean or Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education. Applications to the program are due by the end of the semester prior to the start of the thesis, typically the end of the Junior Spring semester.